Marketers and publishers continue to struggle with how to deal with ad blocking as consumers increasingly adopt the technology. eMarketer predicts one of every three internet users will use ad blockers by 2017, more than twice the 15% who did in 2014. PageFair and
As a result, publishers are taking measures to mitigate ad blocking's impact, and with good reason. Juniper Research estimates that publishers could lose over $27 billion by 2020 as ad blockers disrupt the fundamental value exchange among advertisers, publishers, ad exchanges and consumers.
Ad-Blocking Drawbacks for Consumers
At the same time, research shows that ad blockers can actually hurt user experience. For example, Catchpoint found that although many websites load faster with ad blockers, the same could not be said for mobile sites. In that study, seven of the top 20 mobile sites had worse performances with ad blockers.
Instart Logic also ran a test on ad blocker impact on web performance and found that performance varies depending on the type of site. For media sites with many ads, ad blockers may help improve performance. However, for sites with only a few ads, performance can decrease. The reason is that the ad blocker scans web pages for ads. If it finds and blocks a lot of ads, the smaller amount of data that the browser receives more than makes up for the additional time the ad blocker introduces. If there are no ads, no time is saved so the overall load time is actually greater.
Other studies have shown ad blockers can impede a website's normal functionality by blindly blocking any sort of pop-up whether it's an ad or not. Oriel, a London-based ad tech company, performed tests on the top 100 sites in the U.K. It found that ad blockers often hindered normal website functions such as checking in for a flight online or tracking an e-commerce order.
Ad Blocking and User Experience
Despite this research, ad blocking continues to grow as proponents claim it improves the user experience by removing unwanted intrusive ads that interrupt the online viewing experience. The IAB believes that ad blocking is a threat to the ad industry and is working to set industry standards to improve the user experience.
At the same time, ad blocking is forcing publishers to improve the quality of ads, which is good for user experience. Says Jason Kint, CEO of Digital Content Next, "Ad blocking is a symptom of a larger consumer issue. The solution has to be a better consumer experience."
The Rise of Anti-Ad Blockers
Publishers have made attempts to mitigate the loss in revenue caused by ad blockers, but with a low success rate. Methods include:
- Asking users to simply turn off their ad blockers and educating them that revenue is needed to fund quality content. So far this method hasn't yielded the desired results for publishers.
- Implementing a paywall in order to see content. High-profile publishers such as the New York Times ask users to whitelist their site or subscribe to view their content, emphasizing that funds from ads help pay for journalism.
- Using alternative advertising options such as affiliate marketing, native ads and selling ads directly to avoid ad blockers and make up for some lost revenue. This helps offset some revenue but still does not make up for the whole loss from ad blockers.
Companies are now emerging that offer solutions to circumvent ad blockers and help publishers recover their ad revenue. The idea is to try to obscure the pattern recognition that ad blockers use to determine that something is an ad. Because there is a risk of consumer backlash if publishers ignore users' sentiments and continue to serve annoying ads, anti-ad blocking needs to be used tactfully by allowing high-quality ads that will enhance, rather than detract from, the user experience.
If done correctly, anti-ad blocking technology can improve the "ad-light" experience that publishers such as Forbes are attempting to implement.
Time will tell how this will shake out. One thing is certain: Ad blockers will continue to impact the ad industry for the foreseeable future. It's now up to publishers to decide how they'll lead the industry through the shifting digital landscape.
About the Author
Shailesh Shukla is a seasoned business and technology leader with experience in software, networking and mobility. Most recently he was the VP-general manager of the Mobility Software and Applications Business Unit at Cisco, where he set up this new entrepreneurial business focused on monetizing and optimizing mobility and wireline networks. Prior to joining Cisco, Shukla was part of the management team at two Silicon Valley networking companies: Juniper Networks for three years and Redback Networks for seven years, in a variety of roles, including VP of marketing, strategy and corporate development. Shukla holds a bachelor's degree in electrical engineering from BITS Pilani, India, an MS in electrical engineering from the University of Kansas and an MBA from MIT Sloan School of Management.
About Instart Logic
Designed for the digital era, Instart Logic's web and mobile optimization platform goes beyond a content delivery network to provide a radically different approach to web performance. The unique technology provides powerful web and mobile performance, enhanced end-to-end security and increased devops agility. Using Instart Logic, enterprises can provide ultra-fast, visually immersive and secure experiences on any device, anywhere. Learn more at instartlogic.com, instartlogic.com/solutions/appshield/ad-integrity, or follow us on Twitter at @InstartLogic.