Google has taken matters into their own hands and has built ad blocking into Google Chrome. As an advertiser themselves, with over 90% of their revenue coming from advertising, they know that ad blocking could kill a huge amount of the free things we use every day on the web.
Ad blocking has increased since 2011 and in Ireland now 39% of internet users are using ad blockers. Consumers have become increasingly frustrated with advertising.
The main motivations for blocking ads are security concerns, interruption and affecting their internet speed. Doc Searls used Google Trends data to show that the rise of adblocking has directly correlated with the appearance of retargeted advertising. Yet advertisers and publishers don’t seem to understand that they are the problem, not the users that are using ad blockers.
The obvious solution would seem to band together with bodies like the Interactive Advertising Bureau (IAB), analyse data and come up with advertising standards and practices that are acceptable and tolerable to the consumers, they decided that the consumers and ad blockers were the problems. Websites implemented “Adblock walls”, basically this was technology on websites that tell users to disable their adblockers or you can’t see our content. That went down like a lead balloon, 74% of users leave sites with Ad block walls. Famously in 2015 Yahoo! shockingly and in a ridiculously bad move blocked users from entering their inboxes if they had adblockers enabled. (I know ‘facepalm’ is the only word for it.)
“Publishers [need] to listen to their audience about what’s making them block ads, fix the problems and serve them the solutions” – Dr Johnny Ryan, PageFair
Advertising is Vital
Love it or hate it, advertising is vital to the existence of the internet as a whole. The content, services and websites that we access on a daily basis are mostly free due to advertising. To run an online publication or our favourite platforms there is a massive cost to the company behind the technology that we see. There are writers, developers, marketing teams, buildings, servers, hosting, technology, computers, canteens, cleaning ladies, electricity bills etc. to pay for and we are all getting this for free at the expense of the advertisers. If we all blocked ads then the advertisers will not be getting that little percentage of clicks that turn to sales for them, therefore the publication or platform is not worth advertising with and they are left with two choices – charge the user or close the doors.
This is the reality facing publishers and advertisers alike. however, rather than working with the consumer to make things better, they tried to shout louder, chase us down and shove their brands down our necks. What other choice is the consumer faced with? Block or submit? I know what I would choose and I do marketing!
So we agree, advertising needs to exist.
Rather than having to pay for thousands of services and publications all over the web we need to find a way to co-exist together – also you might see something you like among all that noise if it’s being polite. Recognising the issue Google and The Coalition for Better Ads have developed Better Ads Standards for desktop web and mobile web for North America and Europe. Google has added these standards into their Chrome browser as well to help improve the issue.
They have come up with a simple system. Pass, Warn, Fail – if issues with ads exist on the site you are warned and given 30 days to improve after this ads period ads will be blocked on your site. Site owners can use Google Ad Experience Report to identify what types of ads may be causing issues. Many publishers that did have annoying ads (just 1%) don’t really want to mess with the behemoth that is Google so already 46% of them have changed their technologies.
There is still work to be done
Annoying ads are just a small part of the picture. While the issue of interruption is being addressed on some level, ads that are dynamic and do follow the rules are still an interruption. However, the bigger issues after ‘annoying’ should also be at the top of the agenda.
- Security concerns need to be fully addressed, publisher websites that carry advertising are simply using technology that serves ads onto their sites. At any given time the publisher does not know what ads are running, they are just earning a few quid for hosting the ads on their sites. There needs to be a clampdown on Ad Servers and Networks that allow dangerous ads to be served.
- Speed is a major issue as many sites are slowed to a crawl or load in bits and bobs while advertising is collected and delivered. Google has tackled some of the problems with Mobile considerations now built into their algorithm and Facebook is also tackling similar problems. This is increasingly frustrating to users who will swiftly leave websites that do not load properly within 5 seconds.
- The volume of ads also needs to be a major concern, in some cases, there are so many ads that it is difficult to see where the content is. Some ads are so large and placed into the middle of the article so that you cannot find the next paragraph and it seems that we are bombarded by coloured boxes and noises that can be utterly irrelevant to us geographically.
Rewards for Bad Ad Behaviour
The biggest problem we have though is that from the advertisers perspective, annoying ads do work. Retargeting for 90 days or more gets conversions and so does popping up in your face, flashing, noisily annoyed.
“As much as irritate people, annoying ads do work, so there’s positive reinforcement for the advertiser,” David Tuffley, Griffith University’s School of ICT
Advertisers, though, are only getting one part of the picture – the success metrics. They get data and dollars that tell them they have been successful, however, they don’t and see and cannot see who they have irritated and turned off their brands. A guy I know was being so aggressively remarketed by a sportswear company that they searched and browsed the internet for lingerie websites so they were remarked with more pleasant images to replace the onslaught of lycra. With almost 40% of Ireland blocking ads advertisers are losing a massive number of consumers just to blocking. How much more consumners are they loosing to ignoring, vows to ‘never use them again’ and exits?
Googles efforts in both speed and ad blocking are admirable but may be too little, too late in most cases. However, if Google is beginning to fly the good behaviour flag then maybe just maybe publishers will begin to listen. We can only hope that someday we can turn off the ad blocker and live among a comfortable volume of clean and sedate advertising – an advertising utopia.