Posted September 14, 2007 12:50 pm by with 22 comments

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Friends, family, and co-workers alike have all been raving about recent ad blocking plug-ins available for browsers like Firefox and Internet Explorer. Apparently the annoyance of banner ads has grown so cumbersome that the general public is ready to revolt by loading up ad blocking software in order to give themselves a smoother web experience.

I for one, rely on good old fashioned banner blindness when browsing and find ad blocking software just not worth the time. Of course as a web marketer I understand the value of advertising and question the long term viability of wide spread ad blocking.

CNet’s Anne Broache and Declan McCullagh recently posted an article covering the legality of ad blocking software. In their article they discuss copyright issues related to altering content and terms of service issues relating to publishers who specifically disallow the use of ad blocking software when using their service.

Regardless of the legal options available to publishers, in the end publishers are faced with a bit of a catch 22. On one hand you have more and more users installing software to circumvent monetization channels. On the other hand if publishers start suing or banning users for running ad blocking software they face a PR backlash. The same PR backlash could be felt if publishers start to attack the developers of ad blocking software.

What to do? What to do?

I personally see a lot of similarities in handling ad blocking software with banner blindness. In both cases you have users who are basically ignoring your ads. Of course with banner blindness you can employ strategies like animation, bright colors, and aggressive calls to action. These strategies don’t work so well when the user can’t see the ad at all.

Over the last few years we’ve seen several strategies designed to address banner blindness which could be used to address ad blocking software.

Text Based Ads

Google Adsense is the best example of this strategy. In a world of graphics based advertising Google Adsense helped advertisers re-think how they can communicate with their audience. Text based ads actually do a good job of communicating with the customer and seemed to help circumvent years of banner blindness conditioning driven by gaudy banner ads.

Text based ads are also harder to block with ad blocking software, so as publishers start to deal with more and more users employing ad blocking software, text based ads may be an effective strategy.

Pay per Post

This hotly debated strategy is a little on the black / gray hat side of things. Some publishers elect to receive payments from advertisers in exchange for writing a review of a specific service or product. While publishers have to sell their soul to employ this strategy, this is one way some publishers have been able to circumvent banner blindness and create new monetization channels for their sites.

Since ad blocking software can’t tell the difference between a pay per post and regular post this is one method we may see more and more publishers employ in order to keep their sites generating revenue.

What the Future Holds

Regardless of the technologies employed to help circumvent displaying ads, there will always be an endless array of counter strategies to make sure publishers can monetize their content. Some users may demand an advertising free web experience, but in the end it is those ads which help make most websites free of subscription fees.

If ad blocking software becomes too effective or if too many users install this software, then we’ll be looking at a fundamental shift away from free web content which would ruin the web experience the Internet has grown to know and love.

I for one would encourage anyone thinking about installing ad blocking software to consider these points. Are the ads that I’m seeing really that annoying? What quality of content implications could the web face if most users block ad content? Could these implications impact the quality of real content that’s available?

Publishers are going to find a way to monetize their content. Right now, banner or text based advertisements are an effective way for publishers to achieve monetization. If software drives publishers to disguise their advertisements how will you as a human be able to differentiate between advertising content and legitimate content?

Advertising empowers publishers to effectively bring free content to the web. Without this monetization channel serious concerns over subscription fees and quality of content become an ever increasing issue.

  • Nice write up. This is certainly something I think of as a problem.

  • David Google Adsense is one of the easiest advertising forms to block with adblocking software. You simply block the domain they serve it google adsense from. I haven’t seen an Adsense block in ages since I installed AdBlocker.

  • Webprofessor,

    I agree Adsense is one of the easiest forms to block; however, Adsense clones designed in HTML would be harder to block. The point I was trying to make was that text based ads would be one strategy to avoid ad blocking software. Adsense specifically would not be a good option if this were your goal.


  • Tom

    So it’s the end users fault that the advertisers are using an obnoxious and poorly recieved method of ad distribution and getting little bang for their buck?

    If people generally dislike this particular form of advertising, why not listen to them?

  • Tom,

    The great thing about advertising is that it’s a self regulating entity. If users don’t like specific types of ads they can either not click on the link or not visit the site where the ad is displayed.

    I agree that publishers and advertisers should experiment with their ad designs to best fit the users’ desires.

    Most ad blocking software doesn’t take into account the quality of ads, but rather blocks all ads of a certain type (Flash for example).

    If an advertiser has a poorly performing ad or if a publisher includes ads which overly detract from the quality of their site, then market forces will dictate that the ad or site will change or perish.

    Circumventing advertising for the sake of circumventing advertising is a little different than arguing over the quality of specific ads or sites.

    My other point is that publishers will find a way to monetize their sites one way or the other, and in an environment where obvious forms of advertising are blocked publishers may elect to use less obvious forms of advertising which may not be beneficial to the web (i.e. pay per post).

  • The hardest form of advertising to block is also the best; direct ad sales between the web site and the advertiser.

    I just started selling 125×125 button ads on my site. Because these images are served from the same server as my content and content images blocking them will also result in blocking my content. I would like to think my visitors come to my site for my content so I do not think they will block my image directory just to avoid a few small button ads.

    Because I sell these via direct sales I do not have to worry about some third party putting an annoying flash ad into my banner roation or on my site at all. Due to recent things Google has been doing I am finding them to be a very unreliable service in regards to AdSense.

    I also use Pay-Per-Post but most of the offers listed on the site are either outside of the area of my readers interest or do not pay enough.

  • I am just now researching more into ad blocking software and was curious about something. On a CPM campaign, if the ad isn’t shown, wouldn’t it be correct that you won’t pay for an impression?
    And for pay per action/click ads, you wouldn’t be losing money either.

    The only thing you are losing is audience size. If the audience doesn’t want ads anyways, then it seems that ad blocking works to your advantage by allowing you to not spend on consumers who wouldn’t buy or be influenced in the first place.

  • Mark,

    Adblocking does help the advertiser in a CPM situation, why pay for an impression if the reader will never even look at your ad? As for CPC, are you looking at CPC as a CPM campaign that costs less because you get “free” impressions of your ad?

    Either way it is not the advertisers who are crying about adblocking it is the websites that generate income from readers having ads served to them that are doing the crying.

  • Mark,

    This is true and this is something I considered when writing this article. The only thing I would point out here is that some people may be influenced by others to install ad blocking software.

    The few people who have approached me about this did so in a way as to convince me to install the software. There is going to be some element of the audience who might have responded to advertising yet were influenced by others to block ads.

  • @Steve – Being a publisher, I should have thought about that. I guess I am wearing the agency hat today and am fighting for the advertisers 😉

    @David – Great point. I guess we will have to watch how big the efforts to promote these products gets to see how we need to adjust our advertising techniques.

  • @David – great article!

  • @HMTKSteve – Its easy to block those types of image ads too. You just block common banner sizes ( can’t do this with adblock but I think Norton has a tool to do it ) and common names for advertising. The only real way to get advertising that isn’t block is to actually use regular text links that go directly to the target.

  • How to detect adblocking? You simply use a javascript that checks your DOM for the ads you use. If you can’t detect the ads in your DOM or they have been altered to be invisible then you don’t display your page.

  • As I’ve written before – there is a good chance adblocking is actually unconstitutional…. I’m glad higher traffic sites are finally expanding on my original view.

  • unconstitional? lol..

    what amendment do you think is being broken?

  • 1st Amendment which through tried cases is meant to assume “The liberty to create, possess and disseminate information without hindrance….”.

    Read it here:

  • Thats retarded. Free speech rights only applies to how the government treats us not what private citizens do. If I want to go through the Sunday paper and cut out all the ads before I read it I can. If I want to kick you off my lawn while you wave signs up I can. If I want to remove ads from a page I downloaded onto my computer in the privacy of my home…. guess what.. thats right I can.

    Marketers can rant about this all they want but what they really should be doing is being creative with their marketing and not make enemies out of their audience.

  • the constitution only applies to the us government and its agents.

  • Great article, agree with you!

  • Tom

    If anything actually comes from these proposed lawsuits, I think people will just start sharing information on how to block ads manually. Taking steps like updating your hosts file to block content from certain domains/locations, disabling javascript, etc… aren’t very hard to do to begin with.

    Advertisers got themselves into this mess with overly aggressive banner ads, flash ads, etc… with little consideration for the end user. Just because you *can* make an obnoxious flash ad that overlays the content of a page, plays music and animation, and is difficult to close – doesn’t mean you should, or the user will appreciate it.

    This kind of backlash was inevitable.

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  • no ads

    if ad blocking makes people who can use words like “monetize” in a non-ironic fashion lose a little sleep, then I think it makes the world a better place