How publishers stay profitable with ad blocking rampant

One of the greatest problems facing online publishers today is the ad blocker. For most people creating online content, there’s always been a need to make money from their work. It’s not just about piling up massive profits; more often than not, it’s simply to make a living. Unfortunately many internet users are not always prepared to engage with paid-for content, so most publishers look to advertisers to fund their work.
This has given rise to the increased use of ad-blocking software in recent years, which is causing a real headache for internet publishers who can make as much as 85% of their revenue from selling advertising. Such software eats into their earnings.

Why do people use them?

There’s often an assumption among publishers and the tech savvy internet industry that ad blockers gained popularity as a response to the trend for user tracking and profiling. This of course happens among those who are most paranoid about their web footprints, but for the majority of the population, whilst it is undoubtedly creepy to be presented with adverts for products linked to something you mistyped into a search engine some time before, it’s not the primary motivating factor in the use of ad blockers.
There are far more practical reasons why the average user might seek out ad-blocking software. For many who might not have access to the highest speed of broadband or those using older devices to surf the net, adware can be a great nuisance, reducing performance, delaying page loading and slowing everything down beyond the level of convenient use with many sites becoming all but unreadable.

What can be done?

Clearly some form of compromise needs to be reached that delivers returns for publishers and usable content for surfers. And for the latter, the way forward is apparently clear.
In 2014, major ad-blocking software products had 144 million active users worldwide according to PageFair, a company that supplies counter-ad blocking services. This represents about 5% of internet users, however this rises to 15% among UK users and usage continues to grow.
Ad blocking has become such a problem for the creative side of the industry that legal action is beginning to be taken, with German publishers recently suing the creators of ad-blocking applications. Cases in other jurisdictions remain under consideration.
One of the more successful and surprising approaches came from the music-sharing site Mixcloud, who took the novel approach of asking their users very nicely! They suggested it would be better either to whitelist them or subscribe to a premium package whilst explaining why they needed the advertising revenue to support the service. Other, more aggressive, approaches have served only to strengthen the ad-blocking market by raising awareness of the availability of such software.
A variety of more proactive strategies have been employed, such as removing the most intrusive advertisements or demanding users to disable their blocking software.
Blocking content to those with ad blockers is another solution. This approach has been utilised by Forbes who reported increased dwell time among those who’d complied with their requirements.
However forcing users to choose whether to pay, view ads or leave the site is a big gamble for content publishers. The internet is an almost limitless source, and most material is available from multiple sources, so taking a hard line with users runs the risk that you’ll end up driving the casual viewer away to your competitors.

Looking at the advertising experience

The Huffington Post prefers to address the reasons users pursue ad blocking in the first place by looking at the whole advertising experience. The assumption they make is that if you make adware less obtrusive and less heavy on processing time, most users will not get annoyed and seek to block the revenue stream.
For many users, publishers simply deal with the practical rather than the ideological concerns will drive away the need to employ ad blocking. After all, for the casual user it’s the multiple pop-up windows that force interaction that they really hate – those annoying colourful animations and overly loud sound cards that really cause the problems, especially when they kick-in at the worst possible moment.
Perhaps a polite approach and ensuring the ads on your site are not overly intrusive is a good starting point, but as with advertising approaches, it entirely depends on the audience.
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