The underlying problem with ad blocking

Published on June 18, 2015 under Blogging, Business

Ad Blocking

It was the early 1990s that the internet became accessible and open for most of the computer-using market. It was also the time that the banner ad was born, and it’s been a hearty love-hate relationship ever since.

At first, banners were simply treated as a manageable nuisance, but slowly turned into an online nightmare with tactics such as page takeovers and pop-up windows. Some attempts were made to hinder these efforts, but new forms still prevailed.

Then...full-fledged ad blocking software came about. Now the hardcore internet users were able to get rid of all the banners and pop-ups that created not only annoyance but security breaches. Many users were overjoyed while bloggers, online journalists, and especially advertisers frowned at lost revenues...despite how many of the “frowners” secretly also installed ad blocking software.

Now in 2015, things have changed even more. What used to be a handful of users has now become almost 50% of the normal market. We’re not talking anymore about just techies and hardcore web users, but average people who have installed and are using ad blocking software.

I’ve heard much rationale from website owners and online media firms on why ad blocking is on the rise. Most of the theories given are the usual “people do not want to pay for things” or “people want to be anti-establishment”, but I don’t agree, and I’ll tell you why.

Yes, I use ad blockers

AdBlock PlusI figure I’ll get this one out there. I have been using AdBlock Plus for a little over a year now. I had actually tried to hold off on jumping on the bandwagon, mainly out of what I saw as “ethical thinking” from someone who blogs and especially someone who works in advertising, but there’s more to this.

What drove me over the edge and changed my viewpoint was when I visited a reputable news website, and my anti-virus software lit up like a Christmas Tree, blocking and then quarantining a piece of malware that was shoved into my laptop by the banner ads on said website. I was shocked, as I would have normally expected this kind of danger from some unknown blog or what I see as “enter at your own risk” areas, like porn or torrent sites.

This is one of the biggest problems, and why many have not only stopped using the Flash Player, but also started using ad blockers. Too many websites and ad media providers do not fully police what ads are funneled through their systems. Anyone savvy enough could simply buy ad space and feed what looks like a legitimate banner through, only with script cleverly hidden inside, designed to launch a virus.

So how can one condone ad banners when the very next one you encounter could be one designed to destroy your system, or worse hide and secretly transmit private information?

There’s more to this though.

The bigger problem is the industry

Imagine you spot a printed magazine with an interesting headline on the cover. You pick it up to check it out, flipping the pages to the article. When you arrive, you see the first page of said article contains an image with a headline, but as you flip to the next, you are shown a full-page ad that you must flip through to get to the actual text.

Now you reached the text, and find what looks like a subscription card glued to the page on top of the copy. You peel it off to finally read the copy, but find only one or two paragraphs with more ads tossed in around it. In fact, you find yourself flipping through one page after the next to read small amounts of text surrounded with print ads.

This is what many websites have become. In the past it seemed ok to maybe have an occasional pre-load page, or a pop-up/takeover, and maybe 2-3 banners, but now with many sites it’s become overkill. Multiple takeovers followed by loads of banner ads. Too many sites now have become more intent on feeding banners than content.

Banner AdvertisingMonetization has now become too much of a priority in web content now. It’s become difficult to read web content when you’re trying to navigate around loads of ads. Plus many ads now don’t appear clearly as advertising, but more as content. This has become a lot of why many have turned to ad blocking.

Plus, the quality of content has dropped in a lot of these websites. Would you ever fathom the idea of “clickbait” in the days of printed news? Would you ever think of opening up a reputable magazine and finding a placeholder article in it? This has become the norm in web content. In many ways, I’m seeing less good content in a sea of low quality solely designed to feed ads.

Now this doesn’t really push the notion of people using ad blocking, but it more disparages the idea of why many consumers have stopped paying for content. Granted the days of getting it all online for free were fun, but there are many who would pay/subscribe for content...if it were quality content.

Right now, I’d love to find a solid, quality source for news. TIME Magazine used to be that source, but over time I noticed how much less “journalistic” their publication became, and how it has evolved into a set of opinion columns. I see the same in many news sources, and thus I found one of it worth paying good money for. One can’t blame ad blocking, but can see this as part of the problem.

Poor quality content, clickbait, placeholder articles...that explains why no one will pay. So many sites turned to overloading on advertising to keep themselves free, thus the consumer turned to ad blocking. Do you see the pattern here?

The future

The hard reality is that quality content at an affordable price needs to return, and sites utilizing banner ads for revenue will need to rethink the user experience with those ads. A poor experience will only mean users will never return, much less pay money. One novel and hopeful approach will be when online news content can become more “Netflix”, where you pay a simple monthly price and have access to many sources of content.

Likewise, the “era of free” has to also end. If we the users want less banners, then we need to be willing to pay for content. It’s the hard reality.

Do you use ad blocking? If so, why? Would you pay for quality content?

Tags: ad blocking, blogging, monetization

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