Ad blocking 101

What You Should Know about Ad Blocking and how Ad Blockers Work

Ad Blocking is a critical topic concerning online marketing and it directly affects the content you view on web pages while browsing through different websites. So what is Ad blocking? It is removing or altering advertising content in a web page before it loads on a browser. Ad blockers are the tools or applications that do the blocking or filtering of the advertising content. They are installed as plugins or browser extensions.

As you have read, they affect the content on a web page. For instance, some of the Ad blocker applications replace the advertisement content with something else, while others do not replace the content at all, hence leaving holes of missing content or broken links in parts of the web page where the ads would have been. Ad blockers block specific content which varies from app to app, and how do they do that?

How Ad Blockers Work

A person intending to block ads starts by downloading and installing an ad blocker, this can be a browser extension, plugin or something else like an application. Once installed, the Ad blocker is activated. Then the person can load a web page in their browser. An Ad Blocker application has a list of sites and scripts or specific content which it is built to block. Thus, while a web page is loading, it compares the content on the web page with the list of items it is supposed to block, if there’s a match, the content is blocked or scrapped out from appearing on the web page.

There are more sophisticated Ad blockers which process and compare the web page against the list to be blocked even before the web page starts loading, thus resulting in faster web page loading. This is advantageous for users as it eliminates annoying ads, hence saving on bandwidth, but negatively impacting on marketers as they depend on these ads to make income.

Although Ad blockers are becoming more sophisticated, they may not work on some sites, like Facebook and Google. The ads on such websites are an integrated part of the web page. Hence, the ads will only be hidden, so a user cannot see them, but they still load in the background and consume the bandwidth. The technique is referred to as element hiding which is also a technique of ad blocking.

Ad blockers depend on ad filters. These are sets of rules which tell the Ad blockers which elements of websites to block or what domains not to visit. The filter list contains URLs of known Ad servers and codes used to display advertising content, which can also be updated by a user. It means an Ad blocker cannot function until it is told what to do by the ad filters. The more accurate the ad filter list is, the higher the efficiency of the ad blocking.

The diagram below explains the process of Ad blocking, from the turning on your computer, visiting a web page, and the actions of an Ad Blocker program in the background.

Process of Ad Blocking

Ad blockers work on browsers only; they do not affect in-app ads. Meaning the blocking applications will prevent ads from showing up on browsers like Mozilla, Chrome, Safari and others, but if, for example, you access Facebook through the Facebook app, or Twitter through the Twitter app, you will still see Facebook ads, Twitter ads, or any other app that you use.

The Pros of Ad Blockers

Blocking ads increase page load speeds by preventing scripts or URLs that load adverts from running. The browser only focusses on loading the content. It also improves battery life for mobile phone users.

It protects your privacy and improves the security of your system. Ad blockers prevent tracking scripts from running or sending user browsing data and history to servers. They also block malware that might load from ad servers unknowingly hence ensuring the security of your machine.

They eliminate the annoyance of interruptive ads and popups. No one enjoys the pop-up ads that open more browser tabs and windows hence slowing down the machine in the long run.

The Downsides of Ad Blockers

Ad blockers can mess with user experience; for instance, those Ad blockers that do not replace blocked content with anything else. If a visitor using such an Ad blocker visits a web page and experiences broken links, missing content or holes on the website, they will have a poor impression of the site and this may turn away potential customers. Ad blockers block scripts necessary to make content look appealing, some even hide the “call to action” button, leaving a visitor stranded on a web page.

Ad blockers can mess with website analytics as they prevent advertisement and analytic scripts from running on the web page. Analytics enable marketers to collect user specific data that gives insights into web visitors’ behavior. As a result of ad blocking, marketers lose out on critical marketing data like views per page and traffic sources.

Lose of revenues for companies dependent on ads. A lot of free content on the internet is supported financially by ads. That is why you are bound to see a lot of pop-ups and adverts when you visit, for example, sites that offer free movie downloads. Your attention as you visit those free websites is what is bought. By using ad blockers, you are unintentionally putting your favorite website out of business. Marketers lose a lot of analytical data through ad blockers.

So how can you beat Ad blockers?

Well, if you are a marketer, you will definitely want to know ways of going around Ad blockers. One of them is targeting Ads to mobile apps, as you read earlier, mobile apps are immune to Ad blockers. So far, there is no way ad blockers can beat mobile ad networks like Google Admob, or Apple iAd, so that you can use them for your marketing.

Another way is concentrating on content marketing. As internet users will always search for helpful content, you will always get traffic and Ad blockers can’t block useful content.

Drive your attention to websites that use “Adblock gates.” Some sites use Adblock gates that prevent those visitors using ad blocking application from entering the site until they disable it. By placing your ad on such sites, you can be sure of views.

Ultimately, there is no really way to overcome the problem of ad blocking. There are already workarounds being developed as we speak for mobile, in app blocking etc. Ad blocking represents a much deeper issue. The issue is that readers consider ads intrusive and distracting. The ads industry is perceived as ineffective and annoying by the end users. The publisher industry that once relied on ads as its main source of revenue is slowly implementing alternative strategies to monetize on their content.