The growing popularity of ad-blocking tools has become a full-blown crisis in online publishing. As ads disappear, publishers' revenue evaporates, and digital outlets quietly close their doors.
It's easy to blame software companies and ad-adverse users for the $21.8 billion ad blocking will cost publishers this year, but the real problem lies with the ads themselves and the pipes used to serve them. They're detracting from the overall user experience.
Now that Apple has moved into the mobile ad-blocking game, publishers must radically change their ads and rethink their archaic ad stacks to appeal to users... or brace themselves for a major financial blow.
Are you fighting an invisible enemy?
At the core of the ad-supported publishing model is a problem that no one seems to be talking about: Publishers know readers are using ad-blocking software, but they don't really understand what's motivating this behavior.
Publishers are fighting who they consider to be computer geeks content to skim top stories for free and to steal ad dollars along the way.
But the problem is more complicated than that.
Know your readers
People who use ad-blocking software fall into three major buckets:
- Readers who hate lengthy page-load times. Many scripts (both from the publisher's site and third parties) slow down page-load times and cause readers to install ad-blocking software to shave off a few seconds.
- The majority of readers, who hate annoying ads that disrupt the reading experience. (Think pop-ups, pop-unders, page-takeovers, and autoplay videos.) This group will close or mute ads before they even notice brand names.
- The hard-core minority that hates all forms of advertising. Those readers either dismiss the notion that writers and editors deserve a salary for the content they create or choose to pay for ad-free content. Publishers can't do much to keep free-seekers from blocking their ads, but they can monetize the pay-for-premium users through micro-donations, subscriptions, or paywalls.
To win back the first two groups—the ones who block slow load times or bad ads—publishers need to concentrate on fixing the user experience.
Traditional ad servers are not open, are not flexible, and rely on an oversimplified philosophy of allocating impressions instead of real-time, fair-market competition. Publishers have limited tech resources and are handcuffed to the status quo. As a result, they resort to "hacky" solutions that end up slowing down their sites.
Publishers need a new approach and stack
Publishers should stop trying to evade ad blockers and instead eliminate the ads that drove users to download the software in the first place.
The ad-blocking problem will only continue to get worse as it spreads to more browsers, and advertisers will continue to disrupt the reading experience in increasingly intrusive ways until publishers proactively test, hone, and implement a new long-term solution.
Publishers that consider ads to be a part of their site's content will dominate the next wave of journalism. By integrating the ad stack tightly within their CMS and choosing ads that complement content rather than detract from it, publishers can slowly regain readers' trust and attention, and seize control of the ad experience, once and for all.
Savvy publishers such as BuzzFeed, Time, and Fast Company are already prioritizing on-site experiences where ads are seamlessly integrated into the editorial content. And modern-day scale publishers, such as We Heart It, are replacing traditional ad stacks with ones that give them full control of the ad experience. Each of those outlets has created an engaging, enjoyable consumer experience that's a win-win for advertisers and readers alike.
* * *
Just as the digital revolution forced publishers to rethink their distribution strategies, readers' changing expectations will force publishers to overhaul their approach to advertising. Some publishers will perish, but those that adapt their advertising strategies with readers in mind will survive to usher in a new era of ad-supported content.