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The explosive rise of ad blocking: Reducing and dissuading its use with users

Ad blocking has seen an incredible and explosive rise in use across the last two to three years and is continuing to grow. With users upset about the number of adverts, their invasiveness and the control of their browsing experience taken away, ad blocking as a solution is only going to continue to gain traction. So, what can be done to reduce its prevalence?

For many online businesses, ad revenue is their main source of income. In Q4 of 2016, Facebook reported ad revenue of $7.2bn and in Q2, Google reported over $19bn of revenue from their advertising arm. This reliance on advertising revenue spreads across the web, from news sites such as the Guardian and Wired, to streaming sites like Twitch. The rise of ad blocking is eating into potential revenue and is forecast to get worse.

Who uses ad blockers?

The main demographic when it comes to ad blocking is males aged from 18-35, however the gap is beginning to close between genders and across age groups. Currently there is a split between how ad blockers are used per region. For example, in Asia, which is currently the biggest region for ad blocker use, they are used mainly on mobile, whereas the transition from desktop to mobile hasn’t happened yet in the West, with most users still only blocking via desktop. The current worry in the West is that it will only take one good piece of ad blocking software on mobile devices to gain traction and user numbers will rise exponentially.

The stats

  • 11% of the global population block ads
  • 615 million devices are currently blocking ads
  • 30% year-on-year growth in blocking ads (Dec 2015 – Dec 2016)

(source: Pagefair 2017 Ad block Report)

Why do people block ads?

Ad blocker users can be split into two key areas, current and potential blockers. Both demographics have their own reasons for using ad blockers or thinking about it. Pagefair recently released an in-depth study on ad blocker use. The reasons people gave for using or thinking of using ad blockers were:

  • Users want to take back control of their internet experience
  • Intrusive ads getting in the way of or slowing their browsing
  • Slowing browsing speeds, a concern on mobile devices and in emerging markets where mobile data is limited
  • Uninterrupted browsing
  • Worries of viruses injected into adverts

The two main concerns the study highlighted were that people wanted to take back control of their browsing and wanted to avoid intrusive ads, such as popups or videos without the option to skip.

So how can we change people’s minds?

Although ad block use is on the rise, there is hope. The Pagefair report showed that 77% of ad block users and potential users said they would be willing to see some ad formats. What needs to be kept in mind is how these formats effect a user’s browsing experience. If the format, for example a popup that’s hard to close, intrudes on a user’s ability to easily browse a website, the impact of that may lead to them looking at ad blocking software, which will eat into a site’s potential revenue.

Some big players on the web have tried several different tactics to encourage people not to use ad blockers, with mixed results. Facebook went the way of bypassing web ad blockers altogether, which resulted in a back-and-forth between themselves and ad blocking software. The Guardian and Wired opted to confront ad block users openly by asking to be whitelisted or to contribute in a different way.

The one thing companies had in common when confronting ad block users was that they never asked to uninstall the ad block. The hardest sell, by Wired.com, was to ask users to add them to their whitelist to access the content. Asking a user to remove the software and give up their browsing control again was something users said was not an option in the Pagefair survey. The only time these kinds of tactics work are when the content you have on-site is unique and can’t be found elsewhere.

Reducing the use of ad blockers has a simple solution: Listen to your users. Every user who installed ad blockers did it for a reason. Whether it was irrelevant ads or slow browsing, there were legitimate concerns that led them to take that step. Talk to your users and find out why they installed ad blockers and fix the issues. Below we’ve outlined how to solve some of the common issues that crop up:

  • Non-invasive ads – Avoid adverts on site that gets in the way of someone’s browsing experience.
  • Skip Options – Make sure video adverts have the option to skip. Sites such as Twitch.tv have previously had huge issues with ad blocking due to video adverts not being skippable.
  • Avoid popups where possible – Popups can be useful for data capturing, but for adverts during a user session, they can be detrimental. Make sure if you do use popups, they don’t cover the whole screen and they are easy to close.
  • Make sure the ad is relevant to your site & offers value – One of the biggest bugbears with users who have an ad blocker installed is that adverts they were being served were not relevant to them or the site they were on. Make sure the ads being served are relevant to the site and your demographic.

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