Don’t forget the user when battling ad blockers

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Ad blocking is declining!

That is probably a statement all publishers and agencies will cherish, and the dream has actually come true – at least in Denmark.

graphic_actual_use_of_ad_blocking

According to a new study, ad blocking on computers in Denmark has dropped from 14% in Q2 to 12% in Q4. But in the other Nordic countries; Sweden, Norway and Finland, ad blocking has actually increased a bit. And UK and US has an even higher share of ad blockers . In other words, a general decrease does not look like the new norm.

Blocked content leads to less ad blocking

What can we decipher from these new numbers? First off, Denmark has seen a lot of big publishers implementing anti-ad blockers, which are either totally blocking the ad blockers or inviting them to whitelist their websites. No doubt that this has had an effect.

In the study, people were asked if they whitelist websites and why they whitelist websites. While this is not the exact same thing as completely uninstalling your ad blocker, I would argue that this is a fairly good indicator of why people uninstall their ad blockers as well.

Reasons for whitelisting

The top reason for whitelisting is “… because content is blocked”.

Don’t forget the real problem

However, when using the stick – don’t forget the carrot. Ad blocking in Denmark has in no way disappeared and if publishers only use the stick – i.e. by blocking ad blockers – users will find workarounds like when ad blockers introduce “Adblock Warning Removal Lists” to block the anti ad blockers. In short, it will become a tech ‘arms race’, where publishers will implement more and more advanced band aid instead of curing the big gaping wound; the reason why people started blocking ads in the first place, which I dare to say is bad user experience from ads through and through.

I talked with the CEO of a leading Nordic media company, and his approach to ad blocking was that people are blocking ads because they can. If people could block ads on the TV they would do that as well. And while I agree with that assessment, I also believe that we need to look a bit deeper into problem.

Installing an ad blocker is an effort. You need to find the ad blocker and believe that this piece of software is trustworthy enough to be running in your browser. The fact that 12% (Denmark) and all the way up to 26% (UK) of average website sessions are detected as actively running an ad blocker (and many more claim that they are using an ad blocker) tells us that something is wrong.

I believe the ad block study from UK and US holds some of the answers.

reasons_for_ad_blocking_uk_us

Internet users are fed up with ads being too intrusive, irrelevant and slowing the online experience. If we don’t listen, we will lead even more users to join the ranks of the ad blockers.

It’s all about user experience

So instead of the anti-ad blockers arms race, publishers should focus on improving the general user experience. Experiment with formats that are less intrusive (I have not heard BuzzFeed complain about ad blockers). Use data to deliver more relevant messages (Nobody blocks Amazon’s product recommendations). And be gentle with the scripts and loading time.

We can find backing for this statement in the fact that 27% whitelist because the ads on the websites don’t disturb the user experience. Publishers should really put some effort into maximizing that share even further

This post is part of our contributor series. It is written and published independently of TNW.

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