Adblockers have empowered Internet users to take control of their data and experience a cleaner, faster Internet. With the rise of adblocking adoption, however, adblockers have gotten a bad rap from advertisers and content creators, who are testing several methods of recuperating lost ad revenue. But in this debate, are adblockers solely to blame?
In this multi-post series, we dive into the adtech industry, adblocking software and our role in transforming how users interact with ads online. If you’re just now joining the adblocking space, be sure to check out my previous post on how adblockers work.
Why are publishers worried about adblockers?
Most online advertising models are based on a cost per impression basis (i.e. publishers make money when users see ads on their site). To target ads to you and keep track of all of the ad impressions, advertising technology began to include heavy tracking code in its ads. This led to a slowdown in page loads, as well as concerns that ad companies knew too much about you, such as your favorite sites, where you do your online shopping, your age and a rough estimate of how much money you make.
To combat this intrusion, users began downloading adblocking software, since adblockers actually protect users from tracking scripts and cookies. In 2009, roughly 21 million Internet users had an adblocker installed; as of June 2015, that number has grown to 198 million.
So while adblocking users now experience a cleaner and faster Internet, publishers are worried about their primary source of revenue. According to the cost of adblocking, a study published by Adobe and anti-adblocking tool PageFair, adblockers cost publishers an estimated $22 billion in ad revenue last year.
How does this affect online users?
In retaliation of the loss of ad revenue, online publishers are incorporating several tactics, including asking users to whitelist their site and banning adblocking users from their content.
Asking for Whitelisting
A nifty feature adblockers have is the ability to whitelist certain websites so that ads appear on the site.
Several publishers, like Slate, will prompt users with a “Please Whitelist Us” message and allow them to continue to the desired content. In Slate’s case, they also ask users to join their premium membership.
On the other hand, some publishers ban adblocking users altogether, forcing them to turn off their adblocker in order to access their content.
Back in November, Yahoo Mail ran an A/B test that prevented adblocking users from accessing their email. The test received major backlash online with many users declaring they planned on ceasing to use the company’s mail service.
In December, Forbes.com tested this tactic, but offered an “ad-light experience” if users turned off their adblocker. Their request resulted in 42.3 percent of adblocking users turning off their adblocker.
Messages like this pose the question, “Is this content or service really worth it?” and, should users agree to turn off their adblockers, expose them to third-party trackers and annoying ads, and the risk of malware.
Are adblockers bad for the Internet?
Depends on who you ask. While publishers are quick to blame adblocking software, they are not the root of the problem. Rather, adblockers have stemmed from the real problem: a broken adtech system – a system in which publishers and marketers declined to respect Do Not Track messages from users, deciding to prioritize profits over privacy.
The Interactive Advertising Bureau admitted they “messed up” by “building advertising technology to optimize publishers’ yield of marketing budgets.” The outcome? A slower Internet caused by tracking-heavy advertising that follows users online to produce a cluster of ads.
Adblockers are not the problem, but a catalyst that is shifting the conversation to how we can better the user ad experience. If it weren’t for adblockers, marketers and publishers would continue prioritizing monetization over the user ad experience. If it weren’t for adblockers, the IAB wouldn’t propose new principles to encourage better, more responsible advertising.
At Google’s annual meeting of stockholders, Alphabet CEO Larry Page said the best response to the rise of adblockers would be to create better ads. The adtech “industry needs to do better at producing ads that are less annoying and that are quicker to load, and all those things,” he said. “And I think we need to do a better job of that as an industry.”
The current state of online advertising is an implicit value exchange – one that assumes users are OK with giving up a ton of data in exchange for free content. But the proliferation of adblockers is shaking up adtech by providing users the tools to plant a stake in the ground and demand a better online ad experience – one that respects users’ privacy, is transparent and does not including obtrusive ads.
Our Vision – Keep Content Free
At Gladly, we believe free content is a cornerstone of an accessible Internet, and we think good advertising is a great way to keep content free. You can read more about it in the Gladly manifesto.
With this mission in mind we launched Goodblock, the adblocker with a purpose. During initial tests, many of our users expressed interest in supporting the content they love. In response, we designed an easy way for users to whitelist specific sites. As we continue to transform how we interact with ads, we hope to involve content providers to keep the Internet free and enjoyable.
Interested in shaping how Internet users interact with ads? Download Goodblock for Chrome now!