On ad blocking

I do not intentionally block ads. I do, however, intentionally block ad tracking. And I think this distinction is important.

This morning I read Manuel Moreale’s recent post On Ad Blockers wherein they struggle to find an argument against blocking all ads on the web.

“Every time I stumble on a discussion about blocking ads on the web I ask myself if there even is a compelling argument against it.”

I understand the struggle because the web is so much nicer without ads. And I almost never click on ads so of what value are they? It could be argued, and Manuel argues this exactly, that ad revenue is wasted on me because I simply will not click on an ad.

So let’s briefly look at both of these points; the web is nicer without ads and that ad revenue is wasted on those of us that do not click on ads.

This cannot be overstated: on many websites ads are hideous, obtrusive, scandalous, tawdry, repugnant, and uninteresting. They make an otherwise very lovely webpage about lovely things well, not lovely at all. The tactics that publishers sometimes are forced to employ result in a rather ugly web.

However, if it weren’t for advertising the web wouldn’t be 1/10th the size it is today. So much of the information I’ve consumed since I dialed into the web in the 1990s has been funded by advertising dollars.

Back in August I responded to an article by Robin Rendle with a post titled How to fix the web and I wrote this similar sentiment:

“But I’m also a realist and I understand that without advertising so much of the stuff I find useful, entertaining, and valuable on the web simply wouldn’t exist.”

So, to point one, yes ads are oftentimes rather repulsive and downright bleh… but, would the website you’re viewing even exist if it weren’t for those ads?

A bit more on what we might be able to do personally to change this reality after we cover point two.

Ad views are not wasted on you simply because you do not click on them. In the ad world these views are called impressions. A term that sort of holds a double meaning. Yes, the ad is loaded and thus is counted as an impression. But the ad should also impress something upon the viewer. If you see an ad enough times you’ll remember it. And if you remember it at the time you need the thing advertised, that is very valuable indeed.

The reality is that most people do not click ads and most do not purchase a product the first time they see the ad for it. And it turns out advertisers are well aware of this.

In 1885, 1885!, Thomas Smith published a guide titled Successful Advertising and his theory was that it took 20 times for a customer to see an ad or brand before they might commit to a purchase. This longstanding controversial topic is called effective frequency.

Pay-per-click is a modern invention that is of incredible value. Intent driven marketing was an absolute boon for small businesses being able to spend their advertising budget directly on their potential customers.

However, it is also a model that is slowly being retired.

Dan Taylor, VP of Global Ads at Google Adsense, recently announced that Adsense is shifting to an all impression based model.

“AdSense will soon transition from primarily paying publishers per click to the display industry standard of paying per impression.”

The world’s largest advertising platform wouldn’t likely make this big of a shift if the true value wasn’t in the impression.

The modern web is fueld by advertising and I see no end in sight for that reality. So, I do not block ads. I simply want advertising platforms to be forced to focus on displaying well designed, relevant, and privacy focused ads. How?

To reiterate my piece from August in brief:

  • We all need to hold bad actors in the advertising space accountable both for privacy invading practices and for downright disgusting ads by blocking tracking not ads.
  • We can kindly and constantly remind publishers they can do better by designing sane ad layouts, screening their ads, and standing their ground when it comes to bottom-of-the-barrel advertisers. We do this primarily by choosing what publisher’s websites to visit.
  • Visit webpages that take privacy seriously and strive to display ads pleasantly.
  • Do not visit webpages that employ trackers and litter their layouts with meretricious ads.

The sad reality is that the vast majority of the world’s population rather thoughtlessly browses the web without much regard for what ads are showing, what data is being tracked about them, and how those pageviews are empowering an industry rife with bad practices. So it is up to the platforms (browsers) and the publishers (web developers?) and the rest of us to do our part in keeping them in check.