We’ve all been there: you sit down to browse a few websites—perhaps looking for a specific piece of information or a key bit of insight—and you’re bombarded by advertisements. Because you’re familiar with the reason they exist, and see the benefits they bring to the websites that host them, you probably skim past them or politely click on the “x.”
But for some Internet users, these ads are much more of a hassle than they’re worth. Instead of skimming through or looking for the information on the site without focusing on the ad, they choose to download software that blocks ads from their devices. No ads, no problems—right?
Believe me—I’m right there with you. Internet advertisements long ago reached the point of over-saturation; they’re not just ubiquitous, but also eerily personal. You’ve probably seen certain ads that follow you from site to site, based on some errant click you made, or mined from some piece of personal information you let slip. For these reasons and more, I use AdBlock Plus on my personal computers.
Unfortunately, this trend could create a devastating effect for companies that advertise online and the sites that host their ads. Like it or not, the Web as we know it depends a great deal on those ads remaining visible.
Reasons for Blocking
To many individuals, ads are just a minor online annoyance that very occasionally have value. Perhaps you’ve made a purchase or visited a website because of an ad you found during a browsing session. Meanwhile, to others, they’re something to be avoided at all costs. But why? Why do some users go so far as to block all ads from their online browsing experiences?
The reasons are endless, but some of the most popular include:
- They are a nuisance. Instead of looking for value, many Internet users are focused on productivity and finding what they need and nothing more. They see ads as distractions and, as such, decide to block them.
- There are concerns. The news is filled with stories of credit card and other personal information being stolen and misused on a daily basis. Because some users are unfamiliar with exactly what information ads and other online sources can collect, they choose to block them altogether.
- They take time. In a society where every second counts, and load times matter more and more each day, those who access the Internet are less patient than ever before. If an ad contributes to a site’s load time at all, it’s likely to be blocked, along with all other ads when possible.
These are just a few reasons, but the bottom line is that ad blocking software is on the rise and, in many cases, despite efforts to fight back, many sites feel helpless to remedy the situation.
What’s the Cost—and Which Sites Are Most Affected?
According to the 2015 Ad Blocking Report by PageFair and Adobe, the trend of blocking ads has reached a concerning level, and is only expected to grow.
Currently, 198 million individuals worldwide have put ad-blocking software to use. While only 45 million of these Internet users are in the US—up 45% from last year—the number represents over a third of all users in certain countries, especially in Europe where 77 million people block ads found online. Websites most affected by the trend include those related to gaming, social networks, and technology—where users are most likely to be technologically savvy.
To many people, it might not seem like a big deal. So what if certain users choose not to look at ads? The problem lies in lost revenue, in the real cost of ad-blocking. In 2015 alone, the report claims that ad blocking will lead to $22 billion in lost advertising revenue; this figure is up 41% from last year.
While most ad-blocking is constrained to desktop devices, it’s anticipated that, in the near future, similar trends will begin to emerge on smartphones and other mobile devices. Indeed: evidence suggests that Apple’s forthcoming ninth installment of iOS will have support for third-party ad-blocking plugins. For publishers and websites that depend upon advertising to supplement free content, and advertisers that have found the value of advertising online, this growing trend is more than slightly concerning.
Options for Websites and Advertisers
In many cases, advertisers and publishers may be somewhat defenseless against the trend of ad-blocking. However, there may be some ways to minimize the impact of ads on a given website, to hopefully negate the negative associations users may have with ads.
A few ideas include:
- Avoiding numerous ads above the fold. When a visitor accesses your website, allow them to view your content first—then, increase the ads toward the bottom of the page. As visitors become more engaged with what you have to share, they may be less turned off by the ads featured on your site.
- For God’s sake, say no to auto-play. When a video ad begins to play automatically, it’s distracting for your visitors. Allowing them to push play allows them to feel they’re in control of the process.
- Being up front. Hidden ads, sponsored ads, native content, and other ads disguised as content can be misleading and frustrating for users looking for non-sponsored information. Make it easy to distinguish what is an ad and what is content that you’ve published.
- Choosing advertisers carefully. While it may be tempting to go for the revenue, it might be more important to think about your visitors. What ads could be beneficial for them? What are they likely to engage with? The happier your visitors are, the less likely they are to use ad-blocking services and software. This keeps your revenue stream open.
If there’s one takeaway here, it’s that online ads as we know them must change. Flash-based banners that slow down site performance, intrusive pop-ups, aggressive auto-play videos—these are all things that actively undermine the very purpose of the Internet: to disseminate useful information.
But advertisers have thoroughly abused the good will of their audience. They understand that most people expect to receive their online content for free, and they know that ads are the only way to make that happen. With that kind of captive audience, it’s no wonder ads have become more and more intrusive. Ad-blockers are the answer to abuse and overuse.
But if the nature of online ads can’t—or won’t—change with the times, then the challenge becomes this: how can a website create an entirely new business model—one that doesn’t rely on ads? Some websites will make ends meet by soliciting donations from loyal readers. Other sites might not command that kind of loyalty, and will continue to feature ads. One thing’s for certain, though: the ads that survive this transition will probably look a lot different from what’s come before. I think that’s something we can all be grateful for.