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article imageOp-Ed: The onslaught of ad blockers is killing websites and the Internet

By James Walker     Apr 12, 2015 in Internet
The vast majority of websites rely on revenue from adverts displayed on their pages to be able to operate. Yet many consumers install ad blockers that hide them from sight, preventing websites from getting much needed money - and the trend is growing.
The online advertising industry is estimated to be worth over $120 billion. It drives small and large websites alike and in many cases entirely funds the website. The revenue from adverts is likely to be used to pay content creators, developers and designers and also to buy new vital infrastructure such as web servers that make it possible for a site to grow and handle larger traffic volumes.
If advertising is so important to websites then, you may expect that the loyal readers of these sites would happily concede that a few product placements around an article is acceptable, given that without them the article may not have even been able to exist.
The unfortunate truth is that you may be wrong. 140 million people worldwide have ad blockers installed and activated on their computers that strip websites of the adverts on their pages and remove that vital funding source.
Over 5% of the world's population use ad blockers. A recent survey conducted by Adobe and PageFair titled "Ad blocking goes mainstream" concluded that the number of people with ad blockers installed rose by 70% last year. This trend is likely to worry many website owners.
The usage of ad blockers has been rising dramatically
The usage of ad blockers has been rising dramatically
The Financial Times
The issue is not a minor one and has arisen from a combination of factors. One of them is the attitude of users, many of whom believe that the Internet and its content should be free. A more prominent one is how the adverts are displayed.
Many consumers become annoyed and frustrated when they see adverts that have heavy advertising around them. It is true that adverts do slow webpages down. The effect is noticeable on any web browser but especially so on mobile devices - now the primary way in which people consume the Internet.
Web users have also learnt to loathe adverts that begin automatically playing video or audio. Another major bugbear for many is sites which require you to dismiss an advert before you can read the content.
A lot of this stems from how adverts are displayed on the Internet in the first place. The process begins with a utility like Epom Ad Server. Software makes it easy for advert publishers to show the same campaign across every possible platform and in a variety of forms.
Website owners then sign up to an advert provider which grabs its adverts from the advert server. These can now be embedded into the site and displayed to users when they visit, either randomly or in a targeted form such as the Amazon adverts that display products similar to what you most recently searched for.
The reliance on an external ad server is what makes ad blockers possible. They scour the source code of webpages before the page is displayed in the browser. When they find code that would ordinarily display an advert, the communication with the server is disrupted and the advert replaced.
For this to work, a list of known advert servers has to be created and maintained and this is exactly how ad blockers work. It is also why you may still occasionally see adverts on websites even if an ad blocker is installed.
Ad publishers are beginning to find ways around ad blockers. In a very young technique being called "stealth" advertising, some companies have found ways to get their name into peoples' minds without being intrusive or even showing an advert, as such.
The key here is "promoted" content. Used by Twitter and YouTube, you sometimes find a tweet by a company you don't follow in your feed or a video by a suggested channel. They have paid to have that content displayed to you and your ad blockers won't be able to remove it.
The issue with people using ad blockers is highlighted by Steven Williamson, general manager of UK-based PlayStation website PlayStation Universe. He told the Financial Times that 40% of the site's visitors were using ad blockers and that revenue was suffering as a consequence. He said: "We’ve made our own pleas to our community [to disable their ad blockers]. But it did not work. If it were to carry on the way it is I think you’d see a lot of sites struggle to survive."
The sentiment is echoed by other site managers. Dramatically increasing numbers of people are using ad blockers and that is directly leading to cuts in the revenue of websites. If a site's only source of funding is adverts, it becomes a struggle to survive.
Mike Zaneis, general counsel of the US Interactive Advertising Bureau, told the Financial Times: "Ad blocking is beginning to have a material impact on publisher revenues. The free Internet that consumers demand cannot coexist with the continued proliferation of ad blockers."
It is clear that something needs to be done. Consumers don't like seeing websites cluttered with adverts for products but the sites themselves rely on them to exist.
The situation could be improved if adverts were less intrusive. People may be happier if they weren't constantly bombarded with ads on their favourite sites. Publishers have shown resistance in the past though as they need prominent placements to stay in the minds of viewers - even if it is for the wrong reasons.
Some apps have found success by directly including adverts in their content. Take popular newsreader Flipboard, for example. The app revolves around "flipping" pages of magazines to see content. After several - and it is typically quite a few - flips, you will flip to a page that is an advert - just like a real magazine. The effect works and isn't intrusive. Flipboard requires app publishers to design good-looking adverts that will work well with the "flip" effect and everything links nicely.
A few websites have already tried this and found success. Some homepages use inline advertising to good effect. In a list of articles for example, every few articles may be an advert, stylised to look like the main site. Not intrusive for the reader but still prominent for the publisher.
In the future, these techniques may have to be adopted more if sites are to ensure that users don't turn to ad blockers in exasperation. With Internet users of all ages and nationalities installing these tools, websites might not have much time left to find a solution in before it is all too late.
This opinion article was written by an independent writer. The opinions and views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily intended to reflect those of DigitalJournal.com
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