Tag- you’re it.
The digital game of hide-and-seek you find yourself in will soon force you to decide between the lesser of two evils; abide by the wishes of your prospects and customers and stop showing them advertisements or ignore their wishes and overpower them with technology that forces your ad upon them.
Heck of a choice, huh?
Millions of online shoppers are using digital ad blocking technology to hide from the ads you desperately want them to see; the very ads that, in part, dictate whether you remain in business.
No worries though, right?
You now have the ability to counter and seek out these prospects and customers with technology designed to circumvent ad blocking tools and serve your ads anyway.
There are benefits and consequences to each choice.
So what’ll it be?
Respect the will of those using ad blockers and risk watching your revenue growth whither.
Or punch through the ad blockers and risk angering the very people with whom you’re trying to earn trust, business, and a future.
Sounds like a high-risk no-win situation, right?
Remember though, you’re “It” in this adult version of a childhood classic and you’ll be forced to take sides and tag someone if you want to win.
As usual though, there’s another option; one that could actually position you not only to survive this dangerous game but also thrive:
Use data to determine the appropriate strategy for segments of your target audience and convert users you’d otherwise not reach while simultaneously reducing cost per message by not showing ads to people who refuse to view them or are unlikely to convert.
So what exactly do you need to consider prior to making a data driven smart decision?
Before we lay out your three options in detail and how to determine whether partnering with publishers or ad-tech concerns that use unblocking technology is right for your target audience, each of the parties involved deserve a turn at the microphone to make their case.
The Ad Blocking Boom
The ad blocking boom is certainly not in its infancy.
As the do-not-track movement gained momentum and research revealed at least one-third of all internet users routinely delete the cookies on which marketers rely to target relevant ads, demand for digital ad blocking technology surged as well.
For instance, the prominent ad blocking firm Eyeo says its Adblock Plus browser extension has been downloaded more than 300-million times and is the most popular in the world.
Image via: Adblock Plus
For some perspective, a joint research project conducted by Adobe and ad unblocking technology provider PageFair, revealed that the ad blocking community was growing rapidly by the second quarter of 2014. The research indicates there are 144-million monthly active Adblock users globally, or nearly 5-percent of all internet users.
Not so bad with a bit of perspective, right?
Consider then that the report also says the number of people using ad blocking technology has increased 69-percent over the last 12-months.
Besides user growth, it’s also important to look at this boom from a different angle.
Image via: Secret Media
These are figures sure to impact marketers as they demand third party ad viewability verification from publishers with whom they partner.
Ad Blocking’s Impact
You’re likely familiar with the worn out gripe from publishers; that the analogue dollars they once earned from advertisers have been replaced by digital dimes.
It’s why the block or don’t block debate only intensifies when viewed through the prism of digital’s share of the online advertising pie.
Research firm eMarketer estimates the total digital ad spend will top 160-billion dollars this year and account for a quarter of the overall media advertising spend.
Image via: eMarketer
As the shift accelerates, ad unblocking technology providers argue ad blockers are a threat to the livelihoods of publishers with advertising-based business models. Not only do publishers lose money when ads are blocked, but the technology can also diminish the frequency and reach of your ads.
In other words, critics argue ad blocking jeopardizes the free web.
While Google doesn’t appear to be all that upset by this because it actually pays ad blocking firms to let some of its ads slip past ad blockers, don’t expect the ad blocking trend to dissipate as the technology gets ready to go mobile and is backed by other tech titans.
The ad blocking arms race is on and mobile is the next target.
The Rise of the Blocker Blocker
Besides arguing that ad blocking stunts development of independent online media, firms like Secret Media, which provides technology that circumvents ad blockers, argue the practice is wrong because current blockers do not distinguish between intrusive ads and high quality ads.
Other ad unblocking providers like PageFair, suggest their tools have been designed to protect the future of the free internet.
Image via: PageFair
The effort appears to be gaining traction.
An ex-Google executive, Ben Barokas, recently raised $10 million dollars to start a venture that offers publishers a variety of ad blocking solutions.
While the firm, Sourcepoint, does offer technology that allows ads to bypass ad blockers, it also provides publishers with a range of choices they can use to monetize their sites.
For instance, when the company detects a web browser is using ad blocking technology it allows publishers to display a message notifying the user that ads pay for the content they’re viewing and asks the user to stop using the ad blocker.
Or, Sourcepoint also allows publishers to ask users to pay for the content they want to view just as UK newspaper The Guardian did recently:
Image via: Business Insider
The idea is to provide options and allow the user to decide how content creators are paid rather than immediately defaulting to technology that prevents ad blockers from working by encrypting ads and scrambling URLs just as a page is being loaded.
Turns out, giving users compensation alternatives to outright ad blocker workarounds may also improve the experience they have on a particular page.
Besides removing native ads and sponsored content, unblocking technology provider Secret Media says testing reveals ad blockers can also distort the way sites look and prevent non-advertising elements such as content sharing and recommendation widgets from appearing.
Image via: Secret Media
Even worse, if you thought you might be able to hide from all of this by shifting a portion of your budget to ads displayed inside applications, a spot notoriously immune to ad blockers, think again.
An Israeli startup is developing technology that allows mobile network operators to block ads from being displayed inside apps or browsers before they ever get to a mobile phone.
Remember, I mentioned earlier research from PageFair indicates Google is losing billions of dollars in revenue due to ad blockers.
So what does Google co-founder and CEO and Larry Page suggest advertisers do about ad blocking equipment?
At the company’s 2015 annual shareholder meeting Page advised, “I think part of it is the industry needs to get better, producing ads that are less annoying and that are quicker to load.”
Unfortunately, besides not mentioning that Google minimizes the financial impact of ad blockers by paying blockers to allow Google’s ads to pass through unscathed, Page also oversimplifies the challenge facing marketers.
While being less annoying and creating ads that load faster are important, there are a myriad other considerations to take into account.
So how do you navigate a world seemingly out to keep you from serving ads and growing your business?
Before we examine a hybrid option that uses data to dictate whether to override the ad blockers being used by certain segments of your target audience, let’s examine each of the two obvious alternatives; the one where you allow the ad blockers to prevent your ads from being served and the other which enables you to blast through the blockers and serve your ads regardless.
Option 1: If You Allow Your Ads to be Blocked…
You may actually still be able to show your ads, or at least a portion of them, to your target audience.
The problem is, at least if you’re a larger organization, it’ll cost you.
We’ve mentioned several times that Google pays the maker of Adblock Plus to allow some of the company’s ads to sneak past the ad blocker.
Here’s how it works; Adblock Plus maintains an “Acceptable Ads” program for which it charges large companies a fee to in return for certain ads being whitelisted.
These are often search ads.
Whitelisted ads are allowed to slip past Adblock Plus and are served to users who have downloaded the extension.
The Wall Street Journal Germany cites sources that indicate Google paid the maker of Adblock Plus approximately $25 million dollars to whitelist its ads.
Google doesn’t appear to be alone.
Microsoft, Amazon, and Taboola also reportedly pay hefty sums of money to have their ads whitelisted.
Critics have labeled the practice as extortion, blackmail, and racketeering.
However, the maker of Adblock Plus defends the practice and says no one can buy their way onto the list. In fact, the company says whitelisting is actually free for small and medium web sites and blogs. Plus, the company says it whitelists 90% of applicants in the “Acceptable Ads” program for free.
Interested in trying to get your ads whitelisted?
First, you need to understand what types of ads are acceptable.
Here’s a rule of thumb; check your creative juices at the advertising door!
In other words, no pop-ups, attention-grabbing images, or animation.
Here’s a complete list of the rules regarding acceptable ads.
Beware, even if you’re accepted to the program, Adblock Plus users can still opt to block whitelisted ads by adjusting their settings.
You can apply to be whitelisted here.
Pros for Option 1:
- You’re respecting the wishes of your ad blocking prospects & customers
- You save money not showing ads to people who say they don’t want to see them
- You may still show acceptable static search-like ads that can drive conversions
Cons for Option 1:
- You abide by the will of prospects & customers at the expense of growing your business with digital ads served where and when you choose
- Choosing to serve whitelisted ads hamstrings your creativity & and potentially reduces the effectiveness of accepted ads
- Whitelisting may disappoint if search ads do not convert for you or are less effective in achieving your marketing objectives
Option 2: If You Choose to Circumvent Ad Blockers…
You must weigh the risk associated with violating the wishes of those who are blocking ads against the likelihood the ads will actually generate incremental sales.
Before we dive into the data necessary to make an informed choice, let’s first appease your lawyers; punching through an ad blocker is legal as software is rarely outlawed.
However, European opposition opposed to ad blocking suffered a legal setback recently.
Eyeo, the maker of Adblock Plus, is on a legal winning streak. It has twice successfully defended itself in German courts after legal action brought by publishers and broadcasters.
Interested in bypassing ad blockers and serving your ads anyway?
If so, a smart marketer will identify exactly what it is that’s causing the ad blocking boom.
What specifically is it about digital ads that annoys, angers, or otherwise upsets people who risk not being able to consume the content they love for free by blocking the very ads that subsidize it?
What do they hate?
The types of ads being blocked, according to an Adblock Plus survey of 1,584 people, are generally perceived as annoying, intrusive, and irrelevant:
Image via: Eyeo
Why do they block?
Besides disliking ads that prevent them from consuming intended content, a survey of an undisclosed number of Adblock users indicates 30% install blockers to remove a specific subset of ads they don’t want to see:
Image via: Adobe & PageFair
There’s also a contingent that says it has no desire to see any ads at all though PageFair claims the figure is approximately 45% while Adblock Plus estimates 21% prefer to block all ads.
Pros for Option 2:
- Opportunity to convert people who otherwise might never have been exposed to your offering
- Legally serve the ads when, where, and to whom you desire
- Create pop-up ads, use images, or animation that may be more likely to garner attention
Cons for Option 2:
- Disobey the wishes of the ad blocking user and anger them to a degree that makes it nearly impossible to convert them via other means
- Waste money on ads users clearly told you they did not want to see
Option 3: If you choose a hybrid strategy...
That is based on analytics data you have as well as customer survey data you can easily get, you’ll know for sure whether to override the ad blockers, accept them as a part of your marketing future, or a little of both.
Now that’s truly a hybrid strategy!
You may actually be able to enjoy the best, or at least avoid the perils, of both the blocking and unblocking worlds; to serve targeted ads that do not annoy and actually convert prospects you otherwise would not have reached.
So what must you know to accomplish this?
To tailor a digital advertising plan that converts those who use ad blockers, those who don’t, and those who are in between, go beyond the survey data we’ve highlighted thus far.
Probe your target audience and contrast the data with what we already know about blocker adoption:
Question: Do your prospects and customers use ad blockers?
Insight: Measure how many of your web site visitors are blocking ads with this audit tool, which was actually designed for publishers, and you’ll get a rough estimate you can compare with the 41% of U.S. users between the ages of 18-29 who use ad blockers.
Image via: PageFair
Question: Does your target audience really hate pop-up ads?
Insight: Research suggests the majority do however consider the similar self-promotional pop-up opt-in lightboxes, like the one in this case study done over the course of eight months, which may be annoying but can actually boost conversions by 1,375%.
Image via: Crazy Egg
Question: Who are your customers?
Insight: Research from Adobe and PageFair indicate males and younger people are most likely to use ad blocking tools.
Image via: PageFair
Question: Where are your customers?
Insight: Ad blocking, according to the same study, is widespread in western economies and growing rapidly in parts of Asia and South America.
Image via: PageFair
Question: Which browsers are your customers most likely to convert on?
Insight: While available on all desktop browsers, the study indicates ad blockers are most popular on those that require end user installation like Chrome and Firefox.
Question: What types of ads convert your customers?
Insight: The PageFair research suggests 67% of Adblock users expressed some interest in viewing text and still image ads but reject pop-up, non-skippable, or full screen ads that cover the entire application.
Image via: PageFair
How do you turn all of this into a strategy?
Only after you identify which segments of your audience are likely using ad blockers and compare the characteristics of those segments against the broader survey data can you answer these questions:
Is the use of ad blocking among my target audience pervasive?
Is ad blocking costing me enough money to risk circumventing the blockers?
Might it be cheaper to simply acquire new traffic to replace the traffic lost to ad blocking?
Do the demographics & preferences of my target audience indicate it might forgive punching through an ad blocker?
If so, with what type of ad is my audience most likely to engage?
If not, are there other ways to cost-effectively reach the audience?
If you have an ad blocking problem, the data will help you determine which ad blocking members of your target audience, people who otherwise would never convert, might be willing to engage with your ad. Conversely, the data will also prevent you from wasting money serving ads to those you have little or no chance of converting.
Ad blocking is on track to hit 50% penetration in the U.S. by 2018.
It may not be costing you substantial revenue today, but it’s something you’ll likely be forced to address in the future.
Especially when you consider 80% of the people surveyed in the PageFair research project said they were unwilling to pay for ad-free content.
It means advertising, at least for now, is the backbone of the free web.
Besides growing your email list so you have a communications pipeline with your customers, learn all you can about their specific advertising preferences.
The data you acquire today will help determine whether to block the ad blockers tomorrow.
Tag- you’re it.
About The Author
Nick Winkler is a contributor to the Shopify Plus blog. He helps individuals & organizations generate new leads, make more money, and ignite growth with story. Get more from Nick here.