Advertising In A Post Ad-Blocking World

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Craig Smith  |  Founder & CEO

An ad-blocker is an add-on, or plugin, for your internet browser that promises to remove obtrusive advertising, leaving a cleaner, more readable webpage. At first, ad-blocking was something only popular with tech-savvy early adopters, who were willing to follow the complicated install process. Not anymore.

Thanks to the growing popularity of plugin-friendly browsers like Chrome, or the recent update to iOS that allows you to install an ad-blocker on your phone, moving the tech from the world of early adopters to everyday consumers. In fact, ad blocking has grown by 41% in the past year globally, and it’s estimated that more than 45 million Americans currently use ad blockers.

For marketers, that’s 45 million lost opportunities to spread their brand messaging and get their name out there. For publishers, that’s 45 million missed chances to cash a paycheck and pay the rent. Globally, ad blockers cost publishers $22 billion in 2015 — a number that’s expected to continue increasing throughout this year.

Why Consumers Are Turning To Ad Blockers

Internet publishers and marketers have no problem dragging ad blockers through the mud, but they tend to forget that consumers were driven to block ads because of invasive and annoying advertising.

Consider Ethan Zuckerman’s apology in The Atlantic in 2014, where he begged forgiveness for creating the Internet’s most hated creation: the pop-up ad.” Over the course of five years, we tried dozens of revenue models, printing out shiny new business plans to sell each one. We’d run as a subscription service! Take a share of revenue when our users bought mutual funds after reading our investment advice…At the end of the day, the business model that got us funded was advertising.”

Despite the fact that advertising has become the main channel for revenue on the web — and created the multi-billion-dollar SEM industry — it’s almost universally hated by Internet users. According to Adobe, 68% of consumers find online ads annoying and distracting, while 54% say online banner ads don’t work.

Consumers turn to ad blockers not because of the ads themselves, but because of the content in them. According to the Global Web Index, the top reason for installing an ad blocker is because of irrelevant ad content, followed by ads taking up too much space and intruding on the original content. If you go to USAToday and look up an article, this is the experience to can expect to find:

Large banner ads hide the content that people come to the site to read, creating a poor user experience. We know that users, and Google, give a higher priority to content that is at the top of the website. Ideally, this means that companies would put their most important content first. Unfortunately, this also means that ads in that space pay the most. For websites that rely on advertising revenue, the ads become the most important thing on the page, even if it ruins customer experience. Now, look at the same page after you block all ads using an ad blocker:

Is it really any surprise that people might opt for this ad free experience? On smaller sites, the ads become more intrusive, with pop-overs, or videos that start to play. In an effort to maximize their revenue, companies that rely on ads are creating an experience that no one, not even marketers, find enjoyable.

Unfortunately, the rise of ad blockers has a cyclical effect for many websites. In an effort to make up for the revenue lost to content blockers, they purchase increasingly obtrusive ads, which in turn drives more users to install ad blockers. According to an article in adage, by 2017, more than 87 million Americans will browse the web using ad-blockers.

The Rise of Third-Party Ad Brokers

Marketers’ frustration with ad blockers has changed the way they buy advertising placement. While many companies opt for Google’s Display Network and advertising on other search engines and social networks because of their positive reputation, others are considering alternative advertising sources to drive down the amount they pay for each ad impression while maintaining the same level of traffic.

In fact, it’s not just ad blockers that are driving this change: Search Engine Land discovered that Google’s brand CPCs have increased by more than 60% since the right-hand rail update. Marketers across the board are trying to do more with less.

This has led to the rise media brokers who specialize in creating niche display packages and sending traffic to websites at a cost well below what Adsense or similar networks charge. While these aren’t inherently bad, If an ad network is promising you a return on investment that seems almost too good to be true, you want to read the fine print carefully. Paid advertising is still a cornerstone of any eCommerce business, even one that performs well in organic search results.

Below are a few best practices that we recommend for living in a post-ad-blocker world. Many of them are simply updated for 2016, with a new spin on how to spot a bad deal.

Take a Deeper Look at Your Ad Packages

If you’re an in-house marketer who relies on an agency to manage ad placement, set up some time to review what packages your company is buying and why they made the decision to market to those sites. On the agency side, account managers should routinely review what media packages they’re buying to make sure the traffic they’re generating comes from respected sources and provides qualified, paying, leads for their clients.

Kalkis Research discovered that some ad brokers have started working with sites that historically haven’t been able to monetize their traffic (like adult websites and weapons dealers). These brokers funnel the traffic through “shell sites” that look like blogs and then redirect the traffic to their clients. The traffic is only on the shell site for a second before it’s automatically redirected to the paying client. If you’re a shoe store, then all you see is that you received thousands of hits from a summer style blog (the shell site) when in reality those visits came from an adult-themed site.

To conduct a deep-dive on your ad buys, don’t just look at the names and traffic generated from your top sources. Check the backlinks, search engine traffic, and site engagement. From the Kalkis study: “[One website had] virtually no backlinks, negligible search engine traffic, and an estimated 50 million visitors per month, most of them male. It also [had] remarkably little user interaction with its content. That’s what happens when you buy all of your visitors from adult website pop-ups.” It only takes a few moments to spot the difference between a quality blog and a shell site funneling traffic.

Look Beyond CRM When Evaluating Your Metrics

One of the main benefits of buying advertising packages from these third parties is the number of websites available in their network. It’s possible to advertise on hundreds of websites at once without having to establish relationships with all of the publishers. After all, that’s how Google and Blogger’s ad networks have grown so quickly — along with affiliate networks like Commission Junction and Rakuten LinkShare.

As websites look to sell more advertising space to ad brokers, the cost per impression might decrease, but so will the value your company is likely to receive from that ad placement. In order to install Adblocker, I had to go through some hoops – but it was all worth it so I could conduct some tests. Below is a screenshot of a typical news site, where a common adblocker identified 12 ads on that page alone.

If your company purchases an ad through a broker that serves this site, you may get thousands of impressions, but those viewers will see 11 other ads in addition to the content on the site. You might pay less per impression, but the impressions are worth less.

However, if you don’t have the ability (or time) to evaluate the pages in a network, it’s possible to use Google Analytics to quickly filter out the unqualified traffic. Many marketers evaluate CRM (cost per impression) when it comes to display ads because it’s easy to compare it to the effectiveness of print and TV advertising. Instead, look at CPA (cost per acquisition or sale) to understand how much of your publisher traffic is actually generating leads and purchases. Then look at your bounce rate and time on the site to identify what traffic is bouncing immediately upon arrival.

Identify for Opportunities to Eliminate Waste

If you suspect that your traffic is being generated through a series of shell websites, or that you’re writing checks to websites that don’t work to build your brand, then cut them loose. You might be paying less for that traffic than you are for leads generated through Adsense or another larger network, but unless that traffic results in conversion, you’re just spending money to reach people who aren’t your customers. An effective paid marketing campaign is an efficient one, where you make more in sales than you spend buying impressions.

Remember, low-performing doesn’t always mean that the website you’re advertising is of low quality. They just might not have relevant content. If your target market is men 45-65, then you don’t need to advertise on Teen Vogue. This kind of irrelevant ad placement is another thing that drives people to ad blockers.

Your company can’t fight against ad-blockers alone, but if you contribute quality ads and information to the Internet — and only work with reputable publishers that match your niche — you’re making the Internet a better place, and your audiences will appreciate it.

To learn how to overcome your data tracking hurdles and attribution challenges, take our free self-assessment.

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