Where were you when your favorite gaming site died?
While we were at a team member’s bachelor party on Saturday, the adblocking debate re-ignited, appearing on Reddit, HackerNews and Slashdot. Sunday’s hangover was quickly forgotten as we worked hard to scale up our server infrastructure to cope with the sudden demand, with some of the biggest websites in the world signing up to the service. With the crisis under control, we want to take an opportunity to add some more data to the conversation.
We want to help websites survive. We think that what makes the web special is that independent publishers like Destructoid can exist and create quality content that can be enjoyed by the entire world. The ability of these websites to put food on the table is being eroded, as adblock plugins steadily grow in popularity year by year. This trend means fewer quality websites, with more and more small companies and independent websites going out of business. We are here to help reverse this trend, whether that means helping to deliver ads, facilitating donations, micropayments or something else entirely. We also intend to solve this growing problem in a way that is acceptable to website visitors.
Even before reading the many thousands of comments, we personally knew how controversial this topic was. In a separate venture, we run a medium-size web-based game (utopia-game.com). With BlockMetrics, we became our own first customer, and discovered that adblocking was hitting us hard each month in lost revenue. As a site operator, our first reaction was moral outrage that so many of our loyal gamers were willfully depriving us much-needed cash. Our second reaction was dread that we would now have to uninstall adblock ourselves to avoid hypocrisy.
The truth is that most ads are not too bad. We spoke with our own gamers. True, some highly vocal people are rather extreme net libertarians, and genuinely believe everything should be free. However, most install adblock in response to a particularly bad experience elsewhere on the web. This could be an ad carrying an exploit, pornography, or playing an annoying noise. We are basically faced with a Tragedy of the Commons: like townsfolk overgrazing a common ground, some websites are abusing their visitor’s goodwill. Like the more honest townsfolk, all the other websites end up starving.
Niero Gonzalez’s article was a powerful appeal about the scale of the problem. Unlike similar appeals from OkCupid and ArsTechnica, Gonzalez openly provided the actual stats he collected with BlockMetrics. We would like to add: You are not alone. We have many sites running with BlockMetrics now, and are sorry to say that a block rate of 43% is about typical for a site targeted at gamers. Across the gaming sites that we currently measure, the block rate varies between 8% to 61%, with an average of 30%. Our own web-based MMO has a block rate of 20%, down from 25% before we installed BlockMetrics.
Non-gaming sites have it bad too, with an average block rate of 17.7%. The sites most badly affected are those targeted at a more technical audience, especially sites for developers and designers. Based on a quick inspection, sites appealing to non-technical visitors have an average block rate of 9%-10%.
Today, BlockMetrics allows you to design an appeal to be shown to adblockers, asking them to whitelist your specific site. Destructoid also shared that they got a conversion rate of about 3% on their first campaign. This is about right, looking at our own experience and the experience of our other clients. However, it’s not as gloomy as it sounds. When you look more closely, you see that of the 741 people who actually read the appeal, 254 went on to whitelist them. This is a 34% conversion rate, and is typical. BlockMetrics is still a young product, and we’re experimenting with ways to get more visitors to read the appeal, while making sure that we are respectful and don’t annoy them. As we improve, this 34% appeal-to-unblock conversion rate will make a very tangible difference to the bottom line of sites using BlockMetrics.
In fact, we have very big plans for the future. Many commentators on Destructoid, Reddit, HN and Slashdot said that they would rather pay for their content rather than see ads. So would we. Advertising isn’t going anywhere, but there needs to be a legitimate alternative, one that allows you to support the sites you’re loyal to while enjoying the best web experience possible. We’ll be releasing a new feature this week, which will represent our first step in this direction. Please follow us @blockmetrics to hear more.