There’s no easy way to say it: online advertising is in trouble. An epidemic has been sweeping the web for the past several years; a widespread trend that’s costing webmasters all over the world a small fortune. I am speaking, of course, about ad-blocking software.
Users have grown frustrated with advertisers, and I certainly cannot blame them. Emboldened by lax regulations, two-bit advertisers have been loading the Internet with some of the most invasive, resource-intensive, poorly-designed advertisements I’ve ever seen. Sometimes, these ads are disguised as download buttons or Captcha boxes. Sometimes they play obnoxious sounds or slow the user’s browser to a crawl.
Occasionally, they’ll install adware or malware on a user’s system.
Coupled with the fact most online advertising is irrelevant to the user, is it any wonder most people simply can’t be bothered with the waste product of a broken model? Far from being indicative of entitlement on the part of today’s online audience, the ad-blocking pandemic is linked far more closely to a fundamental problem at the core of Internet marketing. Until this problem is addressed, ad blockers are still going to see regular use.
But what’s a webmaster to do? In the wake of all this, how can you minimize the impact of ad blockers on your bottom line?
Circumvent The Software
This seems by far the most common tactic- and it’s also one I wouldn’t really recommend to most of you. Not only will it lead to a lot more (unnecessary) work on your end, your efforts to find a way around ad-blocking utilities will ultimately enter you into an adversarial game of cat-and-mouse with both your users and the developers of the software.
Plus, this tactic attacks a symptom of the problem – it completely ignores the real issue.
Wall Out Browsers With Ad Blockers Installed
It may sound like a fool’s tactic, but I’ve actually seen a few websites that completely lock users out if they detect an ad blocker in that user’s browser. While I’m certain a few folks will add the site to a whitelist, I can all but guarantee that the majority – after shaking their heads in frustration – turned around and never returned. As with circumvention, building a digital wall isn’t the answer.
If you try it, be prepared to lose readers.
Create Better Content
If it’s not yet clear, I myself actually have ad blocking software installed. For me, it’s more a matter of security than anything – with all the reports of malware-infected ad networks we’ve been hearing lately, I feel it’s a necessary step in protecting my system. Now, before you inform me that I’m part of the problem, I’ve something else to say:
If I like a website enough – if I find the content it provides valuable enough – I will whitelist it.
The lesson here’s pretty simple: make your website as amazing as you possibly can (and then some), and always make sure you’ve got more content than advertisements. If your content is interesting and useful enough to your readers, I can all but guarantee that at least a few will be willing to tolerate your ads.
Police Your Ad Network
As I’ve already said, the widespread use of ad blocking software indicates that there’s something very, very wrong with online marketing. As a webmaster, it’s entirely within your power to be part of the solution – though it’s going to require a great deal of diligence on your part. Establish a set of very stringent guidelines for anyone who wants to advertise with you. Refuse anything that interferes with your audience’s enjoyment in any way.
I’ll give you a few examples of components that should never find their way into your ads:
- Auto-playing video.
- Flashing lights.
- Overly-sexual images
- Disguised Ads
- Any resource-intensive components (such as heavy use of flash).
Check your site regularly to see that these ads aren’t rearing their ugly heads. The moment one does, do everything in your power to take it down. Contact your ad network, and inform them of what’s happened. Threaten to cut ties if need be; the important thing is that you get the offending ads taken down.
Talk To Your Audience
Never underestimate the power of user engagement. Regularly communicate with visitors. Encourage them to contact you if they encounter an offensive or invasive advertisement. If they aren’t use an ad-blocked, occasionally make use of your advertising space to thank them (Reddit does this).
That can be taken a step further, too. Don’t just talk to the users who are seeing your ads – communicate with the users who’ve got ad blocking software. Use your advertising space to request that they disable their software. After all, you need to make a living too, right?
Target Only The Users Who Will Convert
Here’s a funny little fact: the majority of your visitor aren’t likely to convert. That goes double for your regular users. You want to target those users you know will click through; the ones you know won’t be annoyed by your ads. In order to do this, you need to be sure of three things:
- That your ads are targeted to your users based on geo-location.
- That the ads are actually something your users would be interested in.
- That the ads are actually relevant to the content of your site.
Explore An Alternative Revenue Model
Last, but certainly not least, advertising isn’t the only revenue model on the Internet, even if it does tend to be one of the more lucrative ones. Depending on what sort of website you’re running, you might pull in money from subscription fees or a digital storefront. You might accept donations from loyal readers, or offer a service to your users. It’s entirely possible to create a profitable website without a single advertisement – it’s just a little more challenging, is all.