State of the ad blocking nation

Christopher Reid Ad Ops, Uncategorized

An estimated 200 million people worldwide are using an adblocker every day. In Germany several media companies tried twice last month to sue Eyeo, the creator of AdBlock Plus, failing both times.  The courts made the right call, the industry has no one but itself to blame, so where do we go from here?

What is ad blocking?

A good example of technology is AdBlock Plus, the largest ad blocking software currently available online. The technology is an open-source extension users can download that allows people to filter through the content they wish/don't wish to see. In its default state it blocks almost (more in a bit) everything, and since people are lazy that's the state of the industry.

AdBlock software does a remarkable job of removing ads by catching and filtering offending JavaScript from the page by targeting offending domains, keywords and standard ad formats. The plugin then hides these elements, and renders the page so that the content appears as though the ads were never there. It can also block HTTP requests from ads trying to retrieve resources. with and without ads

AdBlock does in fact allow some ads through and they do so by default under their acceptable ads program, if you, the publisher:

  1. Meet their list of acceptable criteria (i.e. are text based, with no animation; are contextually relevant, etc.)
  2. Fill out this form and Eyeo, the makers of AdBlock Plus, agree you meet the criteria.
  3. Sign an agreement to stay in compliance.
  4. Pass muster under a sort of community review via a post of your whitelist request to their forum

To date, only 300 websites have been whitelisted, out of 1,500 applicants, according to the software maker. While the company says the system is free for small- to medium-sized publishers, it confirmed to the Financial Times in February that about 10% of applicants have paid to be whitelisted, including Google and Microsoft (that is, ads that appear on those websites) - of course, users themselves can still opt to hide whitelisted ads.

Ad blocking, by the numbers

Unless you've been paying attention to the space, you might not have realized use of the tech has exploded in recent years: Adobe and PageFair (an anti-ad-block firm) found that more than 200 million people used the technology globally, which is up from 144 million last year (that's approximately 4.9% of total internet users). More than a quarter of U.S. internet users surveyed said they use ad blocking software.

Adblock users per month

While that in and of itself is an astronomically high number, it's interesting to track the trajectory of the tech over the last five years: In 2010, only 21 million people used ad blocking. That increased to 30 million in 2011, 39 million in 2012, 54 million in 2013 before nearly tripling in 2014. PageFair told CBC News it expects that number to grow to more than 215 million by this June.

A separate 2013 study by PageFair found upwards of 30% of visitors to its clients' websites use ad blocking technology “ growing at a rate of 43% per year. That's upwards of $500,000 in lost revenue for a single client, the report found.

Profile of an ad blocker

In the Adobe survey of why people chose to install ad block technology, 46% said they simply didn't want to see any ads (with a third saying they found ads to be intrusive and distracting), while 17% cited privacy issues.

Unsurprisingly, those who employed ad blocking tech were more tech-savvy than those who didn't. More than 40% of users who used ad blockers were in the 18- to 29-year-old demo.

ad blocking rates by vertical

Gaming, technology and comic sites were the most likely to have their ads blocked (55%, 35% and 35%, respectively), followed by entertainment site at 29% and fashion and lifestyle at 26%.

Across Sortable's network of owned and operated website, we estimate 17.5% of visitors use some form of ad blocking. That's nearly a fifth of viewers overall. Our technical sites like GPUBoss, CPUBoss and SSDBoss have the highest use of adblocker, with numbers in line with report above, whereas our car sites like TwinRev and CarSort only see 7% of users using ad blocking technology.

As of 2013, users on Firefox were most likely to employ ad blockers (36.7%), followed closely by Chrome (30.4%) and Opera (20%). Less than 5% of Internet Explorer users deployed the tech. More recent findings from Adobe/PageFare suggest as use of Chrome grows, so too does ad blocking, with its most recent study finding that ad blocking on the browser more than doubled between 2013 and 2014.

ad block growth by year

And it gets worse:

If you thought mobile or native advertising might be beacons of hope in this ad block-heavy world, you'd be mistaken.

AdBlock Plus, with more than 200 million downloads worldwide (up from 100 million in 2013), announced this spring it now has the ability to filter through native advertising content on top of traditional forms of ads, while use of ad block technology on mobile devices is also on the rise. Twenty-four hours after its May launch, AdBlock Plus' Android app was downloaded 200,000 times.

And so far, the court system has been on the ad blockers' side: Two German court cases challenging the use of the tech (specifically AdBlock Plus), have also recently ruled in favour of the blockers.

Can anything be done?

AdBlock Plus, PageFair and a number of other companies (including the Art Director's Club and a number of advertising agencies) are pushing an initiative called the Acceptable Ad Manifesto, which advocates for less annoying ads. This includes spots that don't disrupt or distort the page content, are clearly labelled as ads, are effective (without shouting at people) and are contextually relevant.

The noisier online ads get, the more people install ad blockers to stop them, the manifesto reads. It's an unwinnable downward spiral.

That's fair “ and advertising should always be contextually relevant (and definitely not annoying). But, that likely won't stop users from installing ad blocking technology (after all, nearly half of the Adobe/PageFair respondents said they just don't want to see ads at all).

There is some merit in reminding people that advertising helps pay for the content they want to see “ 30% of the Adobe/PageFair respondents said they were open to seeing some advertising, so long as it wasn't intrusive.

The best way to combat the rise of ad blocking is to produce better ads! People are blocking ads because they are annoying.

Here at Sortable, we work with publishers to make sure brands are safe, that ads are high-quality and effective. We take a hard stance against pop-ups and malicious and shady ads.

Unfortunately, ad blocking is a behaviour that's difficult to change, but creating strong, engaging and contextually relevant ads on a clean site can help prevent more users from deploying the software.