As we embark on Q4 2017, there is an 800-pound gorilla in the room. It’s called ad blocking, and it’s making some publishers nervous.
There are, however, strategies publishers can use to survive and thrive.
Getting ready for this most profitable time of year, publishers everywhere are working day and night to optimize their traffic. They are aligning partners, changing floor strategies, and activating content calendars to maximize performance. Yet in many cases, the best they can hope for is a boost of a few percentage points beyond seasonal norms.
Meanwhile, 20% of internet users filter ads, and most publishers we talk to aren’t doing much about it. According to Informa Group, publishers worldwide stand to lose $35b by 2020 if the blocked web isn’t tamed.
At Sovrn we believe doing nothing is unacceptable. We’ve studied the industry extensively, spoken to nearly every company working on ad-block mitigation, and even bought an ad-blocker.
One thing that we’ve learned along the way is that solving monetization for the blocked web won’t be easy. There are a lot of different ways to approach the problem, and one size won’t fit all. Many publishers will need to take a range of approaches to meet the various needs of their users.
Listed below are some of the most popular ways publishers are monetizing the blocked web. We’d love to hear what you think and which, if any, of these methods you have tried. We’re also rolling out access to Sovrn’s own AdBlock Unlock mitigation tools, so let me know if you want to early-access by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
Strategies for Monetizing the Blocked Web
Messaging is the most common tool publishers use to address ad blocking. Publishers will fire a modal to blocked web users asking them to whitelist their domain. Sometimes whitelisting is optional, and other times it required to see content. Publishers can create these alerts themselves or use third-party tools to implement them.
Unfortunately, most users decline to whitelist publishers’ sites, going elsewhere for content, and some ad blockers are set to block this messaging by default. Furthermore, the traffic generated generally doesn’t perform well because the buy-side has very little data on these users. Without the data, brands, agencies and demand-side platforms cannot make informed decisions to buy advertising on pages viewed by the whitelisted user.
Messaging is therefore a start in the right direction for many publishers, but it’s by no means a panacea. One way to improve its success is to combine it with other mitigation techniques like the ones listed below.
Ad Recovery vendors help publishers by hiding their ad stacks from browsers. They use proxies and special content delivery networks (CDNs) to make it harder for ad-blocking extensions to filter out the advertising content that publishers are already planning to deploy to a particular user.
The upside of this approach is publishers “recover” a large number of their ad requests; the downside is that because there is little cookie data to sync for these users, overall revenue is generally lackluster. Its also a questionable user experience for readers, and some say a brand risk for the buy-side. “Why would brands want to pay to show their ads to users who explicitly said they don’t want to see them?”
For now, when users see ads despite having an ad blocker, research shows that users blame the ad blocker rather than the publisher or advertiser. However, that might change if more publishers try this approach.
Ad Insertion vendors use similar proxying or CDN technologies that make it difficult for ad blockers to “see” and therefore stop ads. But instead of leveraging a publishers’ existing ad stacks, these vendors use demand they have sourced.
It is very difficult to do this programmatically (ad recovery and ad insertion both largely rely on direct-sold), and the same user-experience questions exist. There is an opportunity, however, to improve advertiser demand for these users because the inventory can be sold from the start with ad-blocked audiences in mind.
Native and Affiliate Ads are less likely to be blocked by ad-blockers. Either they meet the acceptable ads criteria set by ad-blockers or are integrated into content such that blocking extensions end up blocking content as well. Without ad-blocking, native and affiliate performance can be hit or miss. Those same performance issues also exist in the blocked web.
Paywalls, Subscriptions, and Micropayments are often bundled with messaging techniques. It remains to be seen if users are ready to pay for text content. There are certainly corollaries in other verticals (i.e. Netflix and Spotify), but the independent web is much more fragmented than the music, film and television industries ever were.
That said, a recent report by Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism at the University of Oxford suggests there is an increasing appetite for readers to pay for specialist and evergreen content alongside trusted sources of news, especially given the rise of fake news.
But What About the Data?
There’s one last thing that can’t be underestimated when it comes to ad-blocked users. Most of the tools (cookie syncs, fraud detection, viewability minimums, attribution pixels) that the buy-side uses to value ad inventory barely work (if at all) in the blocked web. The blockers either filter out data collection code directly (as in the case of the EasyPrivacy list), or they block the ad tags that fire data collection pixels along with ad impressions (as in the EasyList). Either way, the buy-side is consistently under-valuing inventory that mitigators recover or publishers whitelist.
Until someone comes along and can show the buy-side the value of ad-blocked users as an audience, the blocked web will continue to underperform.
What we are Doing….
Sovrn is not sitting still. We’ve been working on a number of initiatives to rebuild the relationship between advertisers, publishers, and the blocked web. The idea is to build a solution that ad-blocked users will tolerate, advertisers will value, and publishers will be compensated fairly for.
We’re starting with our own version of messaging, and we plan to layer in forms of the ideas above. We also have a few other opportunities we think we’re uniquely qualified to provide.