Ad-block fightback is harming publishers, finds first major study

By Lucy Ingham

The first major study into the use of technologies designed to circumnavigate ad-block software has found the tools are causing publishers damage, as they significantly increase the chance of a user opting to not return to a site.

The research, which was conducted by YouGov on behalf of Adblock Plus maker eyeo, surveyed 2,000 British users, and suggests that while such technologies are designed to return revenues lost to ad-blockers, they may result in the opposite effect.

Ad-block technologies have become increasingly commonplace among internet users, with 44% of those surveyed saying they use some form of ad-blocker. This has meant that many websites are receiving significantly less money from advertising for the same number of users, prompting publishers to look for ways to get around the issue.

“The use of ad-blocking and ad-filtering technologies has become increasingly mainstream. Because of this, publishers and the ad industry, are actively looking for new ways to ensure their ads are seen without infringement,” said Ben Williams, director of advocacy at eyeo.

“As a result, an entirely new group of software providers have emerged. Known as circumvention or ‘anti-ad-blocking’ it reinjects previously blocked adverts back onto the screen, forcing the user to see the advert despite having already stated their preference, by downloading an ad-blocker.”

Consumers reject anti-ad-block technologies

While some publishers opt for polite messages with no further action, a growing number have chosen these anti-ad-block technologies that forcibly disable ad-blockers without the user’s permission.

This has the short-term benefit of delivering the adverts, but according to today’s research can lead to a drop in long-term traffic, as 78% of those surveyed said they would be unlikely to return to a site that engaged in the practice.

It also is likely to provoke a strong negative emotional response from users, with 68% saying they would be “very annoyed” if a site disabled their ad-block software without being given permission.

“For publishers, experimenting with different solutions to capture lost revenues, the use of circumvention technologies might look an easy option but, in fact, it is incredibly anti-user and will only create much distrust amongst audiences as our findings have shown,” added Williams.

Some have justified the use of these anti-ad-block technologies by citing a lack of user awareness around the importance of advertising, however the research also indicates that this is not the case. Consumers do understand the importance of advertising, and do not appreciate the choice to support a site being taken away from them.

“People readily recognise the importance of advertising to a free internet and are willing to accept it. Transparency is critical and is why we are seeing ad-filtering replacing total ad-blocking; users stick around when left in control but feel ‘very annoyed’ when control is taken away from them,” he said.

“It’s critical that advertising is understood and appreciated, but as ad-filtering becomes more commonplace, a better strategy is needed to make users are part of the bargain. With advertising spend continuing to increase, the framework is in place to build better forms of advertising.

“Doing so, creates a more sustained future for the internet and its stakeholders – imposing bad adverts will only drive users away.”

Read more: This company will pay you to turn off your ad blocker