One anonymous publisher who went through the Adblock Plus whitelisting process said it was onerous. “We jumped through the hoops because we wanted to monetize those users,” said the publisher, which relies heavily on programmatic for its revenue.
Adblock Plus demands design change, such as making publishers adjust the spacing between the ads and content, before approving the site to receive ads. The main option is to run text-only Google AdSense ads. After all that work, the result for the anonymous publisher was pitiful.
In a month, the publisher's revenue was negligible, mainly because of extremely low CPMs.
Because of the poor monetization, the site discontinued being on the white list, and lost even more in the process. It had been site-serving a CPC campaign – that is, serving the ad directly without using an outside ad server – to ad-blocking users, which Adblock Plus noticed in the approval process and blocked. The publisher has since gone live with another site-served solution, which is why it wants to remain anonymous.
As soon as Adblock Plus finds out, it will block the site-served ad again.
“A lot of these integrations are custom integrations,” said Stephanie Layser, VP of ad ops and programmatic for “positive journalism” site A Plus, founded by Ashton Kutcher. “Every publisher serves ads a different way, and how they serve their site is different. Because of that, it takes a lot of very manual labor for the engineering department to figure out what the best thing is.”
These solutions often work by cloaking the ad. “Our solution makes it look like it’s being site-served without having to go back to the days of [early ad servers] DART or NetGravity, where publishers ran it on their own,” said Ben Barokas, founder and CEO of Sourcepoint.
After Edmunds assesses its ad-block problem, it plans to figure out how to best reach users of ad blockers, either by serving them messages asking them to whitelist the site or to circumvent the blocker.
“For us, the biggest opportunity is to recover for our direct-sold inventory,” Sengupta said. “ We’re reaching a very targeted, premium audience, and our advertisers want more of that audience.”
Both Edmunds and A Plus want to go a step further than just recovering display inventory by using these anti-ad-blocking vendors. They want to create quality, native ad experiences that will be both unblockable and of such high quality users won’t want to block them.
“To make a healthy, sustainable business, we need two solutions: a tech solution to better serve programmatic ads [to ad blockers], and being healthy in branded content,” Layser said.
Even native content, touted by many in the industry as a solution to ad blockers, can end up filtered.
In-feed ad providers like Sharethrough gets blocked, though article recommendation solutions Taboola and Outbrain have made Adblock Plus’ white list. Advertisers often want third-party tracking, like a DoubleClick for Advertisers tag, to log sponsored content impressions. Those numbers decrease if ad blockers don’t load that tag.
But site-serving content, such as through the editorial team’s content management system, ensures that it will be seen by ad-blocking viewers.
A Plus plans to pursue branded content videos as way to circumvent ad blockers, which 30% of its desktop audience uses. A video for Strayer University racked up almost 4 million views on YouTube.
Video advertising content that speaks to both a brand and the publication solves for audiences that don’t want to see pre-roll, Layser said. In fact, she blames pre-roll for causing the huge uptick in ad blocking.
Edmunds is also considering how it can add user-friendly and brand-friendly native experiences to its site.
“We’re expanding our native offerings and doing a lot of work with native optimization,” Madhura said. “A lot of the ad blockers are millennials, and they tend to be more responsive to native ads. If you’re showing good, high-quality advertising, consumers don’t mind.”
Publishers Band Together
What if publishers banded together and collectively blocked their sites to people who didn’t want to give some value in return?
“I heard a lot of people considering the options of completely blocking their site, to get more awareness out there that there needs to be a value exchange,” Madhura said.
But publishers fear taking a stand alone.
Layser advocates for creation of an industry standard that would make sure all publishers fight back ad blocking in the same way.
“Publishers need to get together and have a unified solution,” Layser said. “Publishers are scared of telling people they can’t view their content unless you view an ad first, because they know that person will go somewhere else and get that content for free.”