Google is set to launch an “ad-blocking version” of its internet Chrome browser next month on both mobile and desktop.
According to the ad tech giant, it’s an attempt to deliver a cleaner user experience, blocking all ads on websites not conforming to the Coalition for Better Ads standards, which is designed to identify what Google deems the least preferred ad types among internet users.
According to the search company’s own Ad Experience Report - which has been scoring websites based on ads identified by the Coalition standard as the most disruptive - unsurprisingly, it’s pop-up ads that are the worst offenders, accounting for 54% of violations on mobile, while this was significantly higher (97%) on desktop.
While for publishers that rely on these types of ads for revenue it’s inevitably bad news, the reception amongst the wider publisher industry, and those companies working with its members is, on the whole, optimistic.
“Most premium publishers will agree that Google’s ad-blocking version of Chrome is a positive move,” comments Gary Neal, COO of ad tech company Smartology; “by reducing the number of annoying ads on websites and it is another step in cleaning up the ad industry’s image and reputation.”
Clearing the clutter
From the user’s perspective, this change will bring an inherently “cleaner” experience, and while for certain smaller publishers it will be detrimental, the culling of that clutter will only benefit publishers concerned with better user experience, according to Visualsoft Affiliate’s network director, Luke Atherton.
“The update will automatically remove these ads [pop-ups, takeovers, autoplay audio ads], cutting revenues for those employing them and hopefully making more room for ads that offer value for both users and the websites they are shown on,” said Atherton.
However, while Atherton warns that publishers need to ensure they follow recommended guidelines to avoid intrusive ads, he expects an ongoing rise in websites employing ad block detection, prompting the user to whitelist their site in order to access content - a recent report found 9% of the most popular websites to be employing these measures.
Where the money is…
Of course, when analysing the impact of Google’s ad block extension and considering who will be the real victim, maybe we should be looking away from publishers themselves, and to the competitors within the market Google is entering.
So synonymous with the software that it’s earned defacto status as the driver behind it all, eyeo’s AdBlock Plus has over 100 million users worldwide, monetising its services by allowing publishers to pay for whitelisting - a heavily-criticised service which has seen it in recent years compared to a “protection racket”. Up until recently, Google itself was paying up to make sure its ads were viewable, while Facebook has for the last few years been playing an ongoing ad-blocking cat and mouse game with the company.
In the wake of the infamous PageFair report in 2015, which foresaw the damage and multi-billion dollar ad revenue loss that ad block programmes would cause - the company has been a thorn in the side for publishers large and small. Moving away from its focus on native ads, BuzzFeed’s work with banner advertising saw revenue falling $70 million short of its intended target of $350 million last year as a partial result.
Meanwhile, the loss of publisher revenue from ad-blocking increased 15% from £2.5 billion to £2.9 billion in 2017 in the UK alone, while international publisher revenue rose by a third to £32 billion.
With Chrome the most popular browser among nearly half of all internet users in the US, Google’s update will no doubt put somewhat of a chokehold on AdBlock Plus’ revenue from whitelisting.
In terms of how Google plans to monetise the service, the company claimed it would be enabling a programme called Funding Choices, which would detect users of third-party ad blockers and prompt them to disable the software or pay for a pass that removes all ads from the site with the new Google Contributor - from which the ad tech would take a 10% cut.
Meanwhile, other commentators have suggested Google would use the move to ramp up its own CPM rates, while it has countered these to an extent with claims that its own ads will fall under the same scrutiny as those of competing ad servers.
A change of attitudes
When it comes to a real impact analysis, it’s important to note Google’s entry into the ad blocking market follows a storm in which the main damage has arguably been done. Instead of reeling from the blow, publishers on the most part are changing their attitudes towards user experience, according to Tobias Silber, VP marketing at security and verification provider GeoEdge.
“Improving web user experience will come from collaboration, and publishers, whose revenue streams depend on advertising which is contingent on attracting lots of happy users, are working hard to improve user experience while generating the revenue needed to maintain their business.”
It’s an industry-wide shift following a year plagued by concerns over ad fraud and transparency, with initiatives such as the IAB UK‘s Gold Standard bringing discussions to the fore.
“The more ‘good’ ads that are seen by users means everyone in our industry benefits,” said Tim Elkington, chief digital officer for the IAB UK, who believes the impact of the Chrome update will be a reduction in overall ad blocking rates, unless they’re continuing to use the formats that have been identified as providing a poor user experience.
“In this case, those publishers would be notified and given ample opportunity to revise their creative guidelines. They should engage and collaborate with the industry on improving the overall customer experience wherever possible,” he added.
If the forthcoming ad blocking Chrome browser has proven one thing, it’s that much is needed to be done from publishers to deliver a better user experience online while at the same time striking a balance with ads on their sites that follow the guidelines to avoid intrusiveness.
As Ben Williams, director of communications at AdBlock Plus owner eyeo, himself points out, advertisers will need to come up with “new ways” to convince consumers to earn their trust online.