ad ads content blocking like networks also

techsuch May 9, 2021 0 Comments

Ad Blocking: A PrimerThere’s a lot of buzz right now around ad blocking. Depending on yourperception, you might consider ad blocking a savior… or a growing problem.Both points of view are valid, to some degree. What appears to be a certainty,however, is that the use of ad blockers is expected to grow exponentially.## What is ad blocking?Ad blocking, in technical terms, is the act of selectively downloadingmaterial when visiting a website or using an app, thus “blocking” the unwanteditems from loading. Most often this refers to ads, but it can cover anything,like embedded media, social widgets or tracking beacons.## How does it work?Ad blocking involves software that can work at various levels. Commonly calledan “ad blocker,” it usually is installed as an extension into a browser likeChrome or Firefox. Once installed, it filters content in two main ways: 1) bychecking against a (crowdsourced) blacklist the domain names of items loadingon a web page and stopping them from loading, and 2) then checking the pageafter it is done loading and removing any items that fit certain rules, likeimages with standard ad dimensions or text within a box that says “sponsored.”Because most sites use third-party JavaScript tags in their code, and theseproviders use the same domain name with all their clients, the domainblacklist approach is highly effective. The content of the page is downloadedand stripped of ad tags before they even load, let alone render an ad, so adnetworks never even know that an impression has occurred.This software also can run at other levels. For example, more sophisticatedusers can change settings on their operating system so that no ad networks arecontacted, no matter which browser or application is used. Others installsoftware on their entire network (on the Internet router for a house orbusiness) so that it works for everyone in that location. Some companies, likeShine, even create software to sell directly to mobile carriers to block ads.Carrier-level blocking actually breaks net neutrality in the U.S., so it’sunlikely to ever be ubiquitous. However, recently there has been a rise in theuse of zero-rating — allowing some data to not count against a customer’sbill, e.g., Spotify streaming for T-Mobile — which could potentially be usedto make advertisers pay for data and take away some of the bandwidth cost fromusers. This also has come under scrutiny as another potential violation of netneutrality.## Why would someone use an ad blocker?There are four main reasons someone would use an ad blocker: performance,privacy, security and a better experience. * Performance. The average page has dozens of ad tags, and ad providers are typically built with no regard to performance (loading hundreds of tags, images, megabytes of video, etc.), so preventing all of this from loading drastically speeds up the website. * Privacy. Most ad networks and tracking systems (like Google Analytics) collect information about user behavior and pages visited, which can lead to privacy issues. Ad blockers stop all of this and make it easy to browse privately. * Security. The display (banner) ecosystem is still the largest part of online ads, and has become a mishmash of technologies; vendors with lots of bolt-on additions like rich media to create more “interactive” and “engaging” ads with animations, video, audio and other elements. To enable this, ad networks have allowed for third-party JavaScript and Flash files to run in ad slots. However, both of these options allow for malicious code to be run, which has led to users getting infected with viruses and malware on a massive scale. * Better experience. Ad formats have evolved from simple banners to rich media, and are at the height of intrusiveness today with things like outstream video (video instantly appearing in between paragraphs of an article) and in-image banners (banner ads layered on top of other images). These ads are often annoying and disrupt the user from viewing the content that they’re actually trying to read in the first place. This only leads to negative effects and is arguably the biggest reason for using ad blockers.## Where ad blocking doesn’t workBecause ad blocking is mostly accomplished through browser plug-ins, it makessense that it only works against ads on websites. Apple’s iOS has recentlyallowed for content blocking extensions in its Safari browser, so now it’spossible to block ads on mobile websites, as well. Both iOS and Android alsoallow for third-party browsers that can come with ad-blocking abilities builtin.> Advertising is a great model, but what is fundamentally wrong today is the> implementation.Ads in native mobile and desktop apps are mostly immune as they have noextensions (and can’t be affected by browser plug-ins). Sponsored contentthat’s embedded directly by the publisher is also unaffected (like messageswritten naturally within an article or read aloud in a podcast). Some boutiquecustom pieces like the Netflix-sponsored articles on WSJ.com can be blocked,but are usually left alone because they are good-quality content.First-party ad serving is a gray area and basically refers to the websitepublisher serving ads from their own domain (the way ads on Facebook’s websiteload from facebook.com). This usually implies that these ads are sourceddirectly and can get around ad blocking because blocking the domain wouldblock the entire site.## Options for advertisersAdvertisers won’t really be affected much. They still have a massive amount ofwebsite traffic available, along with lots of other channels, like social andmobile, to which to shift their spend. As more content is heading towardclosed platforms and apps, advertising will only become more integrated andharder to remove.## Options for publishersPublishers are the most affected because they lose out on ad revenue whenvisitors block ads. There are ways around this, such as using first-party adsand producing sponsored content, but that requires a lot of time and effortand only works for top publishers with the reputation and large audience inwhich advertisers are interested.Mid-size and long-tail publishers can’t do this effectively — they lack thescale and infrastructure to be viable. Some publishers have tried paywalls,but that comes with a steep decline in users willing to pay, and only worksfor very high-quality, exclusive or niche content. Publishers that tried usingmessages to ask ad blocking users to whitelist their sites have seen almost noeffect — and actually saw an increase in the ad-blocking rate by alertingusers who weren’t using it.There are efforts to improve the experience, like Blendle for micropaymentsand Facebook Instant Articles, but the revenue situation is far from concrete.Nobody knows if it will actually work and be sustainable, but the future isprobably a combination of distributed access through closed platforms,different technologies employed by websites and more sponsored content.## Options for ad networksAd blocking mostly affects networks that are primarily website-based, butthere are plenty of technical solutions to get around ad blocking. Optionsinclude continuously changing domain names and server-side ad rendering.Because ad tech is already 95 percent server-side (meaning you contact an adserver and it does a bunch of work to figure out what ad to show and sends itback), the remaining 5 percent that uses a JavaScript tag to render ads on thepage can also be moved to the server.> Ads are a fundamental part of the web ecosystem.This would be a big change, and likely would need a standardized API in orderfor publishing systems to work with ad networks to seamlessly render contentand ads in a single pass. Content-delivery networks can also potentially dothis by automatically rewriting the page to include ads with the content asit’s loaded.Analytics are also something not mentioned much, but are just as affected.Services like Google Analytics, Chartbeat, MixPanel and dozens of othercompanies that don’t serve ads but help site owners analyze what theiraudiences are doing are starting to see their stats become useless as a largeand important part of the audience is now invisible. They will likely have tomove to server-side first-party tracking, as well.## In summaryAdvertising won’t be going away anytime soon. Ads are a fundamental part ofthe web ecosystem and have allowed for the massive growth in content anddestinations. They are the reason Google, Facebook, Twitter, YouTube andcountless other services exist.There are only two methods to compensate content producers: pay directly orget free content in exchange for ads. While there is constant innovation inmicropayments and subscriptions, the truth is that many people, in countlesssurveys, have shown they just aren’t willing to pay for the typical contentthat’s delivered on the web. Articles are worth fractional cents, and there istoo much friction with micropayments, especially for content that’s consumedonly once.Given all of this, online advertising still remains the fastest, most passive,most anonymous (compared to direct payment methods) and most universallyaccessible way to subsidize and view content.Ad blocking is definitely growing, though, and for good reasons: * Publishers that chase short-term revenue while lowering content quality and output. * Advertisers that constantly demand more attention and measure success through forced engagement. * Ad networks (the primary culprit) with slow, heavy ads that disrupt the user experience while ignoring basic privacy and responsibility.But it’s not all doom and gloom; the best part is that this is a completelysolvable problem. Advertising is a great model, but what is fundamentallywrong today is the implementation. It’s not advertising itself, but how it’sdone that’s causing this current backlash.As the industry evolves, what we’ll likely see is fewer ads (which increasesscarcity and actually raises prices and revenue) with more streamlined andnon-intrusive units that are focused on content rather than obtrusive in-your-face messages. There will be more focus on privacy and ensuring users feelcomfortable with how their data is used. Advertisers will craft more creativepieces that actually entertain and inspire. Banners will still be around, butin-image, rich media and outstream video will need to go.Instinctive is one of the companies ahead of the curve today with seamlesslydelivered native units showcasing quality branded content. Not only does itmean a better user experience, but it also delivers better performance, moreengagement and stronger brand awareness for advertisers.Advertising is definitely in a rough spot today. Ad blocking is both good andbad for the industry, but one thing is for sure — it’s a change that has beendesperately needed and just might result in a better future for the entireweb.

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