Ad Blocking Is a Problem, Here’s How to Fix it

Written by Tim Edmundson

There’s an old Benjamin Franklin quote, “In this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes.” If Mr. Franklin had been born a bit later in life and found himself to be working in advertising, he would probably add “ad blocking” to that list.

For the uninitiated, ad blocking is a type of software that filters and blocks any advertising from appearing on websites. There are ad blockers for all sorts of devices, from desktops to tablets to phones. And this is a huge problem for the industry as a whole, because not only do advertisers need ads seen, publishers heavily rely on the revenue generated by ads to stay in business. Needless to say, ad blocking is kind of a big deal, and it’s only getting bigger.

Ignoring ad blocking won’t make it go away. This is an issue that requires thoughtful examination and a bit of soul searching, should the advertising industry ever overcome it. Let’s take a look at the current state of ad blocking, and what the industry can do to fix the issue.

The Problem

Ad blockers exist because of poor user experiences. There’s no way of getting around it — if ads weren’t detracting from someone’s enjoyment of the internet, there would be no reason to install one. Take this Twitter post from Ben Chase on why people aren’t reading long articles anymore.

The red circles represent content unrelated to the article the user clicked through to read. And while a good number are content modules (publishers take note of that — there is such a thing as “too much”), ads are definitely contributing to the problem. Looking at the image below, desktop sites can be just as guilty — there’s no actual content from the article visible above the fold — just an image, ads, and related content (with a bonus ad hidden in there as well).


Advertisers need to take this landscape into account. More likely than not, your audience is going to be hit with a lot all at once, and much of it isn’t going to be what they’re specifically looking for. So not only are you challenged with trying to grab user attention amongst the sea of ads they’re seeing, you need to somehow serve them content that doesn’t detract from their experience. That can be quite the tightrope to walk, but it’s not hopeless — more on that in a bit.

Ad Blocking By the Numbers

With the current landscape seen above, it’s not hard to imagine why ad blockers are prevalent. In fact, the numbers show that they’re on the rise.

30% of internet users are expected to be using ad blocking software by 2018. That’s an enormous chunk of business going missing from advertiser and publisher coffers.

Over 65 million desktop users are employing ad blocking software, with nearly 26 million smartphone users doing the same. These numbers will only increase — so how can the industry address this before it becomes an even bigger issue?

The Solution

There has been plenty of debate on how best to combat ad blocking. Many solutions have been proposed, ranging from technical trickery that sidestep ad blocking, to creating walled gardens that keep the ad blockers out. And while these may be effective ways of combatting the blockers, these solutions only address the symptoms and not the disease. We as an industry must eliminate the poor user experience that has spawned the use of this tech to begin with.

So how is that done? It must be accomplished on multiple fronts — publishers can work to find better ways to balance content with advertising. Advertisers can better focus their targeting to ensure their ads are being served to audiences who actually get value from their ads.

Importantly, we need to ensure the ads we are serving are valuable to our audience. This means building creative that is appealing to the eye, and gives consumers a reason to click. Customers always love a good sale, so look for opportunities to give them an extra incentive to convert. Loyalty programs are always effective, and pair well with retargeting campaigns since you can focus your ads on existing, engaged, or returning customers. If people understand they’re missing out when they’re blocking ads, they’ll think twice about it.

And while offering incentive is important, it’s absolutely imperative to pair enticing offers with beautiful creative. If you’re building ads that look great and contribute to, rather than detract from a user’s experience, you’re helping to eliminate ad blocking. Look for ways to beautify your ads and incorporate formats like video that users actually want to engage with. We need to address it from all angles and positively add to a user’s experience, if we want users to start to ditching their ad blockers. Do your part, and work hard to build beautiful and relevant ads that your customers will want to see.