Ad blockers. That inconspicuous little icon in the corner of well over 615 million browsers that sends shivers down the spine of every PPC specialist.
The ad blocking phenomenon began making waves in the digital advertising community in early 2014 and the uncertainty has grown as the trend continues to see significant growth year after year. Anyone relying on ad revenue is worried.
Despite all this, display spending has not slowed down, and by the end of 2016, there was a record of $72.5 billion of ad spend. Obviously this is still a great revenue channel, so what happened?
They say one bad apple spoils the bunch, but in the case of digital advertising, many bad apples consistently subjecting users to low quality ads wore people down. Ad blockers easily broke into a market that was tired of it.
The State of Ad Blockers Today
Ad blockers have been equally considered both the friend and the foe of the current digital landscape. Users feel like ad blockers give them back a sense of control over their digital experience, and advertisers and publishers fear the massive losses associated with the big blank spaces where ads used to be.
Most people agree that not all ads are completely disruptive and that implementing a total ad block wouldn’t make sense. However, over 26% of Americans online are using an ad blocker in response to the general animosity towards popups and popunders, overbearing fullscreen mobile ads, sketchy ads that raise security concerns, heavy bandwidth hungry ads, and always-much-louder-than-you-expect autoplay video ads.
The good news is, this still leaves a (quickly closing) gap of 74% of people who still don’t have an ad blocker installed. This joyous news means marketers do have a fleeting opportunity to do something about it.
There was a hope that mobile was going to be a clean slate, a place to start anew with good intentions, but according to a recent report, there are now a minimum of 309 million people using mobile ad blocking tech (including in-app), which is an increase of 90% over the year. So as marketers, we’re going to have to come up with a better strategy.
Now is the time to step back and listen to what users are saying. They are clearly not happy with the current situation, and their fast paced adoption of ad blocking tech signals that there needs to be a big change, and soon. Even marketers agree with that.
Chrome’s Built-In Ad Blocker: Rumor or Soon-to-be Reality?
According to a heavily cited and discussed WSJ post published in April, Google is hoping to do something about it by implementing an ad blocking technology directly in Chrome. This feature would block out the type of ads that irritate users the most across platforms. Since Chrome is used by nearly half of internet users, this could have major consequences for the industry.
Still technically a rumor, speculation is mounting that Google is seriously looking into this in a strategic move to counter the rise of their newest enemy, third party ad blockers. When, or even how, this new version of Chrome will be released is still unknown.
Why Would Google Get Involved in Ad Blocking?
Everyone knows Google is a major player in the paid search and display industry, raking in billions of ad revenue every year. However, a chunk of this revenue is paid out in huge commissions to popular ad blocking software Adblock Plus to stay on their whitelist. Buying their way in doesn’t necessarily guarantee their ads will make it through the block, however.
Taking a carefully planned and executed stab at it themselves would give Google some distance from their dealings with extensions like Adblock Plus and hopefully shift public opinion back in their favor.
The only way Google can win back the ad-blocked-public would be to prove they are working towards a system that actively strives to create a pleasant user experience for everyone on the web, while simultaneously serving advertisers and publishers with rejuvenated revenue streams. Basically, Google needs to find a way to serve content that people don’t want to block.
This seems like a utopian ideal that is easier said than done. If Google only filters their own content, they run the risk of simply opening up more space for competitors to swoop in and take over that precious ad space. But, if they control too many aspects of the industry, it might be deemed anti-competitive and cause some major legal problems.
This might be why Google is tiptoeing around the topic at the moment. They took tangible steps to gather real data by organizing a massive study by the Coalition for Better Ads (Google is a member) that ended up identifying six desktop and twelve mobile ad types that were not up to par for consumers. The conclusion of the study focused on a call to the industry to clean up their act and focus on improving the customer experience.
“As an industry we have a responsibility to find better ways of making great advertising and content that really engages people. It’s in everyone’s interest; better advertising leads to a better experience for the viewer and more effective advertising for brand.”
– Keith Weed, Chief Marketing Officer for Unilever
PPC Needs to Adapt to the Changing Market
The conclusion everyone is making in the paid advertising industry is that the current state of ads must be overhauled before the ad blockers dominate the remaining market. Ad blockers grew exponentially, mostly by word-of-mouth, so changing public opinion is crucial. It’s time to listen to what consumers have been saying for years.
In an SEJ round up of 2017 PPC predictions, Katy Tonkin from Point It expressed the need for hyper-relevant and perfectly timed advertising that resembles more of a value-added service that will help build trust in advertising for both advertisers and audiences.
How do we get started on turning advertising from a nuisance to a valued service? IAB suggests six important steps to improving the digital advertising experience:
- Know your audience
- Use the right content in the right context
- Drive relationships, instead of focusing solely on transactions
- Improve UX design
- Take risks, innovate, and be creative with technology and data
- Make an effort to collaborate and standardize the industry
As PPC Hero summarizes, you need to make better ads. Data should be used in a way that helps you understand your customers and produces highly targeted messaging. Tell a story they actually want to listen to. Make sure the message is clean, clear, and simple. Your content should not only be personalized, it should be relevant and helpful to the consumer in some way. Keep on top of your strategy by setting frequency caps, adjusting audience windows, and adjusting bids at the right times.
Take one out of the content marketer and social media marketer’s playbook: offer users content that delivers real value. This means creating something that speaks to them as human beings and gives them a reason not to block you.
Another avenue worth exploring is native advertising. Native ads blend into the content well, offering more value to the user than a typical ad.
Jason Kint the CEO of Digital Content Next warns, “Any channel of consumption is at risk at this point. We believe an industry-wide focus on creating a better consumer experience for the blocked web should be the first and only priority.” This is an opportunity to ditch the old strategies and be creative.
Remember the golden rule: don’t target in a way you wouldn’t want to be targeted.
Final Thoughts: Advertising in a Climate of Blockers
Ad blockers are not going away anytime soon. While Google may be taking steps to revolutionize the industry at a massive scale, the day-to-day techniques used by advertisers and publishers need to be adapted in order to succeed.
It’s an opportunity for the industry to learn from the opposition and evolve in a way that delivers a user experience that works and delivers content that people actually want to see. Whoever takes these steps first will be the ones who end up on top.
Are you ready to change the face of digital advertising as we know it? Leave us a comment below and let us know how you’re responding to ad blockers.
Feature Image: Unsplash/Jay Wennington