“The Sell Sider” is a column written for the sell side of the digital media community.
Today’s column is written by Andrew Casale, president and CEO at Index Exchange.
The ad-blocking discussion has shifted to the now-standard story that ad tech is responsible for creating bad user experiences on publisher sites, thus causing a huge spike in ad blocker usage.
In all honesty, that’s not totally wrong. Some ads load slowly, cause sites to crash or have malware, among a multitude of other challenges. If you inundate the consumer with these types of ads, you can’t really blame them for using ad blockers to improve their experience.
Today’s ad-blocking tools take an all-or-nothing approach, much to the chagrin of digital publishers that rely on advertising for revenue. But what if I told you that there was an ad blocker that publishers would actually advocate for? Would you think I was crazy?
While I could name dozens of publishers whose spammy ads are contributing to an unbearable user experience, I could also list numerous publishers that pride themselves on providing readers with an exceptional digital ad experience – and rightfully so.
One such publisher is The Guardian’s US edition. It is extremely conscious of user experience and has invested a great deal of its resources to ensure that ads on its site doesn’t slow down load times or negatively impact the user’s experience. It is conscious of the impact advertising has on its readers, and it has taken the necessary steps to maximize lifetime value and build customer loyalty in concert with the need to drive advertising revenue.
Another example is The Washington Post, which famously invested in building custom page template software to improve the user experience and cut its page load time by 85%. It, too, has decided to put the reader experience above all else, with the hope that a loyal and sustainable readership is ultimately the key to driving digital revenue.
But these publishers are punished, along with everybody else, when users deploy ad blockers. Despite more going the route of The Guardian and The Washington Post, the use of ad blockers continues to grow, dragging down the entire digital publishing ecosystem in the process.
The biggest issue that we have right now with ad blockers is their lack of sophistication and discrimination. There’s no reason that a publisher that’s providing a better user experience, such as The Guardian or The Washington Post, should be in the same boat as publishers that have no caps on their web page data size or make no attempts to reduce page load time due to ad bloating. The way things stand right now, ad blockers have adopted a scorched-earth policy to block everything without taking site quality into account.
That’s a fundamental problem for publishers, and it will become a fundamental problem for marketers and users if it isn’t addressed.
As a result of ad blocking acting too much like an on-off switch, some publishers are putting a wall between their publications and consumers who have ad blockers installed. The solution isn’t for publishers to deny access to readers who use ad blockers or to force everyone to pay a subscription fee for their content. The solution may be found within the ad blockers and the approach they are taking to blocking ads.
I propose a three-step solution to the problem. First, the companies that produce ad-block tools should develop and implement nuanced standards that allow “good” ads to be served to visitors. And “good” ads should not be defined as those offered by “the publisher that paid us an extortion fee.”
Second, publishers should recognize and allow ad blockers that adhere to these standards.
Finally, publishers should not serve content to visitors running noncompliant ad blockers.
If a more sophisticated ad blocker was built and gave users the option of only blocking the ads that negatively impact their user experience, such as those bloating a page to 10MB or more, this would completely change everything.
Implementing this model would take some time. However, once general awareness reaches critical mass, I believe this type of ad blocker would actually be something the publishing industry could, would and should support and promote.
Publishers would be incentivized to use this system because it keeps their site clean, well-lit and appealing to users. Users would be incentivized because their experience will improve and they’d continue to have free access to web content. Ad-block makers would be incentivized to use it because users won’t likely stick with a noncompliant ad blocker, as they wouldn’t be able to see content from participating publishers. And marketers would be strongly incentivized to create usable, light units.
It’s ironic to think that publishers would support any form of ad blocking, but if there was a real innovator that would only penalize publishers that deliver subpar user experiences, that would dramatically shift the conversation and the perceived threat to revenue, while actually improving user experience.
A “smart” ad blocker would support the current “user experience” conversation because it would ensure that publishers that provide a positive user experience are protected by ad blockers, not penalized along with those that helped create the problem.