The Case Against Adblocking: How it’s harming the web
Statistics from PageForm’s 2017 Adblock Report show that 11% of the global population is using adblocking software on their internet browsers. Although this may not seem like a lot, the number of users running adblockers increases by 30% each year.
There is a case to be made in support of using adblockers: Pages load faster; There are no more intrusive ads; And you can have more privacy (a topic that has appeared a lot following the recent Facebook privacy scandal and the new GDPR regulations).
However, there are also a lot of negative implications of using adblocking technology and these are often ignored. The undeniable reality is that adblocking software is slowly reshaping the way that the web works.
The 3 Main Website Classes
I think that there are three main classes of websites: Selling sites (sites that are selling products Ex. Amazon), premium information sites (sites that are selling subscriptions to view information Ex. Netflix or The Globe and Mail) and free information sites (sites that are providing free publicly viewable information Ex. YouTube or The Verge). Some sites are solely in those classes and other sites may span into more than one class.
In my experience, most selling sites don’t run external ads because their main source of revenue isn’t the website itself, but rather the products they are selling to customers. I don’t normally see many premium information sites running ads either, since their main revenue source is typically from the subscription fees paid by customers, normally paid to have the privilege of visiting the site without ads.
Free information sites are an entirely different scenario. For many of these sites, the sole revenue stream consists of online advertising. Some of these sites may also implement some form of donation platform as well, which I will reference later on.
How Adblockers Are Damaging The Internet
Since the other two classes of websites aren’t dependent on advertising revenue, the only class that is really being hit hard by the use of adblockers are free information sites. These sites have now lost their biggest revenue stream. And this is why we are seeing the gradual shift from a 3 class ecosystem to a 2 class ecosystem, consisting of only selling sites and premium information sites.
Of course, free information sites will never vanish entirely. There are still some websites that have never depended on ad revenue and usually rely entirely on donations or user generated content. A great example of a site like this is Wikipedia, which has become one of the largest information databases in the world without ever running ads. But, this is an unattainable goal for most sites.
Due to adblockers, we are seeing an eruption of two online business practices: Paywalls (a practice that demands users to pay a fee to see the content) and adblock walls (a practice that demands users disable their adblocker to see the content).
A study published by the University of California proves the increase in adblock walls, explaining that nearly 40% of the top 1000 websites are using this practice. This is limiting the availability of information, as proven by the PageFair study which revealed that nearly 75% of users leave websites with adblock walls.
The ability to get information from multiple sources at little cost to the consumer is a core value of the internet, but many sites are being forced to abandon this principal in order to cover their own expenses.
The Collapse of Online Marketing
Adblock usage doesn’t only hurt digital publishers, but it’s also damaging the online marketing industry. Today’s consumers have developed a blindness to ads, choosing to either ignore them or block them completely. This has turned what was once a valuable marketing tool into an ineffective one. This has led to reduced advertising prices, which are good for advertisers but decreases the amount of money that a publisher makes from running ads.
This strengthens the need for a controversial tool: Ad targeting. Ad targeting gathers information about website visitors to serve ads that are tailored personally for them, therefore attracting the most conversions. There has been a lot of discussion about the data that ad targeting collects and how it’s used, but advertising isn’t always bad for consumers.
I discovered my favourite video game from an ad on a video; I purchased good quality razor blades through a banner ad on a website; I even signed up for LinkedIn because of a sponsored post that appeared in my Facebook news feed. It doesn’t hurt to be given personalized ads.
It’s frustrating to see the negative path that the internet is traveling down, but it’s not too late to make a U-turn. The best thing that you can do to support content publishers is disable your adblocking software. It’s not free to run a website, so it doesn’t have to be free for you to access it. Advertising is one of the only ways that you can give earn money for a website without spending any of your hard-earned cash.
Advertising has worked in virtually every publishing medium, like newspapers, magazines, television and radio. There’s no reason that advertising shouldn’t be accepted on the internet too.