Is Adblock Plus Killing Your Conversions?


Editor’s note: The tone and opinions of this article is that of the author and is not necessarily shared by the KISSmetrics team. However, this article does present an interesting issue for those engaged in online marketing and we feel that you should be aware of the circumstances that it creates.

With over 300 million downloads, Adblock Plus claims to be the most popular browser extension on the Internet. As its name implies, it blocks a variety of ads. But it can also block things necessary to run successful marketing campaigns – like tracking and social media share buttons.

For publishers, that means you could be paying for ads and then having them blocked, as in this example:

A screenshot of Google showing typical ads in the sidebar

Notice all the sidebar ads? With Adblock Plus, they’re gone:

A screenshot of Google with Adblock Plus enabled

And, judging by a deeper look into the blocking process itself, the ads are still being served:

Multiply that by every user who searches for your keywords and doesn’t find your site in the paid advertising results – and you’ll start to see a lot of money slipping through your fingers.

And it’s not just Google ads – Amazon ads, HelloBar, Gravatar and display ads can also be blocked with the click of a button.

Facebook and YouTube ads are also casualties of the blocking brigade:

On your own blog, your calls to action may even be the victims of overzealous blocking, such as this example from our own KISSmetrics blog:

What a normal user to the KISSmetrics blog would see

With Adblock enabled, the call-to-action disappears

So what does this mean for businesses?

Unfortunately, the answer is not as simple as one might think. For many sites, ads are a source of revenue, and even if the ads are being blocked (because a user blocking ads isn’t likely to click on them anyway), resources like bandwidth are still being consumed – and need to be paid for.

Some blogs, particularly news and technology sites, have come up with creative experiments to sidestep this problem – but there’s no definitive method to “block the blocker” yet.

Which then begs the question, who’s actually running the show here?

Defining Acceptable Ads

In a ComputerWorld interview with Adblock’s lead investor, Tim Schumacher (creator of domain parking company, Adblock has recently started a push toward larger companies (think Twitter and Google) on having their ads become part of its “Acceptable Ads” program. Essentially, they approach these companies with the digital equivalent of a ransom note.  Right before Twitter’s $15 billion stock flotation, Adblock approached them with some serious gall fueling their demands and stated:

“We would like to partner with you to engineer acceptable, non-intrusive advertising that would conform to our guidelines and make it to our whitelist” (emphasis mine)

You’d be forgiven for thinking that Adblock Plus would have struck a well thought-out, reasonable balance between relevant advertising, privacy-conscious tracking and easy social media sharing — but no, their guidelines pretty much outlaw anything that isn’t text.  Even if an ad meets these criteria, there’s no guarantee it won’t be blocked anyway.

Oh, and the most ironic part of the story?

Adblock has contracts with Acceptable Ads publishers that essentially mean that those companies are paying Adblock for the privilege of not blocking their ads. Currently, their fees scale with the size of the publisher — with some paying a flat fee, and others paying a percentage of their revenues.

If that sounds an awful lot like extortion, that’s because it is.

Eyeo, the company behind Adblock claims that it’s only doing what users want — and that means, “publishers and websites only participate by their own volition; those that have been pleased with the results of non-intrusive advertising.” According to the ComputerWorld interview, [t]he company does concede that it has “initiated conversations” rather than just waiting for partners to approach it, but emphasizes that “the order of approach is secondary to the process.”  Currently, sites including Google, Amazon and Yandex (Russian search engine) are forking over as much as 30% of their revenues generated by ads into Adblock’s maw.

In other words, pay no attention to the man behind the curtain.

Where Do We Go from Here?

Many internet businesses are refusing to stay silent on the issue. Some, like PageFair, have sprang up to let publishers calculate the cost and percentage of revenues lost from ad blockers.

Meanwhile, Adblock is busy blocking trackers, social media sharing buttons and other features that you may be using to better understand your customers and measure your conversion goals.

With calls-to-action, the only way to know if they’re being blocked is to install Adblock in your own browser and test your pages with it enabled and disabled.

Needless to say, it’s a very delicate balance between wanting valuable customer information in order to meet (or exceed) conversion goals, and keeping users’ privacy at the forefront of operations.  Adblock, too, is trying to carefully charm both sides of the advertising aisle by pandering to users while extorting big advertisers. Meanwhile, conversion experts and publishing professionals are caught in the middle — looking to increase their reach through paid ads and social media without being intrusive.

What are Your Thoughts on the Issue?

We want to hear from you. What are your thoughts on Adblock’s practices?  Are Acceptable Ads a way to ensure that everyone plays fair? Or is it wrong of a company to block ads on one hand, and get paid to remove them with the other?  How do you think these practices are affecting your social reach and conversion rate?  Share your thoughts below with us in the comments!

About the Author: Sherice Jacob helps businesses improve website design and increase conversions with user-focused design, compelling copywriting and smart analytics. Learn more at iElectrify and get your free conversion checklist and web copy tune-up. Follow @sherice on Twitter, LinkedIn or Google+ for more articles like this!

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