"Data-Driven Thinking" is written by members of the media community and contains fresh ideas on the digital revolution in media.
Today’s column is written by Mehdi Daoudi, CEO and co-founder at Catchpoint Systems.
Rather than pulling back, sites dependent on online advertising must find ways to circumvent the ad blocking challenge, on both desktop and mobile platforms.
One key strategy is to focus on delivering speed and exceptional web performance. A desire to speed up web page load times is a main reason users resort to ad blockers, so maintaining fast, slick user experiences is one way to deter them from turning one on.
As a result, some ad servers are beginning to realize that ad blocking puts them under the microscope. These companies are proactively assuming responsibility for measuring their ad-serving capabilities and making sure ads are served as quickly as possible.
By proactively measuring and optimizing their own performance, ad servers have an opportunity to stand out and differentiate in their competitive marketplace. Websites depending on ad servers can also benefit substantially, by understanding the performance impact of ad servers and validating service-level agreements. Of course, websites must be rigorous about measuring their ad servers’ performance themselves before, during and after the selection process.
OpenX, for example, measures its ad-serving performance to ensure it is faster than the underlying page it’s a part of. As the web properties it serves improve their page load times, OpenX tries to avoid holding up the overall page load and causing a negative user experience. OpenX pays close attention to its mobile performance, knowing that users tend to be much more impatient with slow mobile web page load times.
Unfortunately, few sites seem to deliver the page speed that consumers demand. In a recent survey of 100 ecommerce sites, just 12% were meeting consumer expectations for content and page speed of three seconds or less. Considering that 57% of site visitors abandon web pages after three seconds if they can’t interact with key content, retail sites run huge risks if too much advertising content makes them too slow and turns end users away.
Aside from working with ad servers to speed load times, publishers can improve web performance via basic optimization and enhancing user perceptions.
For example, to diffuse the potential performance impact of heavier ad-related content, publishers should explore caching, resizing and compressing images, and minimizing the number of server round trips. One especially noteworthy technique is Gzip compression, which, according to Google, can reduce page file size by up to 70%.
It is also critical for sites to measure web performance around the clock and determine what real end users do upon entering a site. Websites can prioritize which are the most critical landing pages and conversion paths that need to be optimized the most.
Beyond basic web performance optimization, other techniques such as asynchronous loading can help ensure strong end-user performance. With synchronous loading, page elements are loaded in a certain sequential order, so any slow-loading element in the download roster will delay web page rendering. Asynchronous loading, on the other hand, does not block page rendering and allows the browser to continue to load other elements while any slow movers are being downloaded.
Some organizations – particularly news media, the most ad-reliant sites of all – find web performance challenges too difficult to overcome on their own. Vox Media famously declared “performance bankruptcy” last year. While they come with a bit of controversy, Facebook Instant News, Apple News, Google AMP and other programs give news publishers a viable option for achieving superior content download speeds combined with strong ad revenue streams in the mobile realm.
It’s important to remember that ad blocking is a reaction to bad user experiences caused by poor performance. The entire industry has an opportunity and a responsibility to address this reality. The IAB can show true leadership by playing an active role in making the user experience a critical dimension of ad technologies.