Ultimate Guide to Ad Blocker
Ad blocker and ad blocking has become popular over the past few years. Depending on which side of the aisle you stand, you’re either going to love it or hate it. Users see it as freedom from annoying pop-ups and auto-playing ads, while businesses fear the loss of advertising revenue.
So what is ad blocker and how does it work? This guide will answer those questions, as well as delve into the upsides and downsides of running ad blocking software. Finally, we’ll look into how businesses are combating this growing problem.
WHAT IS AD BLOCKER AND HOW DOES AD BLOCKING WORK?
The concept of ad blocking is relatively straightforward. The idea of an ad blocker is to simply prevent ads showing up in situations where they would typically appear on a webpage. Ad blocking can either completely remove the ad from showing up or alter the advertising content.
Advertising can be done on a website either through displaying pictures, animations, or by embedding audio, video or text. The ad blocker would be either a software or hardware preventing these different advertising formats from being displayed or adjusting how they are shown. For instance, certain ads can use pop-ups or auto-play software, which could be blocked by the ad blocker until further permission from the user.
Whilst ad blocking is typically associated with traditional device access to websites, such as through a computer or laptop, there is mobile-specific ad blocking software available as well.
How does ad blocking work?
So, how exactly does ad-blocking work? Ad blocking doesn’t actually block anything as a default. Instead, it filters different lists, which contain different page elements commonly associated with ads. In many instances, this simply means blocking the domains of the ad servers. This sort of filtering can be problematic, as it has the potential of filtering different native ads and original content.
In addition, ad blocking often prevents trackers from monitoring website visitors. These trackers are often used by advertisers to gather information about the visitor (where are they from, what do they do on the site, what other sites are they looking at) and use the information for personalized advertising. For example, you might have been looking at new swimming suits online and for the rest of the day, you might see similar ads popping up on websites you visit.
There are both hardware and software ad-blocking solutions. The common methods of blocking or filtering ads include:
The most common ad blocking method involves browser integration. Indeed, all common browsers offer some sort of filtering, as an effort to enhance user security and privacy. But browsers’ own ad-blocking software can be rather crude and therefore, browser extensions are popular additions.
There are also external programs users can use. These can be customized HTTP proxies to filter specific content. Under this model, the ads are filtered before the content is even displayed.
These external programs include examples such as Netnanny and Squid. The advantage of them is that they can expand on the content the software blocks. For example, aside from blocking ads, these programs can block offensive or inappropriate content.
Hosts file and DNS manipulation
It’s also possible to edit the host file and its associated IP address. This means that when you are browsing the web, the ad servers are changed to a local or non-existent IP address and thus blocking the ad from showing up.
This method is often used for preventing trackers.
A similar method to the above is filtering and changing records of a DNS cache. Since operating systems generally direct traffic through DNS cache, you can change these records and prevent unwanted hosts from accessing your browser.
DNS filtering, on the other hand, blocks access to domains or hosts, which are listed as ad providers. Users are able to manipulate their own DNS server and decide which ads or sites are filtered out.
Controversially, China currently runs its own root DNS. This prevents Chinese users from access to certain sites, which is often considered a problematic restriction on internet freedom.
Finally, there are different hardware devices that can be used. These work by linking to the network separately and blocking advertising based on user-generated reviews.
WHY IS AD BLOCKING A BIG DEAL?
Does ad blocking matter to you? Well, the consequences of ad blocking can actually reach quite a few people and it’s definitely something businesses want to keep in mind.
Digital marketing is a growing industry. For example, in the US, digital marketing is the fastest-growing sector in advertising. Strategy Analysts published a survey, which predicted digital marketing to account for 15% of US advertising spending in 2015, growing at a rate of nearly 13%.
Consider the above in the light that there are globally over 198 million active users with browser extensions blocking ads. Whilst digital marketing might be growing fast, the use of browser extensions increased by 41% in 2015.
This might still seem relatively insignificant. After all, the 198 million users only amount to around 6% of the global Internet population. But according to a 2015 Ad Blocking report by Adobe and PageFair, this small proportion of ad blocking can lead to combined corporate losses of around $41 billion by 2016.
Essentially businesses could be paying money for ads, which won’t even get a chance to impress or attract the potential customer. This can lead to loss of revenue in terms of missing out on potential clients, but also increase advertising costs.
WHAT ARE THE BENEFITS AND DOWNSIDES OF USING AD BLOCKER?
Considering the huge increase in the usage of ad blocker, it’s important to consider the advantages and disadvantages of using ad blocking software or hardware. Understanding the strength and weaknesses behind ad blocker can ultimately help businesses tackle the issue.
The benefits of using ad blocker
Ad blocker provides four main benefits to its users.
- Better performance. Websites today consist of multiple elements, which all add up in terms of performance. Whilst the website often tries to focus on performance issues and improve user experience, the ad providers typically create the ads with no attention to performance issues. This means that once a user visits a site, the ad provider can upload a number of ad tags, which include images, megabytes of video, audio files, and so on. All of which can hinder the loading time of the website. By preventing this from happening, the performance issues are removed by an ad blocker. New York Times testing recently found that ad blockers have improved mobile site performance significantly.
- Increased privacy. Since ad blockers target tracking on websites, it can increase user privacy. Ad blocking allows private browsing and can provide a more anonymous user experience.
- Improved user experience. Ad blocking can also improve the user experience. You’ve probably encountered websites that have tons of pop-ups, start playing automatic music loud as you are browsing for late-night snack recipes sneakily, and generally make the website browsing clunky and annoying. By using ad blocking, you’ll remove these distractions and instead can focus on reading or watching the information that has attracted you to the website in the first place.
The downsides of ad blocker
The above benefits can seem rather incredible and users don’t generally have to deal with any big downsides when using ad blocker. But there are people who argue ad blocking undermines the infrastructure of the Internet. The use of ad blocking can have unintended consequences that may end up hurting people and businesses, they say.
Perhaps the most significant downside is the financial cost that businesses face as a result of ad blocking. The process can damage both the publishers/advertising agents and the businesses advertising their products/services:
- Publishers and advertising agents are often paid by the number of ads served. As blocked ads don’t count as being viewed, publishers stand to lose revenue.
- Businesses also suffer, as people don’t get to see the ads they run. They might have invested money in the ad campaign already, but not having the audience to view the ad, they are unlikely to achieve the desired objectives of their investment.
This loss in revenue can be damaging to websites. Quite a lot of sites actually receive revenue by running ads and since these ads (i.e. the source of revenue) are removed, the site and its content can suffer as a result.
It’s important to note ad blockers don’t discriminate between the so-called good ads and the bad ads. Whilst certain ads and advertising strategies can be intrusive and annoying, there are good examples of useful advertising on the Internet as well. Unfortunately, ad blocking targets both types in the same way.
The same is true for different tracking systems as well. While there are real privacy concerns, many businesses can benefit by measuring and understanding user behavior. The analysis of this information can ultimately lead to a better user experience as well, which is directly damaged by the use of ad blocking.
HOW TO PREVENT WEBSITE USERS FROM USING AD BLOCKER
Since the practice can have damaging impact on publishers and businesses, they have started to tackle the problem. As ad blocking is becoming more known for the wider populace (see Apple’s entry into the space, for example), the focus on ad blocking is likely to increase.
There are three core tactics currently used to combat ad blocking. These include limiting access to the site from people running ad-blocking software, working around ad blocking with non-traditional advertisement, and circumventing ad blocking with anti-ad blocking software.
Blocking website access
Marketers can potentially block or limit the access to the website from those users that run ad blocking software. In order to do so, they can take either a soft approach or a hard approach.
A soft approach to blocking people is by asking users to “whitelist” the website. Since ad blocking software allows modification and the inclusion or exclusion of specific websites, the website can ask users to simply ‘switch off’ the software when visiting their site. Therefore, whenever the user visits the particular site, the ads on the site continue to be shown, while ads other sites will continue to be blocked.
The soft “whitelisting” approach is often simply a pop-up that is displayed as the user visits the website, and the website notices an ad blocking software. The websites can ask the user the turn off the ad blocker and allow further browsing whether or not the user fulfils the wish.
On the other hand, the harder approach to ad blocking would prevent the user from viewing any content on the site unless ad blocker is turned off.
Companies using this approach (either soft of hard) have the opportunity to explain to the user directly the damaging effect ad blocking might have on the site. For fans of the website, this kind of approach could be something that makes them understand the website’s point of view and they allow ads to be shown on the site during their visit.
On the other hand, it has also been known to cause the opposite effect. Alerting people about an ad blocker could potentially make them more determined to continue using it.
Finally, we must also mention perhaps the toughest approach certain publishers have taken to ad blocking, which is implementing paywalls. Since publishers can lose out in terms of revenue, they can counter the loss by moving to other forms of revenue, such as a subscription based revenue. This wouldn’t naturally affect the use of ad blocking, but it is an option for publishers – specifically in terms of countering the effects of revenue loss.
Creating non-traditional advertisement
Another way to tackle the issue is to forget about the traditional advertising methods, blocked by the software, and move on to a non-traditional method. Businesses could opt to use either content marketing or native advertising, for example.
Whilst many view content marketing and native marketing indistinguishable, there are subtle differences to these tactics. But both routes can help operate around ad blocking.
In content marketing, the business or marketer produces meaningful content around the product or service. These could be things such as business blogs, YouTube videos built around the product or service, and sharing the content on social media as a marketing method.
On the other hand, native advertising operates in a similar manner (creating meaningful content), but these ads are often run on third-party sites, not the business’ website or platforms. For example, you can see native advertising on websites such as Buzzfeed.
Non-traditional advertisement such as this has the potential to improve the quality of the advertising content and therefore, be welcomed by the user. The key is often to ensure that sponsored content, such as native advertising, is clearly promoted as such.
However, the problem for marketers and businesses can be that non-traditional advertising can be more time consuming and sometimes even costly. Creating traditional ad campaigns, such as Google AdWords for your composting business, doesn’t necessarily require the same level of attention as writing a full-length blog post about composting.
Finally, there’s also increasing focus on ensuring that advertising on the Internet is of a better standard. Indeed, improving the ads could potentially discourage people from using ad-blocking software.
For example, in the US the Interactive Advertising Bureau (IAB) is currently developing industry standards to enhance ads. Their effort is being conducted under the fitting acronym of L.E.A.N, which stands for light, encrypted, ad choice, non interruptive. Limiting ad intrusiveness and improving its impact on performance and privacy could have the potential of stopping a wider use of ad blocking.
Circumventing ad blockers with software
Finally, there is the option of outsmarting the ad blockers and preventing them from doing their job. The industry of anti-ad blocking has grown quickly and businesses have a wide range of tools available to try to circumvent the use of ad blocking on their website.
- Inform the user about their use of ad block and present them with options on how to continue accessing the site (as mentioned above, either ask to subscribe, turn it off for continued access, and so on.)
- Provide access after the customer commits to view a certain number of ads.
- Continue showing the ads. The software can stop the ad blocker from working altogether.
The use of ad blocking is rapidly increasing and the more popular the practice becomes, the cleverer businesses need to get about advertising. Whilst it’s undoubtedly true online ads can be annoying and intrusive, the damage caused by ad blocking can end up hurting many small businesses and publishers. It is therefore important that both users and businesses understand the consequences. Furthermore, the advertising industry must look into countering the effects of ad blocking, either with their own software or by simply improving the online advertising standards and content.