Is Ad Blocking really the problem?
By: Barry Blassoples
The question keeping digital media company owners and publishers awake at night is a simple one with no apparent answer (yet). What do we do about ad blockers?
Ad blocking refers to the installation of software which prevents advertising from being displayed on a web page in order to decrease the time it takes for the page to load and, when browsing on mobile without the benefit of Wifi, saving on data costs. In fact, in markets where the frequency of ad blocking software downloads is currently highest, the chief reason cited for ad blocking is the reduction of mobile data costs.
Fewer ads means less ad revenue, and for publishers whose entire business model is built on ad sales, the problem becomes obvious. Or does it?
While some media giants have gone on the litigation offensive, threatening to sue developers of ad blocking software, others are working hard to convince their audience to allow (read: tolerate) advertising while browsing. The REAL problem, however, is conveniently ignored.
What too many site owners are far too reluctant to admit is that the real problem is that they’ve not created sufficient value for their audience, they’ve failed to develop supplementary business cases and they’ve gone too far down the “revenue optimization at all costs” rabbit hole.
In simple terms, their web properties have become bloated and messy. And without the courage to play the long game, and make changes which truly benefit the end user in spite of the short term perceived losses, our insomniac media owners are doomed to a life of sleep deprivation and caffeine addiction.
We live in an On-Demand world. We eat, travel, communicate and consume content when and how we want. Platforms like Uber, Whatsapp, Netflix and Spotify create value for their users by facilitating the delivery of what their users want, exactly when they want it. Just as increased connectivity via smart devices has (for better or worse) created a world where people expect almost instant gratification, so too have these platforms transformed the way people think about their service providers.
When someone can confirm a reservation, order a taxi, let their friends know when they’ll arrive, and find a video to watch on the ride there, all in less than 90 seconds, why would anyone be okay with waiting for a page to load ads instead of the content they came to the site to see?
You may have noticed that I referred only to ads, and not irrelevant ads. While the relevance of the advertising certainly plays its part, the idea that ad blocking behaviour is driven predominantly by irrelevant advertising is a perilous one. It leads to thinking that if you just focus really hard on making ads as relevant as possible, in other words, employing as much ad tech as possible to track and target people visiting your site, you can give them a tolerable experience. In other words, they still don’t like the ads but they don’t mind them as much because the ads are at least about things they’re interested in. For too many site owners, the net result of trying to deliver more relevant ads is that they have slowed down the load times of their pages and punished their visitors by annihilating their mobile data plans.
While there may not be any silver bullet solution to the revenue hit existing publishers are facing, what is clear is that anyone who is currently developing their site or who has the chutzpah to make big changes to both their site and business model should be focusing on creating value for their audience. Real, feel-good-as-you-scroll value. Think UX design, think content, think relevance and think mobile. Please! For the love of all that is digital. Think mobile!