Hurting the Ones You Love

Hurting the Ones You Love

David Barton Adblocking, Uncategorized

Most adblock users install an adblocker to get rid of irritating ads, such as popups or unskippable pre-roll ads, maybe thinking that it’s their own silent protest against bad advertising.

Hurts publishers, not advertisers

But the sad, ironic truth about adblocking is that it actually hurts the very websites that adblock users love, while being effectively invisible to advertisers.

How adblock works

Regular users vs. adblock users

When a regular user with no adblocker installed visits a website (see graphic – left-hand-side), ads are placed on pages directly from the ad server. The user sees the ad and might even click on it. One way or the other, the publisher has the opportunity to generate revenue.

When an adblock user visits the same website (see graphic – right-hand-side), the browser is prevented from even connecting to the ad server. No ads are shown. The publisher makes no revenue from that visitor, but the user still gets the content and adds to the hosting and server costs.

Blind spot

Because adblockers stop all communication (see graphic – phase 1) with ad servers, advertisers are completely blind to the problem. Advertising is an industry where metrics are everything. If you can’t track it, it doesn’t exist. Adblock users exist in an advertising blind spot and cannot be targeted, measured or reached. The advertising industry is losing sight of an entire audience – one which is growing at an incredible pace.

Adblock users are an advertising blind spot and cannot be targeted, measured or reached.

Reformatting on the fly

If adblock plugins stopped at phase 1, websites would be left with blank spaces shaped like skyscraper or banner ad slots. It wouldn’t be a pretty sight. So adblock plugins take their interference a step further. They use generic CSS overrides (see graphic – phase 2) to reformat content to use the now-empty ad slots, and even tailor custom rules to perfect the process on popular websites.  This effectively erases every last trace and memory of advertising from all websites. Having taken such care to design their user experience, many publishers are surprised by how thoroughly adblock re-organises their site layouts.

This mopping-up process is remarkably effective in a second way. In the rare event that an ad slips through phase 1, it will be hidden during phase 2. These rare ads have been paid for by advertisers, but are never visible to users.

Cost of content

Running a site costs money. Hosting can be surprisingly expensive and producing good content means paying skilled people for their time. Unless you’re the New York Times or WSJ, paywalls and one-off fees don’t work well enough to pay the bills. For the vast majority of website publishers, advertising is the only viable business model. In many ways, we have advertising to thank for the long tail of niche content that simply couldn’t exist before the web. Adblock undermines this business model, and is making survival impossible. The war on adblocking is likely to have no more effect than the war on drugs or the war on piracy. What will happen to the web if adblock usage continues to double every year?