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Expert commentator | Smart Insights | Wed, 02 Nov 2016 15:00:00 +0000

Ad-blockers are a major threat to digital publishers- but help is at hand!

Whether you’re an online publisher, advertiser or even simply a consumer, the ramifications of blocking internet advertising will be massive. In fact, according to a recent study by PageFair, the publishing industry suffered a $21.8 billion loss from blocked revenue due to ad-blocking software last year. As a result, the war between publishers and advertisers is only continuing to intensify. There are steps that can be taken to overcome the issues created by this technology. Below are seven popular strategies that online publications have turned to in a bid to fight against the rising numbers of ad-blocking users.


1. Ask Users to Turn Off Their Ad-Blocking

“Thanks for coming to Forbes. Please turn off your ad blocker in order to continue. To thank you for doing so, we’re happy to present you with an ad-light experience.â€

Yes, it’s as simple as asking users to uninstall their ad-blocker or whitelist your domain on the software. If you’re using WordPress as your CMS for example, you can use an anti ad-block plugin to track and display notifications to ad-blocking users. These plugins often also present a variety of options including:

  • Whether or not you want to restrict access until the requested action is completed.
  • How many page views before a user is shown the message (some may consider it quite off-putting for a first time visitor to see a request for uninstallation or whitelisting).
  • Selecting whether messaging should be discreet or a page blocking pop-up.

Consider your approach and messaging. Would you rather be direct like Forbes and state your request as soon as the visitor enters the site? Perhaps your website would be better suited to more explanatory messaging such as “Thanks for visiting our website. For us to continue writing good stories, we rely on our display ads. Please consider disabling your ad-blocker before proceeding.†It’s important to customise your messaging based on your intent. A zero-tolerance policy towards ad-blockers would need very  different messaging compared to a more lenient one.

2. Turn It Off or Subscribe

Another strategy often employed by online publications is to offer users the option to turn off their ad-blocker or alternatively subscribe to the publication’s newsletter. If there are goals on your website which drive revenue for your organisation in some way other than advertising, requesting a non-monetary payment like a subscription is certainly a smart approach. The Washington Post offered ad-free content that could be ‘unlocked’ when a reader submitted their email address to receive a newsletter. A solution like this is a potential way to turn a negative into a positive and drum up conversions for your website. However, it’s also important to note that several users may not want to provide their email or join a subscription which necessitates that you offer them a choice on the matter – hence turn it off or subscribe.

3. Turn It Off or Pay-to-access

Undoubtedly you’ve heard of this one before. Online paywalls have been around for years as another source of revenue generation for large publications and entities. Wired, an online publisher, recently started offering a new option to its readers that block ads. Either whitelist the website on their ad-blocker or pay $3.99 for four weeks of ad-free access. Wth the recent development of digital currency, pay-to-access has become a far more feasible option. Micro and nano-transactions have been revolutionised with online currencies such as bitcoin. If you have a devoted customer base, paywalls (given a reasonable pricing structure) could certainly be a viable option for your website.

4. Native Advertising

Not a publisher willing to block access or ask for whitelisting? Still want to present marketing to your users? Native advertising is one option you can consider. Furthermore, if you’re an advertiser suffering from reduced reach due to ad-blocking, it’s time to start integrating an affiliate marketing strategy with these publishers to reel in more customers. Native ads are generally unobtrusive as the advertising is often integrated with actual website content such that it is more relevant for the consumer. Ad creatives can also be hosted on the website’s domain making it hard for ad-blockers to detect. An example of a good native advertising strategy I’ve seen in the past was a sauce manufacturer sponsoring recipes on a food blog. For advertisers, think about how your industry can market unique content through developing relationships with websites with a relevant target market like the above. For publishers, consider offering advertisers the opportunity to develop native ads which can be displayed when ad-blocking users are detected.

5. Fight Back

Want to display your advertising regardless of whether or not someone has an ad-blocker installed? There are in fact ways to hit back against the technology. One such method for video publishers is server-side ad insertion. This process gives publishers the ability to stitch video content and ads together in a single server on the content management system level. As a result, it is harder for ad-blockers (which operate on a browser level), to identify advertising. Facebook also recently announced that it has built a workaround that would circumvent ad-blocking software. The social media company faces huge consequences when it comes to the threat of their advertising being potentially diminished. In response, they are now making the HTML of their web ads indistinguishable from organic content to slip past ad-blockers. With the right team of web developers or through outsourcing to experts in the field, you too can find ways to undermine ad blocking technology. However, it’s also important to keep in mind that ad-blocking software producers will consistently be retaliating against your efforts. Ultimately, it’s a matter of whether or not it will be worthwhile for your business to engage in the game of cat and mouse.

6. Get Whitelisted

Many ad-blocking companies claim that the main purpose for their software is to provide online users with freedom from interruptive, irrelevant and over-the-top advertising. Whilst this is true to an extent, many have their own ulterior motives often involving collecting payments from online publishers to whitelist their website domains. This for me, is my least favourable option given the fact that in order to get on an ‘acceptable ads’ list, websites have to cough up a ransom fee. Regardless of whether this is extortion or not, many publishers feel as though they have little choice in the matter particularly when advertising forms nearly the entirety of their source of revenue. Paying the ad-blocking piper to whitelist your website will work but ensure you weigh up the pros and cons before taking this approach.

7. Focus on User Experience

Most of the above solutions focus on curing the symptoms of rising ad-blocking usage but not the actual cause. Consumers turn to ad-blockers because of the ways in which publishers and advertisers have overwhelmed them with intrusive advertising in the past. There’s little point in barraging your users with ad upon ad when it will simply drive them up the wall instead of achieving long-term marketing goals. Ultimately, the best way to combat the problem is through focusing on optimising user experience on your website. This includes giving people the option to skip video ads, hide irrelevant ads, thumbs down content they dislike, etc. It’s all about giving the user an advertising light experience with choice – after all those who don’t want to see your ads are unlikely to engage with them anyway.

If you’re unsure if ad-blocking is currently an issue for your website and advertising, there are plenty of internet businesses that can help you diagnose the problem. Page Fair for example, provides tools that allow publishers to calculate the cost of revenue lost from ad-blockers. In the current digital sphere, this is not something that should be underestimated given that research shows ad-blocking is only on an upwards trend. If the technology poses a threat to your business, it’s time to take the necessary measures to combat the problem.