Times Square in New York at night

We’ve all been there. Browsing our favorite site on the Internet, when a seizure-inducing, flashing ad pops up on the screen. Most of us simply close the offending ad and continue on our way. Others will exit out of the page completely. And then there are those who are so irritated by the intrusion that they will go so far as to install ad blocking software onto their computer.

So what’s wrong with ad blocking? While it may not seem as unscrupulous as illegally downloading movies or music, its growing use is indicative of a behavioral pattern of a large portion of consumers: convenience will, at some point, outweigh a sense of obligation to pay to fund the very thing we enjoy consuming.

Illustration of a police officer and criminal

For the paltry sum of the occasional 15 seconds or a modest chunk of browser real estate to view an ad (custom-tailored to show you a great deal on that Roomba you were eyeing earlier!), we are able to endlessly entertain and educate ourselves with the vast amount of free content offered on the Web. That seems like a pretty good deal to me, and, in fact, most people agree that ad-driven, free content is a good thing. According to a 2013 survey commissioned by the Digital Advertising Alliance, 92% of the 1,000 Americans surveyed felt that ad-supported free content is important to the overall value of the Internet.

Yet despite this finding, ad blocker usage has grown steadily over the past few years. By Q2 2015, ad blocker usage in the U.S. was up 48% over the previous year, with 45 million active users. Mobile ad blocking, which was much less of a factor in years past, is expected to rise significantly as well. Apple’s recent iOS 9 release, which allows easy installation of mobile device ad blockers from the app store, is expected to be a big player in the ad blocking game.

Uptrending bar graph

Luckily, publishers can do several things to mitigate the damage that ad blockers cause to their revenue streams. One clever strategy is to load alternate content in place of blocked ads for visitors using ad blocking software. This alternate content could include in-house “ads” designed to promote articles from the publisher’s website. This content could also include a custom message, requesting that the visitor whitelist the site so that the publisher can earn ad revenue and continue to provide content.

Third-party companies such as PageFair also offer services that allow the circumvention of ad blocking and allow publishers to track their web traffic as well as detect visitors who are blocking ads. Some publishers have also opted to restrict access to their content until ad blockers are disabled. This can be tricky, though, as it has the potential to annoy site visitors/customers (e.g., Yahoo!’s latest attempt to block people from seeing their email if they had ad blockers installed).

For this to be effective, however, publishers should be mindful of the intrusiveness of the ads on their site. The best way to convince someone to seek out and install ad blocking software in the first place is to have an annoying ad pop up in the middle of their screen or, worse, a loud and obnoxious auto-playing video advertisement.

Multiple warning signs stating SPAM

So whether you feel like an ad blocker improves your Internet experience too much to go without one or you are sympathetic to content publishers struggling in an age where free content is demanded, both ad-driven free content and ad blocking software are here to stay. And perhaps that is a good thing. While ad-driven free content provides revenue for the publisher, advertising opportunities for a myriad of small and large businesses and valuable content to site visitors, web users should, one could argue, have an option to maintain their privacy and protect themselves against intrusive ads.

Both sides benefit from the current system, and both have an obligation to keep it working. For publishers, the onus is on them to provide a site that makes the visitor feel safe and secure, in addition to arming themselves with the strategies and services that exist to protect against ad blocking revenue loss. Consumers should likewise use ad blocking tools responsibly and take care not to deny revenue to sites whose content they consistently enjoy.

This mutual understanding and respect between publisher and consumer is essential to maintaining the Internet that we all enjoy – one with free, ad-driven content.

Dancers in silhouette in front of a large lighted sign with the word "FREE"


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