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A publisher's dilemma: Doing the smart thing vs doing the right thing. Observations from AOP’s recent adblocking forum

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Publishers are suffering from increasing adblocking rates and face an imminent dilemma – should they rightfully guard their content from adblocking users and make sure that only ones who choose to disable their ad blocker or pay for content are let in, or should they let everyone in by permanently circumventing ad blockers and creating a new equation. Gal Glikman from Uponit explains the best strategy for publishers.

 

The damage ad blockers cause publishers has already been well observed. There’s no denying of the existence of this troubling phenomenon, but some still underestimate its scope. While eMarketer suggests that "only" 21% of users in the UK use ad blockers, we at Uponit have found that between June 2016 to April 2017, the rate was actually between 28% and 32%. These stats indicate that a large portion of users will not be exposed to ads, severely harming publishers who rely on ads as their main source of income.

 

Publishers must take action to protect themselves and ensure they receive the appropriate compensation for their efforts. They can choose to be “right”, by limiting user access to content and claiming that because of the “value exchange” they are forcing users to either pay for content or whitelist their websites before continuing to access the desired content.

 

The other approach is to choose to be “smart”, by letting users in without putting up barriers, assuming control of their online business and reclaiming a much larger share of their lost ad revenue. This can be accomplished through ad recovery, which circumvents ad blockers and effectively serves ads responsibly to adblocking users.

 

So, what’s better? Being right or being smart?

 

The case for being right (content blocking)

There’s no doubt that online publishers deserve to be compensated for their work. However, users must pay a certain price in return for the content they consume. This is a simple unwritten agreement: publishers deliver free access to content in exchange for displaying ads or receiving direct payments.

 

Adblocking users break this agreement, thus pushing publishers to bar content and forcing them to choose between whitelisting (i.e disabling their ad blockers for the publishers’ sites) or paying.

 

While publishers are right to demand what they are entitled to, this approach has major drawbacks. First, it increases the bounce rate of adblocking users, when over 70% of them leave the website without paying or whitelisting it. Such increase also affects other metrics, which harm the website’s SEO rankings. Second, it cements the continued dependency on ad blockers, which can either encourage users to re-block sites or allow them to independently re-block after accessing the desired content, like they have been reported to do in many occasions.

 

There were several attempts by publishers in France, Sweden and India to join forces and block access to content together, but none of these initiatives has been reported as a success.

 

If being right has so many deficiencies, why do publishers choose to still block users from accessing their content? The main reason is not that they believe adblocking users will actually pay, but because they believe that this is the best way to educate them about the value exchange and that over time, if they are consistent, users will adapt and accept to view ads in return for free content.

 

The case for being smart (ad recovery):

Publishers have the right to be paid, but they shouldn’t burden users with whitelisting in order to be fairly compensated. By choosing ad recovery, adblocking users can continue to access content they desire seamlessly, while being exposed to ads, leading publishers to make up much of their lost ad revenue. Ad recovery bypasses the need to force users to take action and is a more longer-term, practical approach. The "smart" way removes barriers for users and creates a smooth experience. In addition, it eliminates any dependency publishers have on ad blockers, permanently removing them and their harmful impact from the game.

 

The "smart" way may include a message informing adblocking users of the ad experience they will encounter moving forward, without being required to take any action other than continuing to surf regularly. This is a great improvement since adblocking users don’t have to deal with the nuisance of whitelisting or disabling their ad blockers.

 

Our two cents on solving the dilemma

Asking users to disable their ad blocker keeps ad blockers relevant and is less effective than automatically restoring ads.

 

Our results demonstrate that users react favorably when publishers act responsibly. Therefore, they must remember to balance between streamlining user expectations and making money.

 

Publishers should aspire to eradicate the harmful influence of ad blockers if they want to fully restore their ad revenue stream.

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