Today’s column is written by Madhura Sengupta, director of ad product technology at Edmunds.
Publishers face increasing pressure in a competitive space, marked by gradual price deflation from ad exchanges, stricter viewability standards from advertisers and now the rise of ad blocking from consumers.
As publishers adopt “high-impact units” to combat the downward price pressure, the invasion of pop-ups, heavily animated creatives and blaring auto-sound videos have become an annoyance for online audiences. Ad-blocking tools have allowed consumers to fight back, but at the cost of publishers’ primary revenue source.
One negative ad experience can prompt a user to download the magic Adblock Plus, or the even savvier U-Block plugin, but this cuts revenue for other high-quality sites they visit.
There are, however, ways to balance the scale.
A Collective Enforcement Of The Value Exchange
Publishers need to make readers aware of what they are giving and receiving, whether it is agreeing to view ads and access content for free or subscribing to an ad-free experience.
Our culture has espoused the idea that the Internet is “free,” but in reality, advertising fuels the free Internet and levels the playing field for everyone to be able to access most content.
By the same token, advertising encourages innovation as new entrants can safely count on earning ad revenue for a product people like. While certain publishers have enough brand equity to employ paywalls, such as The New York Times and Wall Street Journal, many sites simply would not exist without display advertising.
Apart from the fact that paywalls are hilariously easy to bypass – just Google “New York Times paywall” – people also generally are not willing to pay for more than just a few sites, or for any at all.
Unfortunately, appealing to users’ conscience and simply educating them around the value of advertising is not a realistic solution. Publishers that show pleas to be whitelisted on Adblock Plus filters see less than .1% conversion rates. Thus, we must find a way to collectively enforce a method of value exchange by communicating, en masse, that users must view ads or opt to pay.
Focus On Ad Quality Control
It’s important for publishers to understand their users’ preferences on acceptable and relevant advertising. Are they open to native advertising? Fewer ads? Different formats?
Tools such as PubNation allow consumers to report annoying ads. In an ideal world, there would be a “clearinghouse” built into all ad servers or ad exchanges to ensure that scammy ads could be blocked from the ecosystem.
It has been shown that ad-block users have the same, if not higher, levels of engagement than non-ad-block users if they are shown high-quality advertisements. No belly fat ads, please!
Monitor Ad Load Times
Analytics pixels, multiple server hops and large creative rendering times are a drag on load times. Typically, the ads are poorly optimized because creative agencies will not waste time on providing clean, efficient code to their clients and publishers are not empowered to limit the number of pixels that are dropped, for a variety of reasons. It is in the publisher’s interests to collect this latency data, enforce strict pixel standards and hold its client agencies and exchange partners accountable for slow creatives.
Spread The Word: Adblock Plus May Increase Memory Used
It’s true and compelling: This software actually increases the amount of memory used by a web browser rather than decreases it. This may seem counterintuitive at first, but because ABP’s block list is so large, it can consume more RAM and CPU cycles than it saves, though this may vary from site to site.
Explore Third-Party Vendors To Measure And Recover Revenue
PageFair has a basic analytics tag available for free, which can track ad blocking for unique users and page views across multiple domains. An advanced version can be integrated into Google Analytics or Omniture's SiteCatalyst for a fee. PageFair also has a recovery solution to reroute ads through their own server using a communication system that is invisible and inaccessible to ad block users.
Explore In-House Solutions
It’s possible to detect ad-block users and site-serve native ads. For example, publishers can serve native ads that are custom tailored to a user’s location and preferences, which can yield extremely high performance due to relevancy. But it may be time-consuming and resource intensive for a publisher to build its own native ad server.
Publishers can push for app downloads on mobile. In-app advertising could see a huge boost as iOS 9 content blocking is released. Mobile apps allow publishers to own the entire user experience, including ads, so this could be a great opportunity to advance mobile advertising and help close the mobile gap we currently see.
It’s also possible for publishers to lock content and force a user to log in before accessing their content. The Washington Post employs this method. While this may be considered more intrusive than standard display advertising, you may be able to build a community and focus on email marketing and newsletters, for example.
Publishers can experiment with other forms of advertising, such as Google Consumer Surveys or content marketing platforms, including Outbrain and Taboola, which have been whitelisted by Adblock Plus. Unfortunately, platforms that have paid Adblock Plus to be whitelisted are only allowed to reach about half of Adblock Plus users, or those who have opted into “Acceptable Advertising.” Those platforms also won’t be able to reach users on other plugins, such as U-Block.
Finally, publishers can block their site completely to ad blockers. This is aggressive, but it certainly sends a message that there needs to be some value exchange for accessing premium content.
While there are vendors in the space that are innovating workarounds to help publishers keep pace with ad-blocking tools, it is important to understand the root cause of this issue: Ad blocking fills a hole created by the sloppiness of the advertising ecosystem.
"Now is as good a time as ever for publishers to address this issue as advertising budgets shift from traditional media to digital," Alexander Barone of Graphiq.com told me. "We have the opportunity to slow the rate of ad block installs and recover ad block users but it starts by enabling an open dialog with readers about the transaction that takes place when they consume content."
Let’s work together to enforce ad quality standards and provide audiences with a choice for their preferred method of value exchange – to either view ads or pay. And if consumers refuse both, we may end up seeing survival of only the fittest and most powerful.