News, Social

Facebook Blocks Ad Blockers, Changes Algorithm

Written by Tim Edmundson

If there is one thing the internet struggles with, it’s consistently creating good content. That’s a bit of a blanket statement that may not be entirely fair – there are some publishers who consistently create strong content. There are others that, well, don’t. Unfortunately, the poor content creators tend to ruin it for everyone else, often cluttering up web space that could be used for much better purposes. Bad content can range from clickbait headlines, short and unhelpful articles, and even (gasp) bad digital ads. This bad content doesn’t exist in a vacuum – it can have crippling effects on the industry; just look at the effects of ad blocking software.

One of the main hubs of the web, Facebook, is in a unique position when it comes to the overall quality of content on the internet as a whole. The News Feed often acts as a portal to whatever your friends, family, or coworkers find interesting and decide to share. It goes without saying that some (or maybe even most) of that content isn’t very good – and that content can harm the overall user experience on the site, through no fault of Facebook’s. So how does the social network protect itself and maintain a strong experience for its users?

Algorithm changes, that’s how. Facebook has been tweaking its process of surfacing content to ensure users aren’t clicking away, which is important if they want to keep their ad revenue  healthy. And in a bold move to protect that revenue, Facebook has announced that it will be blocking ad blocker software on its desktop site. This has critics and ad blocking enthusiasts in an uproar, but Facebook claims that it’s in line with their overall quality efforts. Facebook has taken its chips and bet big on marketers’ abilities to create good, relevant content. Marketers should take note of the quality push Facebook has embarked upon, and work to keep up with the trend.


A large reaction in the industry is common when one of the major web powers makes a fundamental change to basic functionality. When Google changed their SERP layout, it made advertisers the world over stand up and take notice. Facebook has 1.71 billion users worldwide – which means that nearly a quarter of the earth’s inhabitants are scrolling through News Feeds. It comes as no surprise that when Facebook makes changes to how their News Feed algorithm displays content, it’s pretty big news.

Facebook has been tweaking their algorithm in subtle ways as of late, but each change has been an attempt in ridding the site of content that users find uninteresting or otherwise poor. Here’s a quick breakdown of the changes, and for a more in-depth look head over to Wallaroo Media for an extensive timeline of Facebook’s News Feed changes over time.

April 2016 | Facebook started tracking time spent on clicked links in an effort to fish out clickbait or otherwise bad content from the News Feed. If a user clicked through a link and then quickly clicked out, this was a red flag. This research undoubtedly informed the algorithm changes made in August described below. On a more positive note, they also used this research to identify which types of content users found useful or interesting, thus informing the changes in June.

June 2016 | The News Feed begins to prioritize family, friends and content that users find personally interesting – meaning that if it informs or entertains, it’s getting prioritized just beneath personal connections.

August 2016 | The News Feed no longer displays clickbait headlines. Gone are the days of “You Won’t Believe What Beyoncé Said!” and “This Man Found WHAT in a Drainage Ditch!?” Now, relevant headlines that inform are the new norm.

These changes show that Facebook is serious about protecting their site from bad content. So that begs the question – if ad blocking software is supposed to protect users from obtrusive and bad ads, isn’t blocking them from working on the site counter-intuitive to Facebook’s own quality push? The answer is no, not at all.


The way they are blocking the ad blockers is quite simple – they are keying in on the signifiers in digital ads that the software uses to determine whether a piece of content is an ad or not. To circumvent the ad blockers, they are making the signifiers indistinguishable from all other content on the site, thus keeping the software from doing its job.

The key takeaway from all this is that Facebook feels like eliminating bad content isn’t the job of a third party, but rather their own.

Facebook knows they can serve ads that are useful to their customers – that’s why (revenue reasons aside) they are confident that this change will be a net benefit for their users. Along with the ad blocking changes, they also enhanced user control over the type of ads they can see. People can now turn off certain categories of ads, which not only keeps the user from being bombarded by ads that don’t interest them, it also helps Facebook recognize what type of ad is appealing to who. This will undoubtedly better inform their ad serving techniques in the future.


With Facebook making these changes, it’s up to marketers to step up to the plate. We have commented on ad blocking software in the past, and our stance is clear. If you create good content, there will be no reason to block your ads. Facebook is embracing this stance as well, which is encouraging, and helps drive the overall move for better content on the internet.

As a marketer, you don’t want to be one of the brands that suffers when users start customizing the types of ads that they’ll see. How do you safeguard yourself against that? If you’ve been paying attention to this article at all, you know the answer – by creating good content.

We have offered plenty of advice on this before, but it never hurts to brush up on what it takes to create an engaging ad. Here are a few quick tips:

A Strong Call to Action | People actually like being told what to do, and a CTA can often make all the difference when it comes to conversions. Follow some general best practices – CTAs should be brief and to the point, and should start with an actionable verb like “Click” or “Download.”

Make Your Visuals Pop | The human eye always responds better to visuals than text. If your ad features a relevant visual that catches the eye, you’re going a long way in making the most of that impression.

Make it Worthwhile |If you have data on what your customers find appealing, make use of it. Pixel tracking provides insight into users’ habits, and you should have an idea of what sort of offers appeal to each type of customer. Offer promotions that will help seal the deal.

When it comes down to it, engaging content benefits everyone. Users, publishers, advertisers – the entire ecosystem gains when content is strong. So do your part and make sure what you’re offering is worthwhile – Facebook is depending on you!