Ad Blockers Also Pose Risk to Content Experience

The other day, I was browsing a news website on my phone. I get my content from a variety of sources, and I also like to see what the competition is up to. Halfway through an article, I saw a standard 300×250 ad. Not unusual at all. The problem was it was sitting right on top of the content.

I tried refreshing my iPhone’s Chrome browser but it still hid the text. I’m certain the publisher wasn’t expecting this to happen — I don’t believe it’s the latest trend in getting consumers to pay for content. I found myself discouraged. This publisher is well known and I’m sure the content was well written. I just couldn’t read it.

This is the type of poor user experience that 1. would make me not pay for content; 2. would make me enable an ad blocker.

I’m not alone. In March 2016, some 419 million people (14 million in the U.S. and Europe) were blocking ads on mobile web — double from a year ago, mostly due to Apple approving apps that facilitate it. Some estimates peg the cost ad blockers had on publishers last year as $22 billion in lost ad sales. That’s serious.

There is a simple solution to prevent consumers from enabling ad blockers: make the ad experience better. I’ve written about bad mobile ads before. I’ve run them — I’m certainly not one to point fingers without admitting my own mistakes. But when you offer an experience like the aforementioned one, expected or not, it’s pushing consumers one step closer to installing an ad blocker.

But for those who turn them on, do they ever turn them off or uninstall them?

In a survey of consumers by the Interactive Advertising Bureau, ad blockers preventing content from displaying is when they’re most likely to shut them off. The irony is that content-overlapping ads might be why consumers turn on ad blockers in the first place, but ad blockers might offer a similar experience, which consumers aren’t fond of either.

The second most popular reason for shutting off ad blockers: being asked to. That’s what many companies, including The New York Times, are doing. Advertising, in many ways, especially for publishers, helps support their business. It subsidizes the costs of subscriptions, and in many ways, may help offer a free-to-pay experience (i.e. 10 complimentary articles per month).

Publishers must build trust with their readers though. They must not ask them to shut off ad blockers to make a few extra cents on advertising, continue to offer a bad experience, and then lose out on potential greater longterm revenue — i.e. a subscription.

Asking people to shut their ad blocker off or whitelist your site, only to continue to offer a subpar ad experience, has its drawbacks. This coincides with IAB’s next finding that most people in the survey said they’re willing to shut the ad blockers off in exchange for a better ad experience.

Isn’t that the theme here though: develop better ad experiences, ones that are effective for both the user and advertiser. Telling consumers to turn off their ad blockers because it helps support your business and then not improving the experience is similar to telling them to put up with it because it benefits the business.

This is not the case for all publishers, many of whom aren’t to blame for the reason the ad blocker was turned on in the first place. That’s why working to prevent consumers from turning ad blockers on in the first place has to happen across the industry, and not just news. All it takes is one or two companies to ruin it for the rest of us.

That and an ad that sits on top of some amazing content.

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