Our data experts at AT Internet recently put together a comprehensive digital analytics survival guide for the media industry (but not exclusively). In our new blog series, we’ve gone a step further – by exploring current key challenges, and how digital analytics data can solve them. Discover the most effective way to measure your audience, how can you optimise content performance, and which strategies work for monetising your content and retaining site visitors. You can also download our latest guide to find out how to live long and prosper in the modern digital minefield.
Part 1: working with ad blockers
The first article in our blog series looks at the spread of ad blockers in recent years. Ad blocker software is a challenge for media groups as it has an impact on their advertising revenue and causes missing traffic by shutting out all digital analytics.
So, how do they work and how widespread are they? And what is the most effective way for media outlets and online publishers to optimise their web content when a user has an ad blocker activated on their browser? AT Internet’s high-performance ad blocker workaround has the answer! Read on to learn more.
What are ad blockers?
Ad blockers/filters (AKA content blockers) are software plugins or browser extensions that remove or trim any type of content identified as online advertising on a web browser or application.
They come in the form of standalone programs or customised services or extensions in a web browser or operating system.
Ad blocker software targets:
- Auto-playing videos – a video/audio/flash game element that starts playing automatically
- Banner ads/web banners – an ad that embeds itself on the side of a webpage
- Billboards – a pushdown ad that appears at the top of the page that displaces the content as you scroll down
- Interstitial ads – full screen ads that appear at app-transition points that the user can skip
- Pop-ups – the small ad windows that suddenly appear in the foreground of a visual interface
- Pop-unders – a new browser window that pops under the active window
- Sticky ads – a block in a specific area of the screen that stays fixed while the user scrolls through content
How many people use ad blockers?
The advertising world has changed considerably over the last few years, with digital advertising overtaking TV spend for the first time by 40% to 36% (and expected to hit 50% by 2021). However the rising phenomenon of ad blocking is having an impact on revenues for publishers and media groups that rely on an advertising business model. Figures from 2018 show that 12.2 million people used an ad blocker on a monthly basis in the UK, representing 22% of internet users, compared with 28.7% in France, 32% in Germany and 25.2% in the US.
According to a recent Deloitte study, the number of millennials in the “adlergic” category in the US is much higher, with a considerable young audience blocking ads across four or more types of traditional and digital media channels (such as software on computers and mobile devices, music streaming and video services.)
How do ad blockers work?
Ad blockers use filtering rules to block or hide contents on a web page. While a webpage is loading, the ad blocker looks at the site’s scripts and compares them with a list of sites and scripts it was built to block. If it finds any, it blocks them.
Some ad blockers are capable of differentiating between acceptable and non-acceptable ads, i.e. those that adhere to standards that have been set forth by the Acceptable Ads Committee. These are then placed on a ‘whitelist’ and shown to ad blocking users who allow Acceptable ads. However, many don’t distinguish between acceptable and annoying/intrusive ads – all adverts get penalised equally.
Despite an increasing number of methods for blocking ads, it’s mainly carried out via domain identification based on sites such as EasyList and partial data analysis on all analytics tools. The main ad blocker extensions are AdBlock, AdBlock Plus, uBlock.
Disrupting data collection
When users decide to block the advertising on the sites they visit, they also prevent all the data being gathered by content providers – ad blockers often have the automatic default function of shutting out data analytics. When ad blockers are installed, between 8% and 25% of traffic data can be lost depending on the web analytics tool used and the type of site being measured. In practical terms, this involves the loss of site visit data and quantitative metrics such as visit duration, pageviews, conversions and bounce rate.
Keep reading to find out how you can optimise your online content with AT Internet’s ad blocker workaround.
Certain ad blockers also actively focus on user privacy and include built-in features to block analytics tools. However, the majority of ad blocking tools don’t block data collection by default and simply have the feature available as an option should the user want to activate it.
… but mobile ad blockers do block web analytics by default!
Once installed, the ad blockers on mobile applications will automatically prevent communication with domains they consider to be ad-related. Unlike websites, the large majority of mobile ad blockers block web analytics tools by default. Although apps developed natively will not have their measurement tools and ads blocked, most of them will!
Most web browsers include built-in features dedicated to ad blocking and privacy, some with their blocking activated by default.
Google Chrome is naturally at the centre of the current ad blocker debate with is widely publicised built-in ad blocker coming soon. While labelled as a way to shift the control back to publishers and improve user experience (UX), many are saying it will “kill off most ad-blocker extensions” and by implication, consolidate the tech giant’s power over the type of ads it chooses to promote.
AT Internet’s ad blocker workaround
The best way to see if an ad blocker is being used is by setting up AT Internet’s Adblock detector. Exclusively for AT Internet customers, the plugin helps you detect the visits to your website that are using adblockers and that are potentially blocking AT Internet requests – with a basic implementation you can measure the use of adblockers and assess their impact on your data collection.
How to ensure data collection on your sites
AT Internet also has a new partnership with AdBack, an analytics and monetisation solution specialising in ad block traffic. AT Connect AdBack allows users to recover the blocked audience that AdBack has detected, then feed this data into the Analytics Suite 2 interfaces, including the elements impacted by ad blockers.
Adapting media strategy
Numerous players in the media industry are adopting a leftfield approach to working with ad blocking and optimising their content. In 2016, GESTE, a French group of online media and service providers, held a campaign to find a new approach to working with ad blockers. The group, which includes AT Internet customers such as Bayard Presse, Europe 1, France Télévisions, L’Équipe, Le Figaro, Le Monde, Le Parisien, Radio France, TV5 Monde, as well as 90% of France’s media websites, denied partial or full access to content unless a visitor disabled their ad blocker.
The outcome was fairly predictable but also promising – when online content was fully unavailable to users, 33% disabled their ad blockers vs. only 6% when the site was only partially available. Nevertheless 53% users re-enabled their ad blockers as soon as the campaign finished. Using AdBack technology, French sports newspaper L’Équipe has taken an even more innovative stance toward users with ad blockers. They explain on their webpage that it’s impossible to have totally ‘free’ information on a digital platform and give users a series of humorous warnings, including yellow cards if they fail to disable their blockers.
Generating new media revenue
The decline of traditional online advertising has caused major media companies to shift their focus to producing quality paid content in partnership with advertiser brands. Aurore Domont, the president of FigaroMedia, gives her recipe for success – “We primarily rely on our own content, produced by journalists, to which we add 25% content from brands and 25% co-produced with agencies, then we gel it all together. In this new model, creation is key, we draw inspiration from the group’s journalists and artistic directors.” In the United States, the pioneer of ‘native advertising’, Forbes now generates more than a third of its advertising revenue through its Brandvoice content creation studio. “We connect brands with content creators around the world, we help them design and distribute them, for all types of formats, from text to video and computer graphics,” explains Tom Davis, Forbes’ International Marketing Director.
Making a buck vs. user experience
For the user, ad blockers considerably simplify the look and feel of websites. They also reduce the number of HTTP cookies, increase page-upload time, save device battery life and make the page more ergonomic and less cluttered, not to mention the minor points of protecting privacy and preventing malware! However, ad blockers are challenging for the online media industry and publications who derive the majority or all of their revenue from advertising – which includes most of the professional publications on the internet.
The key is setting up a win-win for the consumer, advertiser, and publisher, where web analytics is at the heart of improving the UX and publishers can efficiently monetise their ad inventory.
Learn more about how media organisations are working around ad blockers in “Winning the data game – Digital analytics tactics for media groups”.
Keen to find out more? Our product manager Alexandre Cazaurang gave us an exclusive interview about ad blockers and their impact on web analytics tools