One of the consistent problems in the digital advertising industry is the issue of ad-blocking. Since the entire digital media ecosystem is underpinned by an economic model that requires website visitors’ eyeballs on ads, it’s quite a big problem if those eyeballs are intentionally blocking said ads and thwarting publishers out of their revenue.
Risks of Going “Ad-Free”
The rise of ad-blocking has led to a slew of strategies from publishers, from directly appealing to users to not use ad-blockers to offering ad-free versions to subscribers, but the problem has not abated. Google is rumoured to be rolling out an ad-blocking version of its browser Chrome in 2018. As the Wall Street Journal first reported earlier this year, “the ad-blocking feature, which could be switched on by default within Chrome, would filter out certain online ad types deemed to provide bad experiences for users as they move around the web.”
The list of unacceptable ad tactics is reportedly based on a list published by the Coalition for Better Ads, which noted that consumers they polled “identified the following types of desktop ad experiences beneath the initial Better Ads Standard: pop-up ads, auto-play video ads with sound, prestitial ads with countdown and large sticky ads. For the mobile web environment, the following types of ad experiences fell beneath the initial Better Ads Standard: pop-up ads, prestitial ads, ads with density greater than 30%, flashing animated ads, auto-play video ads with sound, poststitial ads with countdown, full-screen scrollover ads, and large sticky ads.”
Are All Ads Bad?
This, understandably, has some publishers freaking out. With the dominance of Google and Facebook in hoovering up a large majority of ad spend, Google now also has the power to enforce what constitutes a good ad. As Meagan Lopez, global digital business director for The New York Times, was quoted as saying: “A monopoly which is already not affected by ad blocking in general because of paid whitelisting having more power is scary. Owning every aspect of the advertising world from tech to search to exchanges to measurement to servers to ad blocking within the browser just means less control again for everyone else.”
With that news lingering on the horizon, the stakes were raised even higher earlier this summer when Google published an “Ad Experience Report”, the criteria it’s using to judge website’s ads based on design and creativity. As Digiday reported: “It provides screenshots and videos of ads that have been identified as annoying to users, such as pop-ups and autoplaying video ads with sound, and ‘prestitial’ ads with countdown timers. So far, Google has identified about 700 sites as warranting corrective action out of around 100,000 sites it’s reviewed so far. Half of the roughly 700 got a ‘failing’ status and the other half a “warning.” Pop-ups were the most common problem Google found, accounting for 96 percent of violations on desktop and 54 percent on mobile.” The so-called failing sites are not just fringe websites without many visitors. In fact, many mainstream sites such as Forbes, LA Times, In Touch Weekly, and the Chicago Sun Times also failed these standards.
While it’s clear that Google imposing these new standards will be a boon to internet users wanting a better ad experience, it remains to be seen how it will affect the business models of websites that rely on these ads to pay their bills. While publishers may resent Google for being both the beneficiary and enforcer of its own ad standards, there is not much they can do to rebuke it. However, as Digiday noted, the concern remains “that clamping down on [tactics like Autoplay video] has a disproportionate impact on independent publishers.”