#OPSPOV: Mobile Web Summons the Ad-Block-alypse

Mobile Web Summons the Ad-Block-alypse

An attendee asked why I didn’t throw ad blocking in my recent top themes of the Charleston Publisher Forum. Truth be told, I thought ad blocking needed a dedicated #OPSPOV, especially considering the fallout from Apple’s launch of iOS9 today. As all the Apple fanboys rub their palms together in anticipation for the latest toy from Cupertino, I imagine most ops people gritting their teeth and thinking, “All right, how are they going to screw me now?”

Indeed, ad blocking came up in many a PubForum session, with opening Keynote Mitch Weinstein of Magna Global saying it was an issue that brings supply and demand sides together (rivals schools united by… ABP?). We had to break up the excellent breakout session on ad blocking because hotel management demanded its space back… And I think other guests may have complained about the wailing and moaning.

For most digital publishers, ad blocking is a looming storm cloud. Despite the contested reports of ad blocking’s effect on digital revenue, many publishers report their ad blocker levels are manageable – not significant enough to warrant action. 

And consider the not-bad side of ad blocking – if all ad blockers were to shut off tomorrow, the web would be flooded with impressions, mainly of the mediocre variety, which in turn would likely force CPMs down (way down). Another industry resource even suggested to me that ad blocking is a distraction from serious developments – namely, viewability.

But what highlights the perils of ad blockers is Apple’s launch of iOS9 and Safari’s open door to ad- and content-blocking software developers. This could prove a serious threat to mobile web revenue.

The mobile web itself has long been a problem, and not just from a monetization standpoint. Publishers can’t drive nearly as much revenue per pageview as on desktop, so they’ve introduced some ugly, mobile-specific units, like hard-set banners. These and other unsightly units have marred mobile web user experience not just on an aesthetic level, but also in terms of data-suckage. 

Commenters on a wrong-headed Verge piece about lackluster mobile browsers pointed out that although the article itself weighed 8KB, the mobile page loaded a total of 9MB worth of content… A good chunk of it advertising. Chucking all that bloat not only saves data but also significantly improves site loading times. So on the mobile web, users might turn to ad blockers because ads are both annoying/distracting and siphoning away their data. 

The good news? The new mobile ad blockers only work in browsers, so the app environment is safe, and users currently prefer this channel for accessing mobile content. Still, the mobile web has long been stealing user traffic from desktop, and revenue efforts will further dwindle with the introduction of ad blockers. 

What’s to be done? Certain companies are enabling publishers to replace blocked ads with different types of ads (think text-based AdWords), while others are offering the ability to bypass the blockers. However, whether such techniques will work with iOS’ content blockers is to be seen. Never forget, the most popular ad blocker, AdBlock Plus, will serve your advertising if you pay up

In the near term, publishers might be able to hasten their woes with a mobile web ad strategy that’s less dependent on display ads, instead leaning on native and other alternative revenue streams (e.g., content to commerce, particularly with rising mobile commerce).

Of course, I’m intrigued by the idea of stopping users with ad blockers and offering them the option of paying cash for content or being served advertising (and sharing data). As I’ve argued before, this choice should have long been offered to consumers, but another source brought up the good point that time and again, paywalls have proved ineffective, particularly as users can find similar (or perhaps just repurposed) content elsewhere. 

But I argue we’re going to see a gradual growth in publisher brand loyalty, particularly as publishers stop chasing pageviews and impressions in favor of building audiences, while the industry adopts time-based attention and engagement metrics. That’s a whole other story that I’ll soon by trying to tackle.

OK, ad-block-alypse is an exaggeration – I needed a clever headline. Also, ad-block-alapocalyse reminded us all of Snuffleupagus. Ad blocking is a growing concern for publishers on desktop, particularly since younger users (milleni-somethings?) are more likely to use ad-blocking extensions. But the real sweating should be reserved for ad block’s expanding role in the mobile monetization quandary. Your first move – review and improve your mobile web strategy.