Google's New Ad Blocker

Lift Letter by TripleLift VP of Publisher Partnerships, Michael Lehman

You've likely seen a number of articles about Google's new ad blocker for Chrome that's slated to be released in 2018. This is an important release with a number of interesting implications, so I wanted to send a simple write-up and some general thoughts around.

Overview

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Google just announced a new ad blocking feature that, starting in 2018, will come installed on all Chrome mobile and desktop browsers.  The ad blocker will filter out "annoying" ads, as identified by the coalition for better ad standards - ie, auto audio ads, shaky/flashy, countdown ads, etc. 

Additionally and perhaps more importantly, Google is releasing a feature called "Funding Choices", which will present Chrome users who have 3rd party ad blockers installed with the choice of either a) whitelisting the site so that, per Chrome's Adblocker, only respectable ads show; or b) pay a fee to access the website (which Google will split with the publisher).  

What Does it Mean?

Publishers

  • You can potentially interpret this a few ways for publishers:
    • Why it's good: This is a win for load time, user experience, and ultimately the publishers user base, which should help traffic levels and organic performance of respectful ads.  Also, the funding choices release will likely reduce 3rd party ad blocking use, which will help publishers recoup some of the lost money from ad blocking or start receiving subscription fees. 
    • Why it's bad: Annoying ads do pay high CPMs (usually) and, for many pubs, represent a chunk of revenue. Considering Chrome is used by 50% of online users, publishers will lose this money in the short term. In the long term, the argument could be made that that budget will be recirculated to more respectful advertising and organic performance and spend levels of non-disruptive ads will organically improve.

Google

  • Power move by Google. Beyond threatening the Adblocking industry, Google sits on the Coalition for better ads and has helped define what constitutes acceptable advertising.  With this move, they will be making life VERY hard for some competitors and expanding their already enormous ownership of publisher monetization.

Tech companies that generate "annoying ads"

  • MAJOR challenge for obvious reasons

Ad Blockers

  • Life just got hard if you're an adblocking company. Chrome is the browser of choice for approximately 50% of global internet users and users are going to be forced to whitelist sites or pay a fee.  Adblock companies are saying that since the Chrome feature only blocks ads it deems as "annoying", users will still want the ability to block all ads and this will not affect adoption.  Time will tell is that ends up being an accurate assessment, although it feels like a stretch. 


Other thoughts

There is definitely an argument to be made that Google is flexing it's muscle as a monopoly - being a key decision-maker on the council that defines what ads are acceptable, controlling the browser AND giving it's own ads preferential treatment - but there is a lot here that could benefit the industry in the long run.  Anyone who works at TripleLift is in agreement that highly disruptive ads are not beneficial for anyone, despite the short term revenue they generate. This move towards respectful advertising and funding choices will improve user experience and organic performance of respectful ads, reduce the use of ad blockers, open up a new channel of publishers being compensated for their content, and pave the way for a brighter future for respectful ads (in particular native!). 

Now, we'll see how many users change their browser use when confronted with the Funding Choices question, but this is a step towards cleaning up the digital marketplace - a known objective for publishers and marketers alike!

Ad Blockers

Ad blockers are now an important part of the ecosystem. A lot of people use them, and it's hard to blame them - lots of ads are really disruptive and annoying, and can make your browsing slow to a crawl.

Ad blockers generally work as a browser extension. This means it's a plugin that effectively lives in the browser, and can access and control the requests the browser makes, as well as - sometimes - the HTML of the page. A typical ad blocker operates by maintaining a blacklist of "ad serving" domains, and simply blocking all the requests made to that domain. As of today, TripleLift is an identified and blocked ad serving domain for most ad blockers. This means that the browser blocks the request from ever reaching our computers - so we have no idea how many requests are blocked.

TripleLift's discussions with a leading ad blocker concluded that our ads fall within the sort of ads that they'd want to approve. However, they want an onerous percent of net revenue (what we get paid minus what we pay publishers) for the impressions we let through. This would be problematic for a few reasons (for example, attribution pixels might also be blocked for these users), but it's not a show-stopper. So it's still something that we're thinking about.

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The unfortunate truth is that there's nothing about native ads that makes them unblockable by ad blockers. As mentioned, our tag is blocked client side. Same applies to every one of our competitors. This even applies to publishers that have their own first-party sponsored content that's delivered as part of their own page - with no adserver involved. In this case, the ad blocker isn't blocking the ad call, instead it's been trained by the volunteers at the company to identify the HTML elements on the page (like the word sponsored) that indicate a sponsored article and remove it.

Ad blockers on mobile currently act the same way, basically (but not entirely) serving as a plugin for the mobile browser. They cannot, however, block app ads. This is because there is no browser to hook into for apps, and there's no way for ad blockers to inject themselves into the apps or otherwise interfere with the ad calls.

As we keep trying to "aim higher, prepare better," it's important to understand the challenge of ad blocking. Our mission is to innovate around advertising that works for all the main constituents on the web - advertisers, publishers, and consumers, and hopefully we can continue to develop solutions that users wouldn't block, and that great an overall great experience for all parties on the web. Given the reality of how ad blocking works, this is the only long-term solution.