There’s a war being waged in the world of online advertising: On one side, advertisers desperately trying to get their product in front of as many readers as possible; on the other, readers desperately trying to ignore ads and get to the content they’re looking for.
In this war, the readers have many weapons:
- Instapaper and Read It Later strip out a site’s content and present it in an easy to read way, free from ads.
- Apple’s Safari browser includes a new feature called Reader, which lets you view content “in a clean, uncluttered space free from blinking, annoying ads”.
- Adblock Plus is the most popular add-on for Firefox, with more than 143 million downloads to date. The service not only removes ads, it also prevents tracking, blocks Flash, and even changes scripts and stylesheets on the fly, all to let users “retain control of the internet and change the way that you view the web”.
Obviously these tools indicate that there’s a large gap between what readers want from a website, and what advertisers want from readers.
However, in a somewhat surprising move, Adblock Plus recently announced that it will allow what it calls “acceptable ads” to be shown by default.
So why the change? Are advertisers winning the war?
Not exactly, but we’re starting to see signs that a mutually beneficial agreement can be reached.
According to Adblock, their goal for the change is to “support websites that rely on advertising but choose to do it in a non-intrusive way”. By giving sites that use non-intrusive advertising an advantage, they hope it will encourage other websites to use non-intrusive advertising as well, which will make the web a better place for everyone. They also acknowledge that “without this feature we run the danger that increasing Adblock Plus usage will make small websites unsustainable”.
To qualify as acceptable, ads must be static (no animation, sound or similar), preferably text only, contain no attention-grabbing images, and use at most one script that will delay page load. Eventually Adblock Plus would also like to require ads that respect a user’s privacy, with mandatory Do Not Track support, but they feel that it’s not yet possible to enforce such a requirement, so they’ve just added it to their list of desired improvements.
The first ads that come to mind as examples of this acceptable format are those from The Deck, Fusion Ads, Carbon Ads, InfluAds, Yoggrt, and Ad Packs by BuySellAds. These ads are generally a single static image with a small line of text, and sites are limited to just one ad per page. Advertisers buy a share of a limited number of impressions, and these impressions are split evenly between the sites participating in the ad network.
The advantage of these types of ad networks is that they’re win-win-win. Advertisers get guaranteed impressions across a variety of pre-screened sites, publishers get guaranteed income and don’t need to clutter up their site design with huge blocks of ads, and readers get to read without the distraction of invasive ads and multi-page articles designed to drive up page views.
According to a survey run by Adblock, “Only 25% of the Adblock Plus users seem to be strictly against any advertising.” adding “The other users replied that they would accept some kinds of advertising to help websites.”
In fact, when Twitterrific removed The Deck ads from the paid version of their app, users actually requested the ability to buy the app to support the developers, but keep the ads so they could find out about new products and services being advertised on the network.
Since these networks have more demand than supply, they can be selective about what products and services they allow to advertise. They become a curator of content, and readers view the ads as added value, in the same way they trust the products and services that their favorite authors recommend. This also benefits the advertisers, since readers are more likely to pay attention to an ad when they know that it will be relevant to their interests. The end result is that costs go up on a per impression basis, since advertisers are paying for a limited resource, and have exclusive rights to a reader’s attention on each page, but response metrics for those ads go up as well, since they overcome banner blindness.
Of course there will continue to be give and take as advertisers, readers and publishers try to find the right balance between the reading experience, and the cost involved in creating that reading experience, but as recent trends in the online ad world have shown, we’re finally taking steps in the right direction of creating a web that works for everyone.