Why Blocking Ad Blockers Will Fail

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Blocking blockers will failMy previous post, How to Block the Advert Blockers provides a technique that exploits URL regular expression matching. The method hides your premium content from users who are using advert-blocking technology.

The solution might please some site owners and publishers. Unfortunately, there are several reasons why blocking the blockers is futile, self-defeating, and could lead to less advert revenue.

1. You won’t stop every ad blocker
The code provided will work for some ad blockers some of the time, but it certainly will not stop every one. No single technique will ever be suitable in all situations. Will the cost and effort required to implement multiple solutions ever be recouped?

2. Accessibility problems
Your page will fail for anyone who has JavaScript disabled. It may also fail for those using alternative devices such as screen readers. That might be acceptable to you — those users are not viewing your adverts either. However, it is also likely to affect a proportion of your regular visitors. Be prepared for complaints and additional support costs.

3. It’s easy to beat
Anyone with modest technical skills can prevent your block. The majority of Adblock users are technically literate: all are Firefox users who install browser add-ons, many will understand how the blocker works, and some will edit their own regular expressions.

Your content can be revealed by changing the Adblock rules, viewing the source code, disabling CSS, using an alternative stylesheet, or modifying the code using Firebug or the Web Developer Toolbar.

4. Your revenue may not be affected…
They majority of advert revenue is raised when a visitor clicks an advert. AdBlock users are far less likely to click adverts even if they are forced to view them. Will blocking the blockers really increase your advertising revenue?

5. …or it could go down
Blocking your premium content simply makes it unavailable to a proportion of users. Will that concern them or will they go elsewhere? These visitors are your customers: making it difficult for them could harm your business.

We have already established that visitors using ad blockers are likely to be technically literate. These are the very people who might have blogs, use online bookmarking, or participate in social networking. Will they link to your content if you’re making it more difficult to view? How would that affect your link building and viral marketing effort?

The web is not the same as print and you cannot force a user to view a page the way you intended. Anyone can block adverts, images, CSS, JavaScript, Java, Flash, ActiveX, or modify any aspect of your page to their own personal preference.

If you write articles to make money and are convinced advert blockers affect your revenue, there is a simple solution: start charging for content. Why publish content under the pretense that it’s free/sponsored, then complain about a proportion of users who fail to click ads? What is really at fault — the ad blockers or the business model?

Ultimately, I suspect advert blockers have a negligible monetary effect on the majority of web sites. If revenue is down, perhaps there are more obvious problems to address first?

See also:

Do you use an advert blocker? Are they the scourge of the internet? Are you convinced they have a negative effect on your advertising revenues?

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  • koyama

    Leading Danish newspapers, Berlingske Tidende and B.T., part of the British Mecom Group, have started, as of June 8th 2009, to redirect AdBlock Plus users to a page informing them that the AdBlock Plus extension needs to be disabled in order to view content. This happens when one clicks on article links on their websites.

    There has already been a heated debate about this in a blog post by chief editor of Berlingske Tidende, Lisbeth Knudsen, who initially said that the target was a sophisticated ad-replacer extension called Aidonline that would replace ads on websites in order to generate revenue for a number of charity organizations.

    Within few hours of the attempt to block AdBlock Plus readers quickly discovered that the blocking could be escaped by adjusting some settings in AdBlock Plus. The blocking script was updated the next day, but new workarounds have already seen the light. It is not yet clear how this battle will end.

  • Jared

    The issue for most AdBlock users, including myself, is not that there are ads on a page – it’s that those ads make me want to go somewhere else. I have whitelists for things like unobtrusive Google Ads, and on some sites I respect, like Hulu.
    What I DON’T like are flashy, annoying, in-my-face, making sounds, underlineing-every-other-word-in-articles ads. I visit webpages to view content, not to have my peripheral vision assaulted as I try to ignore extremely annoying ads. This is why MSNBC.com is always ad-blocked for me – they use Intellitxt, one of the most annoying ad providers I can think of. Sites that have come to understand this, and instead have ads that tastefully fit into the flow of a page I unblock, and in fact am a lot more likely to visit.

    For the most part, this site falls into my “whitelist” category, except for that big advertisement in the yellow box right above each post.

  • http://www.optimalworks.net/ Craig Buckler

    @koyama
    That’s very interesting – thanks for the information.

    Ultimately, the ad-blockers will win the battle. The web is request-response – your browser requests a file and the server sends it back. If an ad blocker stops a request occurring, there’s nothing a web server can do to force the download.

    The only working solution I’ve seen is that used at DevHub: their adverts are encoded directly into the HTML. Most are text-only and non-intrusive though. However, that’s a solution that isn’t practical for the majority of advertisers – you’d need to update your page every time an advert changed.

  • yogomozilla

    If an organisations turns people away because of the choices they make about how they want to read the content presented to them (and stored in their local browser cache BTW) then it’s a sure-fire way to reduce an audience – they’ll just go elsewhere.
    Maybe organisations who do this should ask why people use ad-blockers in the first place? People who use adblockers aren’t inclined to click on ads, anyway.

    Blocking ad-blockers is the technical equivalent of stopping the right-click programatically to ‘avoid’ content theft i.e it doesn’t work. There will always be a workaround :)

    So-called ‘premium’ content can still be read via RSS, or even via the Google cache, where blocking won’t work. Maybe the adblocker will just block the script that blocks the adblocker ?

    Text-only ads are easy to pick out as well using a DOM element picker. e.g div id=”ad” – just add a regex div
    s of id ‘ad’ for the relevant domain. Works with more complex attributes as well.

  • Anonymous

    Will blocking the blockers really increase your advertising revenue?

    Yes it will. People install ad blockers once – when they come across them.

    No one likes a door to door salesman. No one at all. But they still show up because they make money – people really are buying.

    But I agree when you say the effort put into blocking ad blockers may not be worth it. This is true if you have a small blog that you run by yourself.

  • Tarh

    Even adverts directly encoded into the HTML can be blocked by addons such as Greasemonkey. As you said, it’s fundamentally impossible to block ad blockers (in the same way that it’s fundamentally impossible to stop pirates).

  • http://www.optimalworks.net/ Craig Buckler

    @Tarh
    Yep – that’s a good point. Greasemonkey or anything else that intercepts the HTML (proxy servers) can change the code and remove embedded ads. It’s a little tougher – especially if there’s no distinct pattern to the advert code – but it can be done.

    Site owners should realise that anyone can remove or modify pages in any way they like. There’s no point fighting it.

  • mikemike

    That’s conjecture. You don’t know that people with ad-blockers will click less ads. They might click more because they see fewer.

  • koyama

    It is also worth mentioning that users can add a custom style sheet which cannot be overridden by the site. If the ads can be targeted via CSS, then they can also be set to display: none !important. This may not prevent the ads from being downloaded and thus occupying band width, but it can hide them from display.

    The Stylish add-on for Firefox has made it easier to share site specific style sheets. As one can see, style sheets that hide ads are popular. If this utility becomes more popular, the question is whether sites will now also try to make it harder to target ads with CSS?

  • http://www.optimalworks.net/ Craig Buckler

    That’s conjecture. You don’t know that people with ad-blockers will click less ads. They might click more because they see fewer.

    Well, if that’s the case, you still can’t win – you’re still hiding the page from them.

    Realistically, though, people install ad blockers because they don’t want to view adverts and never click them. I suppose oniomaniacs might find them useful too!

  • http://www.metalunderground.com dgibson

    This whole series has been filled with logical holes, fallacies, and missed points. I don’t even know where to start other than to disregard it and be annoyed with the low quality articles being allowed on Sitepoint (where I usually like the content). But the latest comment saying “you’d need to update your page every time an advert changed” really illustrates my point. In the day and age of database driven sites, how can someone even say this? I’ve run direct-sales ads on one site that are served up by an ad engine and inserted directly into my pages and they worked great. Having a server side process to serve your ads as part of the page generally works great and is not blocked by default unless your naming gets it blocked.

    The issue of naming has actually been around for MANY years. Back in the day, there were lists of blacklisted terms to avoid thanks to overreaching “security” suites from Norton/Symantec, etc. that used brute force blocking out of the box for several versions. So overall, it’s a good practice to avoice certain terms. It’s a more compelling case when it’s not presented as an ad-block specific issue, however.

  • http://www.optimalworks.net/ Craig Buckler

    @dgibson
    I’m sorry you didn’t find the series of articles useful. I agree that server-side advert generation can get around many ad-blocking issues, but those solutions are in the minority (and it’s still possible to block them).

    Understandably, the majority of ad agencies issue JavaScript or iframe-based advertisements. They’re easy to implement, dynamic, require minimal support, and work on any website – even free space without server-side facilities.

    Of course, files can be blocked in a variety of ways. However, 50 million downloads of AdBlock Plus provides one of the most compelling reasons to be careful with file names. If you are aware of other mainstream blocking technologies, please post your experiences here – it could help other web developers avoid the issues.

  • http://www.brothercake.com/ brothercake

    I came up with a way of unblocking ads which are blocked with adblock, and nobody found a way to circumvent it … until I published one – because it was never my intention to unblock ads, only to get a conversation going — see http://www.sitepoint.com/blogs/2008/02/05/unblocking-adblock/ and the comments to that post are particualrly interesting.

    I don’t accept for a second that blocking ads harms revenue; and if you feel it does, then your revenue model is broken. If you want to charge for content, then do so; if your content is free then make it free; but don’t make it apparently free while actually expecting to make revenue from it – which is exactly the attitude that those who complain about adblocking are taking.

  • http://dpstechno.blogspot.com/ Debiprasad

    The users who mostly click on the ads never want to use any adblocks. Also, the majority of people who click on the Google Link ads, think that those are normal site link. So blocking Adblocks are not going to increase your revenue.

  • Anonymous

    I am sick of all you people who claim that because I block ads it makes me a freeloader. If you a website I use wants me to see an ad all that is needed is a plain text ad. No ad blocker I know of blocks plain text. All these websites need to do is check for java, flash, and all the other insane technologies they use and where these options are not available then deliver a plain text ad. If they can do this (and many sites do) to keep you off the site for refusing ads they can also provide a plain text alternative. The Internet is and will always be a text based media. All the sights and sounds in the world will not change that fact. So website owners If you want me to see an ad deliver it in the native format of the Internet “plain text”