Publishers Should Exercise Caution Before Banning Their Ad Blocking Audience
We have witnessed the German tabloid Bild.de and the UK business news site City A.M. put up ‘plea walls’ against consumers who are running ad blocking software.
These users are presented with a simple choice – turn off your ad blocker or go away.
Most of the publishers we speak with are not considering taking such action, but there are a handful who have expressed a curiosity in doing so. From these conversations, we have learnt that many are not fully aware of the potential implications.
With so much at stake, I urge publishers to assess the situation thoroughly before pursuing such a course of action.
Consumers who use ad blockers are an extremely valuable audience.
They’re higher earners, early adopters of new products, and heavily influenced by content they’ve consumed online when making purchasing decisions. They’re also highly engaged and contribute enormous value via content sharing and contribution.
In short, an immensely desirable target audience for marketers.
This massive revenue opportunity is yet to be unlocked by publishers. But it will, as we, as an industry, gradually build alternative ad experiences for this audience that do not get blocked.
Turning them away in the meantime, by educating them not to visit a particular website for fear of being blocked at the point of access is potentially disastrous.
They have downloaded an ad blocker to solve a perceived problem, turning it off makes the problem reappear. Many will not disable their ad blocker if told to do so, they just leave. Will they return?
For users that begrudgingly disable their ad blockers, their relationship with the ‘restored advertising’ is questionable.
Brands will, effectively, be forcing their commercial messaging upon consumers through advertising formats they have previously articulated they strongly dislike (pre-roll, banners etc). This relationship will be attritional at best, damaging at worst.
Until we rebuild advertising experiences in a manner that consumers are content with, the ecosystem will not be sustainable.
Who are publishers turning away?
I often hear the phrase ‘ad blocker users’ used in a context that insinuates they are all identical people.
Of course they are not, and the truth is, if publishers turn away this audience they really have no idea who they’re turning away.
Is a publisher turning away a fleeting visitor? A dedicated reader? A social influencer?
We live in a multi-device world. Most ad blocking consumers use numerous devices (smart phones, home computers, tablets, work computers etc) to access web content. It is rare that all of these devices have ad blocking software running.
Publishers will be turning away readers on devices where they have opted not to receive invasive ad experiences, but accepting the same readers on other devices where they have not downloaded an ad blocker. That is a highly fragmented experience, one which could lead to losing the reader, entirely, on all devices.
We’ve discovered that journalists and writers have a high usage rate of ad blocking software. In one particular scenario we looked into, the usage rate for this group was over 50%.
If you’re a publisher, gaining links to your website via other publications referencing back to your content is crucial – as is well known.
Journalists are more likely to reference a webpage they can access easily – that won’t be sites that ban ad blocker users. Neither is the content as likely to be shared and distributed on social platforms.
What else could publishers lose?
Quite a bit.
Ad blocker users consume native content (advertorials and sponsored posts), subscribe to newsletters, watch TV channels, consume newspapers and magazines, purchase goods from e-commerce offerings, contribute user-generated content, provide commentary towards an online community, and share content on social platforms.
If publishers engage in, or depend upon, any of the above via direct or affiliated business activities, they will likely be harmed as a result of banning ad blocker users.
Any other risks?
Potentially a big one – Facebook and Google referral traffic.
Both companies have a vested interest ensuring they continue to direct their users to engaging and relevant content – content that can be accessed easily with minimal hindrance and delay.
As the volume of ad blocking traffic continues its rapid growth, the two tech giants could very well decide it is against their interest to link to content where they know a significant percentage of their users will just hit the ‘back button’. That’s bad user experience, and they’ve made similar moves in the past.
Admittedly, Facebook traffic is mostly in-app and largely unaffected by ad blocking at this moment in time, but current trends indicate this could change quickly – a risk that Facebook has acknowledged in recent regulatory filings. Meanwhile, Facebook desktop traffic sees significant levels of ad blocker usage, and although it makes up a lower percentage of overall traffic than mobile in-app, it still represents a large volume of traffic in itself.
Google, by contrast, is heavily effected. The majority of Google searches still occur in web browsers, where ad blockers are most commonly used.
Publishers that choose to put up road blocks against ad blocker users may find their overall content rankings downgraded on these services in the future.