6

Id like to know the pros and cons of two approaches for dealing with ad blockers.

On one site, I noticed the message:

"Like our site? Keep us running by whitelisting our site in your ad blocker."

However on my site, I've written code to combat the ad blocking by either circumventing it, or if that fails, disabling the page until the user disables the ad blocker(the page reactivates in real-time if the blocker is disabled).

Really, it could be broken down into 3 different approaches:

  • Ask nicely.
  • Circumvent.
  • Deny service.

Or in my case, a combination of two approaches.

What are the pros and cons of each approach and what is their impact on user experience?

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    Personally: "Ask nicely" has worked a few times. "Deny service" has worked all of the times - I never looked back. – peterchen Jul 12 '16 at 9:11
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    As a user, I have abandoned several websites which have made me to deactivate my adblocker in order to proceed. But that's just me personally. It's a tricky situation because when a user uses an ad blocker he's already in the state of mind that he's not interested in viewing your ads so anything 'forcing' him to do the opposite doesn't have the best user interests in mind (meaning bad UX). – Ana Santos Jul 13 '16 at 8:51
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    this is a very interesting question, but if you're going to fight the answers that goes against your opinion, it won't help anyone. Anyways, take a look to blogs.adobe.com/digitalmarketing/advertising/… for some insight – Devin Jul 16 '16 at 21:43
  • @Devin fair enough but me disagreeing doesnt damage the answer. Votes aka community consensus is what matters here, not my comments or my one vote. I'd also note that my dissagreement is in the fact that the answer provided claims that if a free webservice enforces its only method of income, in other words stops customers from stealing its product, it's malware. Yeah I dissagree. – Viziionary Jul 16 '16 at 22:36
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    What content does your site provide? Sometimes the correct answer is changing your ad format. Eg podcasts often intersperse ads at random locations in the audio content, and "news" sites often provide slots for "sponsored content". Both have revenues much higher than ad impressions and both are either harder to block or are at least much less likely to be blocked. IIRC StackOverflow lets "tags" be sponsored by companies so that the ".Net" tag (for example) gets a special logo/image. This helps it stand out and re-enforce a brand without getting in the users way or annoying them. – scunliffe Jul 17 '16 at 13:55
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Ads are, practically by definition, content that the user did not intentionally seek out, which is at best tangentially related to the content that the user did seek out. From a pure UX point of view, there is no justification whatsoever for having ads at all (unless the purpose of the website is specifically to view them, e.g. a Craigslist or "classifieds" type of site).

(I'm not talking about business or revenue models, for which ads may or may not be a necessary evil; I'm focusing solely on the user experience here.)

Ad blockers are an attempt by the user to improve their user experience, by filtering out the elements which they don't want so they can focus on those elements which they do want.

Attempts on your part to circumvent or block the user's attempt to improve their experience, will, quite obviously, further degrade their experience, because you're doubling down on the negative elements which they've given you a clear indication that they don't want:

  • Deny service degrades the user experience by preventing the user from having any experience other than a locked door.

  • Circumvent is an equally user-hostile approach: the user is saying to you "I don't want this", and you're saying to them "here it is anyway, whether you want it or not." It should go without saying that engaging in an arms race versus your users (they block ads, you circumvent their blocker, they circumvent your circumvention, and so on until either you give up or they get so irritated that they go away) is a poor user experience.

  • Ask nicely is the least bad of your proposed approaches, because it scales back the active hostility of the other two to (at best) mild annoyance. This, too, is a smaller-scale arms race against your customers (it's just as easy for them to block the "nice" question as it is to block the ads in the first place) but at least it's a slightly less rude kind of arms race.

But what about this?

The ads are the price of usage of the product.

You're certainly entitled to set a price of usage on your product, but that's not what advertising is. Elsewhere you compared usage of an ad blocker to "stealing the product". This is a false analogy. Circumventing a paywall is "stealing the product". Ad blocking is just selectivity on the part of the user: you're sending them X, Y, and Z over the wire; they're choosing to pay attention only to X, and to filter out Y and Z which they have no interest in. You might prefer that they also pay attention to Y and Z because that's what your business model is based on, but they're not under any obligation to do so -- and the rapid proliferation of ad blocking software suggests that if your business model depends on that, it might be time to start thinking seriously about finding a new one.

(This isn't necessarily a good thing for the web as a whole: the likely path ahead seems to be a proliferation of paywalls and "sponsored content", a corresponding reduction in the amount of freely-available content, and probably a whole class of sites dying out because they have no other supportable business model.

An open-but-advertising-based web might arguably be "better" than a collection of locked-down fee-based websites. But it's ultimately technologically impossible to prevent end users from selecting the portion of what you send them that they care about. You can make it difficult for them -- and in the process alienate the portion of your user base you're fighting against -- but you can't make it impossible.)

  • Fair enough. I can buy into this logic. +1 and selected – Viziionary Jul 17 '16 at 16:44
4

You can ask nicely if you'd like but I'll be honest... You're likely wasting your time.

Full disclosure - I use Adblock and I've rarely white listed a site.

Sadly ads, ad placement, ad loading tactics, & ad usability has really soured my experience with them to the point that I aggressively avoid them.

I should note a few things:

  1. I despise any ad that pretends in any way shape or form to mimic an OS dialog/system message or "other app" (eg fake Skype toasts)
  2. I've never intentionally clicked on an ad (not one) and won't in the future - thus anyone hoping for clicks from me is wasting their time
  3. I've clicked on ads only when the close "X" on the invasive popover ads is too small to click (esp on mobile) - however these are from poor usability vs desire and the subsequent page load is immediately blocked/closed
  4. I don't suffer from epilepsy but I find flashing/animating ads to be particularly annoying and instantly turns me off the product/brand being advertised
  5. Waiting for site content to load after slow ad content has finished loading is insanely infuriating and actively hurts user experience
  6. Any site showing the "27 images of celebrities caught... Blah blah blah" type 'articles' that display 1 picture per page with 8 ads... If I was ever click baited into following - I'll ditch after the first page.

Now I understand that many sites are ad supported but I'd argue that if your site's business plan is 100% reliant on ad revenue you are sadly in for a world of pain... Click rates and impression payouts are still on the decline with little sign of change.

When I get a "Hey turn off Adblock!" Message on a site I tend to walk away. On a very rare occasion if presented with a really nice polite (and/or humorous non-user blocking notice) if the site is providing something of value (e.g StackExchange) I loosen my grip and add it to a whitelist. It helps in the case of SE that they have a good policy on ads.

Which brings me to my final point. If you are showing ads adhere to a strict policy of what you will allow.

  • absolutely no popups/popunders
  • no mimicking OS dialogs, fake "download" or "next" buttons, and if there is an 'X' to close an ad always place it in the same corner (typ top right) and ensure that it is big enough to easily click without accidentally clicking the ad
  • no ads that claim fake stuff (eg viruses have been found, windows errors found, you've won something you clearly haven't, questionable material... "There are $X hot $GenderTypePlural within $Y $MilesOrKM of you" often with racey pics
  • all ads must be clearly identifiable as an ad. If they are buried into content to try and deceive users as article content then users (rightfully so) feel duped and offended

If you must display ads make sure they load fast and are unobtrusive. If you must detect adblockers (an almost pointless task in a cat and mouse game) I'd suggest a gentle request to users to unblock. Getting hostile with visitors before you've proved the worthiness of your content is not a good first impression.

3

Asking nicely is the only option you have

You do not really have the power to selectively deny service to users who did not view ads. There's no reliable way to determine which users were shown ads and which weren't.

The client is not under your control. After the browser downloads the page, the content is in the user's computer. Once out of the server, you cannot really block it anymore. What happens then is determined by how much the user will let you get away with.

Any measure you take to force users to disable their ad blockers can and will be defeated by anyone with enough determination to do so. They have the content already. What stands between them and what they want is just some brittle Javascript that's trying to solve an unsolvable problem.

I've written code to combat the ad blocking by either circumventing it, or if that fails, disabling the page until the user disables the ad blocker

And then users respond by writing code that disables your counter measures. By trying to block users, you enter a technological arms race with people who develop software whose entire purpose is to defeat you, people who will gladly take you up on your challenge.

Actively circumventing a user's ad blocker is disrespectful to the user at best and puts your site in the same class as malware at worst. People do not install ad blockers by accident.

UX implications

  • For users who block ads, your website will not be usable at all.
    • You made it so. Deliberately.
      • In an attempt to coerce them into viewing ads they didn't want to view.
  • People with the know-how will easily defeat whatever schemes you employ.
  • You'll just make users install a better ad blocker.

An analogy with TV advertising

Can you force consumers to sit down and watch TV ads? Not really. You can't prevent them from leaving the room. You can't stop them from changing the channel or muting the TV. They can record the programming and skip over all the ads when they watch it. There are devices which automatically remove ads from recorded footage.

You can't really detect or block any of this. The only real way is to not put it in the air in the first place. You can scramble the signal, but that just means only people with the means to unscramble the signal will get to watch it; it does not mean only people you have approved will watch it.

Imagine that the TV companies somehow introduced a TV control mechanism into their signal, so that during advertisements they'd be able to turn up the TV's volume all the way up and completely disable the user's remote control. Ingenious, right? Now they'll be forced to listen even if they leave and they can't change the channel or mute the TV either.

How do you think users would feel about that? The more control you try to grab, the more unacceptable it becomes.

Such a scheme would also require TVs that actually executed the commands coming from the TV companies. If anyone actually made such TVs, the market would react by creating models that had no TV company control as a feature, instantly defeating the whole thing.

That is the exact situation with ad-supported web sites today. Your anti-ad blocking software won't work if the client refuses to execute it, and no self-respecting web browser will allow you to take that control away from the user.

Lessons from the video games industry

Since its birth, developers have been trying and failing to limit what users can do with their games. They invested absurd amounts of money into copy protection schemes and yet pretty much every measure they devised was defeated, more often than not within days.

Ironically, pirates release what is arguably a superior version of the game. The genuine game comes encumbered with software that essentially treats the customer like a criminal who has to prove he's innocent. The pirate version has none of that.

When you break your own site just because some user didn't want look at ads, the ad blocker will save the day. By defeating you, the ad blocker restores usability. Is this how you want users to feel towards your site?

What would Google do?

According to an 2016 interview with Google's Senior VP, Ads and Commerce Sridhar Ramaswamy, the answer is to figure out how to make better ads.

What are you seeing in terms of trends among Google's audience when it comes to ad blocking?

[...] we think this is actually a great time for the industry to be talking together and figuring out what are better ad standards.

The fact of the matter is that when you want to read a short article on something and you click on a link, you're not expecting to have an ad that completely covers the screen [and] have to hunt around for the X.

I think there are a number of experiences that are not great, so I think we need to come up with a better ad standard.

What specifically is Google doing?

[...] we're working on figuring out what are standards we can all agree with in terms of this better ads experience. Aspects include latency, how many requests are fired and what kind of experiences are OK and not OK and so on.

Make better ads so that users won't want to block them. The idea of blocking the user's blocker isn't even discussed.

Play nice with the user, and they will play nice with you. So, ask nicely!

Acceptable ads

AdBlock Plus introduced the notion of acceptable ads. In order to support websites that run unobtrusive ads, it can be configured to automatically whitelist such ads.

This article from Adobe, contributed by Devin, is another example of this perspective.

Ad blocking is a form of user feedback

Users are fed up with bad advertising experiences. Every install of an ad blocker is a statement against annoying ads, security risks, slow browsing, and ads’ consumption of computing resources. With ad blockers, users have taken back control of their browsing experience. Now, it’s up to publishers to adjust.

  • By this logic, seems to me that the Google has to ask you nicely to stay in business, and is equivalent to malware if they dare to fight your ad blocker (Oh and their software engineers are no match for a few users trying to win an "arms race" of counter ad blocking). – Viziionary Jul 16 '16 at 21:15
  • @Viziionary, Google does ask very nicely. Maybe not directly, but they serve relatively unobtrusive ads. As a result, a lot of people choose do not block Google ads. AdBlock Plus allows users to automatically whitelist "acceptable ads". And if not malware, what do you call things that, despite all the resistance offered, work their way into your computer with the express purpose of showing ads you don't want to view? – Matheus Moreira Jul 16 '16 at 21:27
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    Very nice and thorough answer, was going to answer something along these lines, but you basically said it all, +1 – Devin Jul 16 '16 at 21:42
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    @Viziionary, the stores would have bad security, not bad UX. The difference is they're actually in a position where they can enforce such security. When you make a freely-accessible web site, you're not really in a position where you can hold your content hostage to force anyone to "pay the price" by viewing/clicking on ads. You lose that power the second your content leaves your server. What makes it bad UX is how you want to deliberately punish users for this. It's sad because users can and will defeat your punishment just as easily as they defeated your ads. – Matheus Moreira Jul 16 '16 at 22:13
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    @Viziionary, I think you're mixing things. UX might or might not be on the same size of your business plan. That's an entirely different discussion . Denying locus of control to users has NEVER been a good idea, and there's a very easy way to test it: find an IMPORTANT free site that denies content unless you turn off add blockers. It's not that industry leaders didn't think before on what you want to do or didn't test it. They simply realized that their business model is better with users having (some) control. If your business model can afford to do what you want to do... then do it! – Devin Jul 16 '16 at 22:31

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