Ad blocking has been an issue for publishers for many years, but recently it has gone from a mild irritation to a full blown crisis. And it’s only going to get worse, as the number of people using them is increasing substantially - its usage worldwide increased 30% last year, meaning that there are now 615 million devices blocking adverts.
The first solution that probably comes to mind when thinking how to deal with this problem is to give ad blocker users an ultimatum of whitelisting their site or face a paywall, similar to what American publisher The Atlantic decided to do recently. Whilst this is undoubtedly the best solution for some publishers, there are many who can’t afford to lose such a high proportion of their readers. For one, ad blocker users tend to be more engaged with the content that they read, and many will just move on to a competitor if they are blocked from reading your content (of which the potential impact on revenues doesn't need to be explained.)
So, while the hard-line approach is arguably the most efficient way of regaining the revenue lost to ad blockers, it may not be the best all-round answer. That’s all well and good, but the big question then is what is the best solution? As I assume you’ve already gathered, there is no panacea or cure-all for publishers here. Saying this, if you think about why we actually install ad blockers, then methods for dealing with them start to arise.
HAVE LESS INTRUSIVE ADVERTISING
Let’s face it, we are installing ad blockers because adverts are annoying. I’m not the only one who leaves a site when a load-delaying and obtrusive advert invades my screen. If you take these big ads out of the equation, then you may be surprised as to how tolerant many people are. By and large, we don’t like ads but understand why they’re there, and as long as they don’t hinder our reading experience, we will keep reading your content if we get what we want out of it. In fact, native and well personalised ads can actually make the user experience better and more enjoyable, which, in turn, increases engagement.
The drawback of doing this is that revenue from advertising will probably decrease. However, in some cases, the decline in ad revenue from doing this is a lot less damaging in the long term than the decline in ad revenue anyway due to ad blockers, as well as the decline in reader numbers and engagement due to having such cumbersome adverts.
SHOW YOUR READERS THAT YOU CARE ABOUT THEM
We’ve already established that big adverts put people off and make us want to block them, but what is it exactly about these particular types of ads that put us off? For many readers, it is the feeling that when we see content is blocked by an ad, the publisher is sending a message (willingly or not) that they care more about the number of eyeballs on their adverts than the number of eyeballs on their content. As a reader, you don’t feel valued in any way.
Making your readers feel valued not only by making ads as minimalist and personalised as possible, but also by tailoring everything else on your site to the reader and earning trust by developing a relationship with them will either eventually lead them to either whitelisting your site or paying a fee to read your content.
APPEAL TO AD BLOCKER PROVIDERS
With the recent news that one of the next instalments of Google Chrome will likely have a built-in ad blocker, it’s abundantly clear that ad blockers aren’t going anywhere anytime soon – but there are some publishers that, understandably, simply can’t survive without the revenue they make from advertising.
If your advertising revenue is that important, then trying to get the ad blocker providers themselves to whitelist your site (like through Adblock Plus’ ‘acceptable ads’ programme) is potentially the best way forward. However, this may involve making your ads far less intrusive, which could potentially have a damaging impact on overall revenue.
For some publishers, it’s worth it, as having reduced ad revenue is a lot better than having no ad revenue at all.
According to Matt Maier (CEO of ad block provider AdBlock), online ads ‘…have gotten completely out of hand, which has led to the emergence of ad blocking” (see full quote here). I don’t think there are too many who would disagree. As mentioned above, there is no solution that will work for all publishers in every industry. But one thing is for sure; if publishers are serious about dealing with ad blockers, they first need to accept that ad blockers, certainly for the short to medium term, are here to stay and that adverts that obstruct our screens will no longer be tolerated.