News & Insights

Five questions (and answers) about digital ad blocking

October 20, 2015

With the recent release of iOS 9 from Apple, there was much talk this year about content blocking, or ad blocking within the Safari browser. This certainly is not the first attempt at ad blocking, but when Apple does something people take notice.

What is ad blocking?

Simply put, it is removing or altering advertising content in a webpage. Advertising can exist in a variety of forms including pictures, animations, embedded audio and video, text, or pop-up windows and can employ auto-play of audio and video.
As Apple explains on its Developer Site, content blocking lets you block “cookies, images, resources, pop-ups and other content.” That means things like auto-play videos can be blocked, as well as invisible tracking scripts that are used for data collection. Tools that publishers routinely use to measure their visitors and communicate with them, including Google Analytics, Parsely, Chartbeat, Intercom, Optimizely and others could also be affected, but that has yet to be shown.

How does it work?

Within iOS 9 and Safari, the extensions work by blocking the unwanted content before the web page loads. But to get started, users will first have to install a content-blocking extension by way of a mobile app download from the iTunes App Store. However, installing them alone is not enough. Users will also have to head into the iOS device’s “Settings” to turn them on.

Why do consumers want ad blocking?

Plain and simple, people do not want to be bothered by online advertising. Online advertising also imposes a security risk for the user, as the third-party banner ads may introduce security breaches to the site. Performance is also a concern. Advertising often uses heavy graphics, which slows the page loading. A recent study fielded by new-to-market Blocker Crystal found that with blocker apps:

  • Web pages load 3.9 times faster
  • Web page load times are reduced by 74%
  • Pages used 53% less bandwidth on average

Will ad blocking be popular?

It already is. AdBlock, the desktop ad blocking tool, states it has around 50 million to 60 million active users monthly for its AdBlock Plus extension, and has averaged 2.3 million downloads per week since 2013. According to a 2014 report, ad blocking was up 70 percent year-over-year, and 140 million people worldwide blocked ads. Many of those users are younger – 41 percent were 18 to 29 years old, the report found.

What does this mean for website publishers?

Subscriptions are an option, and they’re making a comeback these days as publishers realize that giving away content doesn’t always work.
Selling apps can monetize content distribution, while providing places that are protected from ad blockers. Apps could be a way in which to experiment with making ads that are better, more liked, or used.
Big data solutions that use online experience as an information gathering tool can enable marketing outreach via email, social content, and other means. If consumers could “pay” for their content consumption simply by being observed as they consume it, there’s no need for something to replace ads.
Branded content and native advertising can help, but it’s not necessarily a cure for all publishers. While ad blockers can’t hide the actual content, they can often erase the promotional placements on publishers’ sites that drive traffic to the content, such as a spot on the homepage nestled among editorial articles.