No entry sign - ad blocking

The IAB’s ad blocking primer for publishers

In this post, we discuss the IAB's Publisher Ad Blocking Primer. Not to criticise ad blocking but rather, to help publishers win back their revenue.

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The IAB Tech Lab Ad Blocking Group has compiled guidance to help publishers manage ad blockers. The Publisher Ad Blocking Primer provides tactics for responding to ad blocking. This is a result of the high adoption rate of ad blockers provided by companies such as AdBlock Plus and Ghostery. These are businesses too, making money by either whitelisting preferred ads (or ads that have been paid to be whitelisted) or collecting and selling data. So while publishers lose out, these companies are thriving.

Ad blocking guidance

In this post, we’re going to break down the guidance so publishers can understand how to approach ad blockers and monetising their videos. The purpose of this post is not to criticise ad blocking but rather, to help publishers take ownership of their revenue and communicate better with their audiences.

Specific tactics are outlined in the IAB Primer, and each is based around a process called DEAL. Each tactic should keep the premise of DEAL in mind.

The DEAL process

D – Detect ad blocking in order to initiate the conversation.

E – Explain the value exchange that advertising enables.

A – Ask for changed behaviour in order to maintain an equitable exchange.

L – Lift restrictions or limit access in response to consumer choices.

Shifting the focus from ad blockers to the consumer is really important. Publishers can then educate their audience on their business models and commitment to providing a better user experience. The IAB’s Primer makes 7 tactical suggestions as listed below.

The IAB Ad Blocker Primer suggestions

  1. Notice
  2. Access Denial
  3. Tiered Experience
  4. Payments from Visitors
  5. Ad Reinsertion
  6. Payment to Ad Blocker Companies
  7. Payment to Visitors


Ad blocking

Tactics to encourage disabling ad blockers

Notice – educate and signpost

When an ad blocker is detected, publishers can present the user with a notice. For example, a message in the page header, within video content or on a landing page. This could even be triggered later on, once the user has engaged with the content.

The notice can serve a variety of purposes including:

  • Educating the visitor about ad blockers and the threat they pose to content providers.
  • Requesting the visitor to disable the ad blocker.
  • Request the visitor for payment for access to content.
  • Informing of the consequences of them using ad blockers. Such as limited or completely restricted access to the content.

Educating your audience about the importance of advertising is the first step. However, this could draw attention to ad blocking, raising awareness of the widespread use.

It’s also important to keep in mind that if you do enable notices, some ad blocking has the capabilities to block those too. If you decide to issue a notice, this should not be a standalone tactic but part of a wider strategy.

Access denial – risky business

This tactic is pretty straightforward. If ad blocking is detected, publishers can simply disable access to content. This is, however, a drastic measure and shouldn’t be implemented without explaining how users can regain access.

Access denial invariably leads to a smaller audience and less sharing of content. So this is only appropriate for publishers who already have a loyal audience and don’t depend on new viewers.

Access denial can also lead to a reduced search rank because it can limit search bots ability to crawl the content. But if publishers don’t rely hugely on organic search then this isn’t an issue.

Tiered experience – limited access

This option grants restricted access to visitors with ad blockers. Instead of denying them content, it offers, for example, limited time per session or articles per month. Many publishers use this approach for their subscription service but in this case, we’re talking about its application to ad blocker users.

The risk of the tiered tactic is that some visitors may become accustomed to the limited experience and simply settle without taking any further action. It requires additional work for developers and may make measuring visitors difficult.

The positive of this approach is that it gives your audience more options, leverages the available inventory and is less likely to compromise search rankings.

Payments from visitors – subscription

This is essentially the subscription model. It’s a highly risky model as a way to counter ad blockers because there’s no obligation for audiences with ad blockers to pay for content. It’s their prerogative and you could run the risk of seriously reducing your audience. Payment for content can, however, be lightened by offering voluntary payment options, or tiered payment options.

Subscriptions can increase operational costs and the pricing of your content can become complicated. The desire to share socially is greatly reduced with paid for content, so losing audiences – both direct and via social – is a big risk.

Payment to visitors – the flip side

There have been various reward systems in place for visitors in digital publishing for years, but now the aim is to entice visitors to disable ad blockers. This can be done via a revenue share, rewards, or collaboration with other publishers.

Again, this tactic requires some additional work on the development side but could be a viable solution, especially in the gaming industry. Some publishers already have a system where users are rewarded for watching ads with vouchers, bonuses or hints in a game.

Ad reinsertion – beating the blockers at their own game

The word reinsertion is a little misleading. Whilst technology can place an ad where an ad blocker had previously removed it, it doesn’t mean the same ad will appear. And this doesn’t guarantee what the value of the new ad will be.

Additional tech is required, meaning additional cost. Also, the more ad blocking processes going on in the background, the worse the user experience is (because of latency issues and limited data collection).

There are various methods that can be used to re-insert an ad or block the ad blocker. These include obfuscation, in-browser modification and on-server. This involves serving the ad from the same content side. Each of these requires additional work, but it does provide consistency for visitors and enables the publishers to control their revenue stream.

woman on mobile - ad blocking

Consider, communicate, collaborate – conquer

If you’re a publisher looking to implement one or more of the IAB’s recommended tactics, we suggest that you consider every option. Consider how the tactic applies to your specific business model and how it affects editorial content and your audience. Find guidance in the official IAB ad blocker primer document here.

The IAB should be commended for initiating the conversation around fighting against ad blockers. Ad blockers may have won some judgments in the EU. And they may have managed to bypass some publisher revenue models, but ad blockers are not the future.

Audiences need to understand the value exchange, publishers need to retain control of their own revenue, and users need better experiences. This all comes down to advertisers providing more engaging and creative ad formats, and publishers ensuring the quality of that relationship.

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Posted by simonholliday