Publishers are trying all manner of tactics to combat ad blocking. Wired is trying a new one, banking on a switch of its desktop site to the https protocol, which is designed to prevent bad guys from tampering with the site’s content and spying on users’ reading habits, which Wired also hopes will in turn give people one less reason to ad block.
“The ultimate goal is to alleviate one of the big three concerns people have expressed to us outright,” Wired’s vp publisher Kim Kelleher said.
Wired has a bigger ad blocking problem than the average publication, owing to its tech-savvy audience. More than 20 percent of its audience blocks ads, according to the publication, compared to 16 percent of the U.S. online population as of the second quarter of 2015, according to PageFair.
Wired has already been in the ad blocking trenches for some time. To people who whitelist the site, it’s offering an ad-light experience, with only standard display ads and no pop-ups, in-line video ads or autoplay video ads with sound. It also introduced a $1-a-week ad-free site for people who don’t want to see any ads (or be tracked by them).
Generally, removing ads is the most commonly cited reason people give for using ad blockers. In a 2014 survey by PageFair, an ad blocking solutions provider, 75 percent said their primary, original reason for using ad block software was to block all or some ads. The second biggest category was privacy reasons, listed by 17 percent. The third was performance, cited by 8 percent. Wired didn’t have specific figures to share, but said that a large portion of user feedback to the launch of its ad-free site option mentioned security concerns as a reason for running ad blockers.
“We know that there are many reasons for running an ad blocker, from simply wanting a faster, cleaner browsing experience to concerns about security and tracking software,” Wired wrote in a February note to readers.
Https sites are identifiable by the lock icon that appears to the left of the url. Encryption also prevents hackers, spies and others from tracking what people are reading when they visit a given site.
In the case of ads, https requires that the ad networks also serve their ads over https. Moving to https won’t satisfy people and privacy advocates who oppose tracking by advertisers in the first place, and who also oppose the practice by publishers to monitor whether visitors are using ad blockers in the first place, which could be illegal in Europe.
A few media companies including The Washington Post, TechDirt and The Intercept have gone to https. But according to Google, few big publishers do. It’s hard for publishers because so much of the content and advertising they run comes from third parties, and they have to make sure it’s all delivered securely. It also strains publishers’ limited technology resources, which are already dealing with a growing list of engineering priorities. At Wired, it’s been a painstaking process that began with a series of tests before it flipped the switch on its security and transportation verticals, with plans to convert the whole site to https by June 9.
With the rise of ad blocking, there’s growing conversation around encrypting, of which https is a form. Encryption is one of the four prongs of the IAB Tech Lab’s L.E.A.N. initiative to improve the user experience on sites so people don’t install ad blockers. It’s extra work for advertisers, but they’re already used to serving ads securely to logged-in pages, and ad servers like Google and Mediamath have been working to get them ready, said Alanna Gombert, general manager of the Tech Lab and svp for technology and ad operations at the IAB.