Industry headlines may have focused on issues such as brand safety and viewability lately, but the threat of ad blocking remains strong, according to publishers at the Association of Online Publishers’ ad-blocking event in London this week.
Over the last year, publishers have worked out their own ways to make up some of the revenues lost by users blocking ads. By aggregating data across some 40 U.K. publishers — AOP members include Bauer, Condé Nast, Dennis, ESI Media, Global, the Guardian and The Telegraph — the AOP estimates that larger U.K. publishers are losing up to £2 million ($2.6 million) a year in ad revenue due to ad blocking, while the median publisher loss is closer to £500,000 ($640,000) a year. On a brighter note, many publishers are recovering substantial sums of around £1 million ($1.3 million) a year, according to AOP member data.
As such, later this year, groups of U.K. publishers within specific verticals — automotive, for instance — intend to run a collective day of action running the same message and potentially limiting access to ad-block users, similar in effect to the tests run in France.
“Don’t be afraid of limiting access; a user with an ad blocker installed is useless to you anyway,” said Oliver von Wersch, who until two months ago was German publisher Gruner + Jahr Digital’s managing director of growth projects and strategic partnerships, now von Wersch works as an independent consultant for G+J, among others. “Not enough players are doing this. It makes sense to get into an active dialogue and limit access; it reduced rates significantly without any sign of bounce rates increasing. You gain traffic which is monetizable.”
Gruner + Jahr has run ad-blocking campaigns for a year across seven of its sites after discovering that on some, around one-fifth of desktop users were blocking ads. On four G+J specialist sites — food and recipe site Essen & Trinken; two interior design magazines, Schöner Wohnen and Living at Home; plus Geo (similar to National Geographic) — it restricted access to ad-block users. The efforts on Essen & Trinken reduced the number of ad-block users by 52 percent; at the other end of the spectrum, the efforts on Schöner Wohnen reduced ad blockers by 23 percent, with no negative effect on reach, according to von Wersch.
In these instances, users were given a choice to either whitelist the site or pay a few euros for a day’s or a week’s access to ad-free articles. In the last year, this micropayment solution has driven just €2,000 (about $2,250) in revenue for G+J. “This option didn’t work at all,” admits von Wersch, echoing micropayment skeptics, “but it makes sense to have two options to make the other one seem more convincing. Thanks to these two options, 99 percent of readers whitelisted; this is pure monetizable inventory, rather than a technical circumvention.”
No one-size-fits-all ad-blocking solution exists. On three other sites, G+J ran messages to ad-block users asking them to whitelist the site, without blocking content. On women’s magazine Brigitte’s site, G+J has A/B tested at least 10 different messages to explain to ad-block users how ads fund its journalism. These tests include different images, with or without a close button in the top right-hand corner of the browser window, red or green buttons and different text. “Testing means you’ll find the best solution to converting users into paying users,” said von Wersch.
For the most part, publishers are still seeing low ad-block rates of under 1 percent on mobile in the U.K. and in Germany, but the potential for this to explode is a growing concern, especially since Google and Apple have announced versions of built-in ad blockers for their browsers. There’s reason to be wary: On the one hand, publishers want to stamp out bad ads; on the other, it gives platforms more control over publishers’ ad revenue.
Varying ad-block statistics add another level of complexity to assessing the state of ad blocking, as most third-party companies use different methodologies to measure it. For instance, eMarketer has recently estimated that mobile ad blocking is much higher than publishers see on their own sites. The advice is to measure your own: In Germany, a group of publishers aggregate and anonymize their ad-blocking levels, and release the findings every three months. “It brings transparency to the industry,” said von Wersch.