What are ad blockers, and why are they hurting your business?

Submitted by Katelyn.Fogarty on Sat, 08/13/2016

What are ad blockers, and why are they hurting your business?

Everyday I see the impact ad blockers have on our business, because they are blocking more than just ads. Ad blockers are one of the most downloaded browser utilities and smartphone applications, and the source of great debate among privacy advocates, publishers, and consumers.

For a site builder or manager like myself, the more important and less-talked about issue of ad blockers is they can block non-advertising related content. The fact this is even happening might go unnoticed, which could be why it isn’t talked about very much. While doing my research for this post, all I could find were discussions about the financial impact of ad blocking, how it kills the publisher's’ revenue models. While I can understand both sides of the arguments for and against blockers, and appreciate the business of buying and selling ad space, in my mind advertising is a fact of life and is going to happen… we either ignore it or let it catch our attention and click. Paid ads aren’t always bad content or malware as some articles pushed. My personal stance on ad blockers is that I don’t like them, and that’s because they continue to break my websites and block non-ad content.

Here are three examples of how different ad blockers have broken my website this year:

  1. Social share icons: I got a report a few weeks ago that our social share icons that once use to be at the top of all blog content had gone missing. Which was weird because I still saw them, so I wasn’t able to reproduce the error to help aid our development team. It took us a few hours to discover it was a new ad blocker which was blocking our social share icons. Now this user knew the site and knew something was missing, but if this was a first-time visitor to the site they wouldn’t have noticed anything was missing. We would have continued to miss out on a potential social share because the ad blockers were stifling the functionality. I did some research into reporting these types of issues to the blocker developers, but all they suggest is that you ask visitors to adjust their filters.
  2. Missing forms: We use a marketing automation platform and embed its forms on our website. Some ad blockers block those forms! I received a message from someone asking how they could download one of our eBooks. I pointed them to the page and they sent back a screenshot with no form. Where did it go? It turned out it was the mobile ad blocking service they had installed on their phone (mobile users conscious of conserving their data plans are turning to ad blockers to reduce the size of the websites they visit). When the person viewed the page on a desktop browser the form was there. They were using http://crystalapp.co/ and once they turned it off the form came back.

    missing forms
  3. Misleading users: we had a public issue where a user was upset with us for always pushing sales at them. They were trying to sign-up for a webinar but only saw “talk to sales” at the bottom of the page. We have a talk-to-sales call to action (CTA) in our footer but that was it, so we weren’t exactly sure what they were complaining about, because any users should be able to sign up for a webinar without talking to sales. Alas, ad blockers had turned off the form for this user so all they saw was our footer and thought we were forcing them through sales. This was a terrible user experience for them and very upsetting for us at well.

What’s the solution? What can we do about it? Unfortunately not much.

This is a challenge to the performance of our site and one that hurts my team's productivity because we investigate these issues when they are reported. If it turns out to be an ad blocker to blame then we waste time and money to solve nothing we can control. My dream would be that ad blocking services develop better ways to report these types of issues and instead of directing the user to adjust filters, actually make your tool smarter and stop blocking non-ad content.

There are a few things you can do to help prevent blocking. First: make sure you don’t name anything with “ad” or “advertisement” that isn’t an ad. Ad blockers will grab and hide anything with those names attached to them. There is a possibility of detecting ad blockers and displaying a message asking visitors to place your site on a whitelist or disable their blocker for the duration of their session on your site but this is a bit of effort and you still won’t catch them all. Ultimately this is a topic we’ll continually need to stay on top of.

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