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Apr 21, 2016 — TrackFive

The Great Impression: Rise of the Ad Blocker (Part II)

This is part 2 of a 3-part blog series regarding the ad tech industry and the fight that has ensued between two sides: consumer, and publisher/advertiser. If you haven’t already, you should read part 1 first. We are all affected by the number of ads we see on the web, so whether you are a consumer, publisher, or advertiser, please feel free to join the discussion, share your online ad experiences, and offer insight as to how you think the ad-blocking war can end with a win for both sides.

The first part of this blog series set the scene of the digital ad war, looked at the rise of online ad blocking, and the financial implications for publishers. This second installment focuses solely on the arguments of online content consumers.

Consumers are fed up
It’s true, and the nearly 200 million people using ad block plugins on their desktop browsers are evidence of that. Shouldn’t consumers have the right to choose what their web experience is like? Ben Williams, the communications and operation manager at Eyeo, the company responsible for Adblock Plus, seems to think so. At the Ad Age Digital conference earlier this month, he made an excellent point on consumer choice stating, “The Internet is less like a newspaper, magazine or TV. It’s more like a car. You can customize your car any way you want to.”

Consumers are tired of annoying, intrusive ads. In fact, to find out why people are employing ad blockers, did a global study sampling 9 global markets with over 9,000 respondents who use, or are aware of ad blockers. They found that intrusive ad formats encourage ad-blocker usage with 69 percent of respondents motivated to use ad blockers due to annoying or interruptive ads. Not only do consumers not like ads interrupting their content, but 66 percent of respondents also use ad blockers because of the negative impact on site performance, and 60 percent use them because they feel that ads are too excessive.

In a survey taken in Q1 2016, asked over 22,400 ad blocker users aged 16-64 to tell them the main reason for blocking ads. A stunning 50 percent of blockers said that ads were annoying or irrelevant. Around 30 percent of people were concerned about online ads compromising their online privacy—and they should be. According to a malvertising report by Cyphort Labs, during 2014, there was a staggering 325 percent rise in malvertising.

Like other content providers, Forbes decided they were going to block the ad-blockers from viewing any content on their site. The site forced users to disable the ad blocker in order to view the content, however, when they did, users were served malware. What you are reading is correct: Forbes forced readers to disable their ad blocking software to access content, and then when the users complied, they were immediately served a malvertisement in the form of a new tab that seemed to be a Java update. Users who clicked ‘OK’ to the “recommended update” found themselves and their computer systems vulnerable to malware.

While the malware itself wasn’t necessarily the fault of Forbes, it greatly exemplified the reason that users are unwilling to turn off their ad blockers and willing to go find content from somewhere else. If publishers cannot be trusted to fully vet their third-party advertisers, then why should users disable ad blockers for them?

This isn’t the only time we have seen large companies that publish content subject to attack, and the computers of their millions of users, endangered. In 2015, we saw the following large companies affected by malvertisements:

  • Yahoo network (6.9 billion monthly visitors)
  • Google’s AdSense platform (responsible for about a quarter of Google’s revenue)
  • DoubleClick (another ad network owned by Google)
  • Far-reaching UK tabloid, The Daily Mail (156 million monthly users)
  • The Huffington Post (79 million monthly visitors)

And these certainly aren’t the only sites that were subject to attacks, but with networks like Yahoo and data giant Google affected, how are users to trust any other content publishing source?

In 2015, the University of Toronto’s Citizen Lab found that about half of the world’s top 100 news sites do not deliver their ads using encrypted HTTPS (secure) connections, which help prevent these attacks from happening. Nearly half. Since many publishers are not willing to encrypt and authenticate all traffic between the site’s server and visitors, including the third-party ads, they either choose to eliminate ads or transmit all traffic unencrypted.

Unfortunately, we know what a significant number of ad publishers are choosing to do.

Conserving data usage
More than just their security, users are protecting their mobile data plans. Users with mobile ad blockers see significant data savings on their mobile plans. What some users may not realize (until they find they have gone over on their monthly mobile data allotment), is that the process of loading advertisements uses a significant amount of data. When ad blockers stop ads from showing, they also eliminate using the extra data to load them.

Using a number of popular publishers, Enders Analysis conducted an experiment to compare data usage when an entire page loads without an ad blocker, with an ad blocker, and with an ad blocker and JavaScript disabled. What their study found is that between 18 and 79 percent of mobile data transferred is used by publishers for ads. In the Enders study, they stated, “publisher mobile pages are bloated and advertising is an enormous part of that.” All those ads that have to load also drastically slow page load time.

These are the reasons that publishers are now offering different options to share content that give the user a better “bloat-free” experience while still generating revenue. Google AMP, Apple News, and Facebook Instant Articles are examples of these types of content publishing platforms.

More than just numbers
The thing that publishers need to think about when they look at numbers like this is that these are loyal consumers that want to view your content. Even after employing ad blockers, they are still returning to your sites, though eventually, this might not be the case with 71 percent of mobile ad blocker users less likely to return to a site with intrusive ads. That number is slightly higher for desktop users at 75 percent.

The industry is talking about data and analytics constantly, but what they need to remember that on the other side of those KPIs, impressions, and conversions, there are actual people, and those people want to have a positive user experience while they’re on the web.

What are your thoughts on the use of ad blockers? If you are an ad block user, what are your personal reasons for using them? What would it take for you to reconsider using your ad-blocker? Check back soon so you don’t miss part 3, which will explore how the digital ad industry has gotten to this juncture, and what steps it will take to fix it.

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