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The Problem of Ad Blocking

The problem at hand for online publishers is ad blocking. The growing number of ad blocker users is a major challenge for publishers and not one they often realize needs to be addressed.

Not too sure that that’s true? According to Adobe’s 2015 Ad Blocking Report, there are 198 million active ad blocking users globally. Last year, ad blocking in the United States grew by 48% and reached 45 million active users in 12 months. Ad blocking in the United Kingdom grew by 82% and reached 12 million users in a year (both measured up to June 2015). For 18- to 24-year-olds, 55% utilize ad blocking software. It is estimated that ad blocking cost publishers almost $22 billion last year. eMarketer reports that US ad blocking users will reach nearly 70 million this year. Clearly this is not a problem that is going to go away on its own.

ad blocking
Credit: eMarketer via Ad Age

Why do people even block ads?

The biggest reason to block ads is because of the sheer volume of ads that pop up when searching the Internet. Consumers dislike ads getting between them and their content (especially if there is no option to turn the ads off). Pages load slower when there are ads running and web browsers tend to crash more frequently.

Online ads are like flies that won’t leave you alone at a BBQ on a hot summer day – super annoying and highly invasive. Ever seen those ads that move and blink and flash? (Of course you have, they’re everywhere.) Those ones are quite obnoxious. And personalized ads that follow you? Even worse than the flashing ads.

Print ads are static and unavoidable. Digital ads? They move, flash, and follow. But they are easy to block or virtually erase. Users install ad blockers to eliminate irritating ads, speed up the web, save on bandwidth, and protect their privacy. The minute a user turns on their ad blocker, ahhh, everything turns into a rather peaceful and zen web experience.

But ads are critical for online publishers!

Ads help fund free services and content! Where is the obligation to help out publishers or to support one’s favorite sites? Sadly it doesn’t exist.

Ad blockers block network requests to ad serving domains and then hide parts of the page that show ads. When ad blocking softwares are used, publishers don’t earn any ad revenue. Users may not realize it but they are effectively putting the websites they frequent out of business.

The financial ramifications are just one pitfall. The model for online publishing is circulation revenue + advertising revenue = sustainability. But very few digital consumers are willing to pay for their news. Ads are supposed to pick up the slack but…don’t. Publishers take an immediate hit on revenue but there are broader implications; ad blocking limits access to very important groups of people such as millennially, gamers, and IT professionals.

So, readers hate the ads but are unwilling to pay to subscribe or have an ad-free experience.

What’s a publisher to do?

Ad blocking occurs mainly on laptops and desktops, not on smartphones. Publishers are relying on the prevalence of mobile. Ad blocking plugins don’t work on mobile devices very well or are a hassle to install. And as we know, mobile use has surpassed desktop use. So for now, mobile is thwarting some of the growth of ad blocking.

Organizations are beginning to change and respond to the issue of ad blocking users but it’s a slow adaptation. Some groups are turning towards sponsored content which often has the same look and feel as other content but is harder to block. Many agencies consider selling a higher-priced ad-free version of their service or product. Others experiment with different ways to nicely ask visitors to their site to turn off ad blocking.

Publishers should limit the number of ads and begin to get rid of those moving and/or auto-play and/or pop-up ads. Focus on creating content that is engaging and relevant to your target audience. Investigate alternative means of communications and provide an ad-light experience that is not disruptive for the user.

Ad blocking is growing at an astonishing rate and, for now, anything you can do to improve the user experience is worth doing!


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