There has been a large focus on ad blocking software over the past few weeks. So what is it really about? And does it have any impact on Affiliate Window advertisers or publishers? In this ‘back to basics’ article we explain some of the context surrounding the ad blocking hype, and aim to answer any questions you may have.
If you would like to talk to us directly about ad blocking please feel free to get in touch with your point of contact, or email firstname.lastname@example.org
Why have ad blockers been such a hot topic these past few weeks?
Ad blocking tools, like AdBlock Plus for example, have been offered as extensions to the major desktop browsers for some time. In general, the use of ad blocking software has grown alongside both the general explosion of e-commerce and growing publicity around online privacy. The growth of ad blocking tools is illustrated by the chart below:
However, you could say Apple has recently made ad blocking mainstream with the launch of iOS9 (the latest version of the mobile operating system for iPhones and iPads) at the start of September, which allowed ad blocking technology to operate with the Safari mobile browser for the first time. This immediately spawned a number of increasingly popular ‘ad blocker aps’ such as Crystal, which made $75,000 worth of download sales in its first week (at 99 cents per download!): http://www.wsj.com/articles/propelled-by-apple-ad-blocking-cottage-industry-emerges-1443115929
Interestingly, ad blocking is a much more prominent issue in Europe than it is in the US, but perhaps this is unsurprising given the greater concern over internet privacy within the EU:
Some other statistics can be found here: http://blog.pagefair.com/2015/ad-blocking-report/
What’s the difference between ad blocker apps for mobile devices and ad blocker software you can download on your laptop or PC?
There is very little difference. Ad blocking software has been available in desktop browser extensions and direct downloads for some time. The Android mobile operating system has also allowed ad blockers access to its web browser, however the move from Apple to openly support third party ad blockers this year is a major change. Whether it’s on a desktop PC or mobile device, ad blocking software typically works in the same way, by recognizing domains that are typically associated with serving third party ads and blocking requests to those domains. The typical outcome will be that banner or ‘display’ ads that would normally have been shown on the website you visit will not appear.
A distinction should be drawn at this point between ad blockers that construct a black-list of domains to block, which they believe serve third-party internet advertising, and ‘all or nothing’ ad blockers, which block all unknown domains. The latter type can have a detrimental effect on a user’s browsing experience because they often block genuine internet content alongside ads.
Why might the average Internet user decide to turn on ad blockers?
The general rise in concern about internet privacy, and particularly ‘those ads that follow you around the Internet’ has led more and more internet users to run ad blocking software. More publicity around internet privacy, as well as a genuine concern amongst internet users that advertising companies are recording data on their browsing habits, has given rise to increase ad blocker use since 2013. Also, the sheer number and varied type of internet ads has grown in the last two years. Some online advertising can be very intrusive, often injecting ads that overlay the entire webpage you are visiting. Ad blockers are a way to stop internet advertising disrupting your browsing experience. However, there are other reasons to use ad blocking software besides getting rid of those pesky ads! Blocking online ad content can significantly increase page load times, and on mobile devices can cut down data usage, which is considered good news for people with limited data plans.
How do ad blockers affect affiliate marketing?
Ad blockers disrupt internet advertising, and of course, affiliate marketing is therefore going to be affected to some degree. The exact extent of this is very hard to determine. Ad blocking software is also constantly evolving and adding domains to their lists of blacklisted sites, which means no affiliate network can be totally confident they are unaffected by ad blocking. Ad blocking software can be found on all the major browsers including Chrome, Firefox, Safari, Opera and Internet Explorer. Apps are also available on Android as well as Apple devices running iOS9.
We mentioned earlier that ad blockers tend to block at a domain level. Therefore if a domain being used to serve affiliate creative, click-throughs or tracking requests is blacklisted by an ad blocking solution, requests to the domain will be blocked. This could lead to banners not being displayed on websites, click-throughs failing to connect and affiliate tracking not loading on the advertiser’s website. The obvious outcome is greater difficulty tracking affiliate sales and rewarding publishers when they have driven a sale to an advertiser’s site.
The good news for the affiliate industry is that ad blocking software wants to target companies that serve large volumes of banner creative across the Internet, which means performance-display networks are much more likely to be blocked than ads associated with affiliate marketing.
What can a publisher do about a user utilizing ad blockers?
Many ad blocking solutions can be detected when a user running one visits a website. There are many different ways to do this, but a common one is to detect whether an image or script is being blocked on the publisher’s site. Then the publisher can serve a notification to users asking them to turn off the ad blocker, such as these examples below:
Generally speaking, the plus side of internet advertising does not get much air time in the ad blocking debate. There is a general assumption made that the vast majority of internet content is free, and this free content can be consumed on the basis that a user might need to see a few Internet ads here and there. Ad blocking is expected to cost publisher websites $22 million in 2015. The obvious impact is that websites who have previously given away high quality content for free on the basis that they are allowed to show ads to their users will no longer be in a position to give away free content. These high quality sites will be forced to charge for their content, which will diminish the amount and quality of free content available on the Internet.
Further exacerbating this problem is the fact that the two most popular ad blocker apps on the market at the moment, AdBlock Plus and Crystal, do not allow whitelisting so users can’t actually choose content that they would prefer to view.
What ad blocker testing has Affiliate Window carried out?
Affiliate Window implemented a solution a few years ago to limit the risks associated with ad blockers preventing our clicks or tracking requests from working. In more recent weeks we tested the largest and most popular ad blocking tools on multiple devices against banner creative, click-through links and tracking requests. Only two of the major ad blockers on the market currently restrict Affiliate Window links when downloaded with their default configurations. These are uBlockOrigin on a desktop and the Purify app. All other major solutions allow Affiliate Window links unless specifically configured. There are some others, such as AdBlock Plus, which may block certain types of creative. All other major solutions allow Affiliate Window links unless specifically configured. We will continue to routinely test our service against the major ad blocking software and post any updates if we a major ad blocker changes its behavior towards us.
It’s inconceivable to think that with 82% growth in use in the UK during 2015 that the widespread take up of ad blockers will not continue, especially on mobile devices. This will continue to put the responsibility on advertisers to develop better ad delivery technology, which ensures internet advertising is not intrusive nor disrupts the user’s browsing experience. Ad blocking solutions are also another step in the direction of empowering consumers to choose the content that they view online. There is also a school of thought that states online marketing will have to up its game and deliver better and more creative solutions, tailored and offered to consumers in unobtrusive ways.
However, the ad blocking industry has to find the right balance. As much harm can be done to a user’s browsing experience by all or nothing ad blocking as can be done by intrusive internet ads. Often ad blocking solutions can block the very content a user wants to view, or prevent calls to domains that a website may need to actually work properly. In particular, ad blocking mobile apps that do not allow whitelisting of domains, seem to be handing control of the Internet experience to the ad blocking companies more so than the actual Internet user.
The take up of ad blockers, particularly on mobile devices, will also depend on the ability for the ad blocking technologies to balance their impact on free online content. While usage is unlikely to stop growing we may see a re-evaluation of how ad blockers are used if they gradually begin to prevent access to or curtail the viability of the very free online content that users are trying to access.
If you would like to talk to us directly about ad blocking please feel free to get in touch with your point of contact, or email email@example.com.
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