3 Tips for Dealing with the Ad-Block Reality

If you're an online vendor, it can't be ignored - ad-blocking users are on the rise. In 2017, an estimated 11% of users utilize an ad-blocker. This can mean interference with analytics, conversions, advertising revenues, and even raw sales. This number grew 30% from 2016, and it's likely to continue.

Users with ad-blocker's don't get tracked: they don't make it to your analytics engine, won't count for a hit, conversions, campaigns, they won't provide insights, they are, for all intensive purposes... invisible.

11% of users... more than the market-share of some major browsers.

So the question is, how are you going to deal with it?

Well, I have a confession, I use an ad-blocker. I use it both personally and professionally, often to test the effects on websites and apps we build. The reality is that if your website isn't tested and coded to handle ad-blocking plugins, you could be putting your bottom line at risk.

I'm going to share with you 3 tips about what you can do to not lose out, and provide perspective as a business R&D developer, and as a consumer.

1. At A Miminum, Ensure Compatibility.

I have encountered it a number of times: I visit a website, ready to pull out my credit card but then I notice something weird, the page doesn't render correctly, I can't choose the product options, and the button doesn't do anything when I click it. I try to hit the back button and reload, thinking it's a fluke, but there's no improvement.

Believe it or not, this can all be caused by the ad-blocker enabled on my browser.

As a developer, this occurs because the programmers likely built the website with an action that relies on the analytics/conversion/ad script being present, but because my ad blocker prevented the loading of those scripts, the action fails with an error. At best, the error will be ignored and the script will continue, at worst it fails hard, and the page becomes unusable. Ad-blocking will cause script load failures, but it's how your website deals with them that matters.

As a consumer, I see this as a failure of the website itself, not my ad-blocker. The site is broken therefor I'll have to shop somewhere else.

How to deal with it.

Your website is the face of your brand (if not, please contact us so we can help you build one that is), recognize that, yes, some users are going to use ad-blockers no matter what, and have your website built & tested with that use-case in mind.

If you make sales or conversions on your website, do you really want to miss out on 11% of users? In most cases, I'd argue it is worth the extra amount of testing and coding to guarantee your website is compatible. Only on pages and actions that are tied to your analytics or conversions explicitly need to be evaluated.

2. Fallback To Server-side Analytics And Conversion Signals.

It's a problem... if some user's aren't loading your analytics scripts, how are you supposed to get accurate figures to report on? If the number of ad-blocking users continues to grow, are your analytics going to grow increasingly inaccurate?

I hate to tell you this, but yes, but there is hope.

As a developer, I can tell you if the script doesn't load, your website won't track squat. However, this is a problem easily solved. Remember good ol' days when websites had poorly designed 3D hit-counters on them? Well, they used server-side tracking, albeit simple tracking. Using server-side (on your web server) tracking bypasses ad-blockers that run client-side (in the browser), like most modern ones do.

As a consumer, I'm not aware of any server-side tracking, it's completely transparent to my use of the website.

How to deal with it.

This is a bit of a hidden gem. So if you've read this far, congratulations. Did you know many analytics systems provide a viable way to track users server-side?

Server-side tracking means that instead of relying on your end-user's browser to send signals to your analytics engine, you have your web server do it as a fall-back for ad-blocking users. There is no way the end-user can block server-side signals when properly implemented.

Many of the top analytics engines have ways to utilize server-side tracking. Just to name a few:

  1. Google Analytics provides the Measurement Protocol.
  2. Piwik (a great in-house analytics engine) provides an API SDK.
  3. KISSMetrics also provides an API.

It's not a simple as copying & pasting a script into the HTML, but it can be implemented by your programmer or R&D vendor. A proper implementation will mean you can rely on your analytics data with a much higher degree of accuracy, and you won't lose key tracking and conversion data to obstructing ad-blockers.

3. Offer An Alternative.

If you make a living off advertising on your website, you may have already begun to feel the sting of ad-blocking users. It's easy to scream and yell about it, throw a tantrum, tell your senator to declare martial law, etc. However, I want you to sit down and think "is this an opportunity in disguise?"

As a developer, ad-blockers can cause layout problems. This can be dealt with by proper web styling, as well as placing fall-back banners (that offer an alternative to ads) in place of ads that get blocked.

As a consumer, It's pleasing to view pages without ads everywhere. It's nice to read and view content without being constantly bombarded with non-relevant images, pop-ups, and text. In some cases, I'm even willing to pay for that pleasure. In fact, many popular websites and apps now offer monthly subscription plans to consume content ad-free, which consumers like me often take advantage of.

How to deal with it.

Offer a subscription plan to your end users. You may be able to actually pull in more revenue from paying users, than what you normally make advertising!

Consider the average user visits your website 40 times a month. Let's say you have a great click through rate of 4% (average is 2%), and given average price per click, the user earns you $1.60 a month in advertising. Asking for $2 or even $3 a month is typically an easy sell for most users that are consuming content to not be bothered with ads. Not only would you likely be re-capturing some of your revenue lost to ad-blockers, but you'd be capturing some existing users as well, and making more money at the same time.

This is a big decision, and may take significant development to implement, but given the trends in ad-blocking growth, can you afford to wait?

Final Thoughts...

How many organizations are out there running websites, trying to serve customers, but missing out on traffic and sales due to poor handling of the ad-block reality? It's an invisible problem, and one I've hoped I've illuminated for some of the decision makers out there.

From The Author: Christopher Eaton

This article was fun to write, it came about after trying to order a delivery online only to find the site didn't seem to work properly, potentially due to my ad-blocker. As a developer I know exactly what's happening, but consumers don't, and that can affect their experience of your website, and by extension, brand.

I hope you enjoyed reading, and maybe learned something new. If your organization needs help building or updating your business technology, don't hesitate to reach out to my fledgling start-up Append Media. You can also contact me directly through LinkedIn. Thanks for reading!

Christopher Eaton