Ad Blockers Are Good Signals

Published: by

Are ad blockers good or bad? Does it depend for whom?

Advertisers and content Web site owners are up in arms over ad-blockers. A report from August 2015 suggested that the industry lost $22 BN in revenue in 2015 due to ad-blockers. Yesterday I visited a news site on my phone - I believe it was Forbes - and it refused to show me the page until I turned off the ad-blocker. Side note: a few reloads and it came up anyways.

Here is the issue, though: people love ad-blockers.

Apparently, though, not every content Web site hates them. The very public exception is Stack Overflow, who wrote, "we hope you won't use ad-blockers, but if you do, we don't care." The whole article is worth a read, but here is the key takeaway, one that has been on my mind for a while: it is all about the user experience.

If you have a great site, and you make your money off of ads, then instead of fighting ad-blockers  you need to ask yourself why so many of your users are using ad-blockers.

Users do not use ad-blockers because they hate you or your site, or are evil or mean-spirited. Users use ad-blockers because ads are ruining their experience. Users come to your site for the content, and ads are ruining their experience.

This bears repeating again, because it is so important: ads are ruining users' experience.

Don't you want users to have a great experience on your site? Do you not expend significant treasure to make that happen?

Ads ruin that very experience so in three ways:

  1. Ads slow page loads. Don't believe me? Look at the algorithms in place to ensure the content does not load before the ads, and look at the reported speed-ups in browsers like Brave with ads blocked.
  2. Ads take up valuable space. If I am reading an article that can fit in 2 pages, why would I want it to be pushed down to 3 because of ads on the side and top?
  3. Ads are offensive. Whether it is because of the style - flashing colours and sound anyone? - or the content - why would I want to see inappropriately dressed people while reading an important technology, business or parenting article? - it offends.

If you have an ad-driven revenue model, then you work very hard to create a great user experience to attract users, and push them away with a negative ad experience. Users responding with ad-blockers are saying, "we want to come to your site, and this is how it makes it better for us."

Why would you not want users to visit your site?

Unfortunately, many site managers think from their perspective rather than their users'.

Nonetheless, even from the owners' perspective, if users do not want your ads, then they are not going to click on them, and your CPM will go down. Want to know why CPMs tend to be so low? Flood any market with a commodity, even (or especially) lower-quality product, and see what happens to prices.

The problem, of course, is that ad-blockers cannot differentiate. If 90% of sites, or even just 30% (and I am pretty certain that it is closer to the former than the latter), have ads that ruin the user experience by slowing down site load times, getting in the way of reading, and offending the user, then users will install ad-blockers that block all ads indiscriminately, even high quality.

Herein lies the opportunity. Users actually do want to see ads that are relevant to them. But they must:

  1. Have zero negative impact on page loads.
  2. Not get in the way of the content consumption experience.
  3. Not display offensive or bothersome material.

If all ads were like that, what do you think your CPM would be?

Internet-wide ad-blockers are being adopted so heavily precisely because so much garbage is out there and no alternative exists.

An opportunity awaits.