Ad Blocking is a big fear of the digital advertising industry and while anecdotally reserved for techies and gamers, more and more people are blocking ads, though far fewer than expected. For the second year in a row, eMarketer has downgraded its estimates of the adblocking population in France, Germany, the UK, and the US.
The most common reason for blocking ads is that users are receiving far too many ads, ads are disruptive to content experiences, or that the ads are annoying or irrelevant. All these reasons cry out for the Better ads Standards of the Coalition for Better Ads. This industry group is focused on improving users’ experiences with online advertising and are the result of public consumer research. Much like the Acceptable Ads Standard. Originally developed by eyeo and the Adblock Plus community, it is now the standard for the adblocking community. Eyeo acts on behalf of the Acceptable Ads Committee to enable publishers, ad networks, and ad-tech providers to participate in Acceptable Ads and to enforce compliance with the standard. So whereas Better Ads Standard is based on consumer preferences, Acceptable Ads Standard is developed for and by ad-blocking users. A small but important distinction.
2020 AdBlock Trends
A key trend that is being seen over the past few years is the number of ad block users on a desktop in a slight decline, however, this is more a case of users increasing their browsing activity on mobile devices rather than on desktop.
Although we know 25% of US users are using AdBlocking on at least one of their devices, the amount of ad blockers used in mobile is more than half of those used on a desktop. This is certainly driven by the app environment on mobile. However, it seems ad blocking is building in mobile environments, especially as a large proportion of mobile users and tellingly new internet using mobile users are accessing the internet with browsers that block ads by default.
The key strategy for rival browsers to combat Google Chrome’s market share seems to be to offer ad blocking as standard. While Google is unlikely to massively jeopardize the ad revenue that makes up a big part of their business, it is a consideration that is prompting strategy around ad blocking and third-party cookies.
Ultimately ad blocking exists not because people hate ads, but research carried out by Hubspot showed that they hate too frequent and poor quality ads.
Current most popular adblocking tools
Ad Block tools generally fall into two categories; Extensions and Browsers. With so many options, let’s be honest, how much of a difference is there really? Let’s have a look at the most popular in each category
- AdBlock is available on Chrome, Edge, Firefox, IE, Opera, Safari, Android, iOS. One of the most popular tools out there and follows the Acceptable Ads Standard, the direct name means it is a go-to for new ad-blocking users. AdBlock uses a series of filter lists to instantly and automatically block ad content coming from known ad servers and providers. Users can stick with the default blocklists, subscribe to additional ones, or even create their own, as well as whitelist their favorite websites.
- Adblock Plus (ABP) is available on Chrome, Firefox, Safari, Edge. This sounds like it packs a punch and goes a little further than the average. ABP is one of the most popular on the market and is the basis for the Acceptable Ads Standard. ABP is quick to set up enabling users to load preset filter lists that quickly block most ads. The whitelisting function lets you make sure your favored sites still display ads.
- Adguard is available on Windows, Mac, Android, iOS. AdGuard ad blocker effectively blocks all types of ads on all web pages, even on Facebook, YouTube, and Skype. The main difference between Adguard and the previously mentioned ad blockers is that it is a separate program as opposed to just a browser extension. AdGuard blocks ads up before they are loaded into the browser, resulting in a lighter use of bandwidth, speeding up the page load.
- Brave is a browser that does two things really well by default; Speed and Privacy. Brave achieves the speed by stripping out all ads and ad trackers from every website you access. Therefore, by eliminating ad trackers, Brave blocks the efforts of advertisers to identify users and then follow users. This symbiotic approach ensures both speeds as less data is downloaded to display a site and no data is collected on the user for ad tracking making it anonymous. The only downside, if it is a downside, is the stripped out ads are replaced with Brave’s own anonymous ads that their users can earn Brave tokens for interacting with. An effort to incentivize Brave users to interact with ads.
- Opera is a popular long-standing browser that has an ad blocker built into it. No installation and setup are required, all you need to do is turn on ad blocking in the browser settings. There is also a function to allow ads from sites you like and trust. The result is a much faster browsing experience.
- UC Browser is part of the Alibaba Group and is very popular in China, India, and across Asia. UC blocks ads and popup ads together by default. Recent claims regarding security flaws have significantly slowed the growth of UC but there is still the world’s most used ad-blocking browser.
Google Chrome is still the world’s leading browser. So to maintain that position while ad blocking is becoming a feature for differentiation by other browsers, Chrome needs to be able to get involved. The basis of the Google Chrome built-in ad blocker is the Better Ads Standards of the Coalition for Better Ads. The approach from Google is not to necessarily block ads, but instead, penalize those sites that violate the Better Ads Standards by showing popup ad formats for instance.
Sites are evaluated by examining a sample of pages from the site. Depending on how many violations of the Better Ads Standards are found, the site will be evaluated as having a status of Passing, Warning, or Failing. The reality of this approach is however that fewer than 1% of ads fail to meet those Better Ad Standards. So is this really ad blocking?
What can Publishers do?
Put simply, Publishers must create better experiences for their users. We already know users predominantly use Ad Blockers because:
- The Ads they see are poor quality
- They see too many Ads
- The Ads they see are too intrusive or disruptive
Optimizing your site to offer better quality ads in appropriate areas, at appropriate times with appropriate messaging can go a long way in changing attitudes to ads as users also realize sites need ad revenue to survive.
There are, however, three alternatives:
- Ad Recovery – The most popular strategy to combat Ad Blocking is to use Ad Recovery via Acceptable Ads. This works in the following way, as a user visits your site with an ad blocker enabled, Ad Recovery technology will be triggered to scan for the presence of ad blockers. Once identified, they will serve an acceptable creative through the ad blocker. Thus serving ads that meet the Acceptable Ads spec to opted-in users of participating ad-blocking extensions, browsers, and content blockers. Larger platforms (e.g. Google, Amazon) can and do partner directly with ad-blocking companies to facilitate this because they have full control over their advertising demand and can easily ensure compliance. Publishers, however, would instead work with a dedicated provider like Blockthrough or with third-party vendors offering Acceptable Ads support as a feature.
- Messaging – Both Hard and Soft messaging are used by publishers to communicate with their users. Hard messaging is effectively an Ad Block paywall, preventing content to be seen while an Ad Block is present. Soft messaging offers a display dialog that asks users to either disable their adblocker or donate to the upkeep of the site. Ultimately the soft messages can be dismissed.
- Ad Block Circumvention – Perhaps the most direct approach to showing ads in spite of Ad Blocking is to use Ad Block Circumvention. Here technology and vendors are used to evade ad blocking and display ads to ad-blocking users. This is usually done with no attempt to provide Acceptable Ads or giving the user the ability to opt-out.