The State of Ad Blocking and How it Affects Your Institution’s Advertising

Posted: December 21, 2015

For online advertisers, ad blockers have been the story of 2015. I’d be lying if I were to tell you that everyone wasn’t scratching their heads a bit on this one. It’s by no means the end of online advertising effectiveness, but it may be the perfect reminder to put the users first to ensure we are relevant and not annoying.

Before we dive into that, let’s briefly talk about ad blockers and why this is such a big issue.

What Do Ad Blockers Do?

Put simply, ad blockers, which most often come in the form of browser plugins, block your ads from being shown to users who employ them. Different ad blockers use different algorithms and blocking philosophies. Some ad blockers block all ads by default, while others, such as AdBlock and Adblock Plus, don’t filter all ads (at least in its default setting), but allow certain ads that meet their criteria (based on the intrusive nature of the ad) to be displayed.

If you haven’t seen an ad blocker in action, here’s a before and after example of a Google search results page with all ads being blocked by AdBlock, with their Acceptable Ads option disabled.

MBA search with ads.

Search With Ads

MBA search without ads.

Search Without Ads


The Growth of Ad Blockers

There’s no doubt about it, the number of people who have downloaded and installed ad blocking software over the last year has grown substantially. According to PageFair and Adobe’s 2015 Ad Blocking report, which was released in August, the use of ad blockers has increased 41% over the last year and has cost publishers nearly $22 billion during 2015. More than 198 million users used the software worldwide.

In Q2 of 2015, only 1.6 percent of those users were on mobile devices.

Why? Well, for one thing, Apple has never allowed 3rd party developers the ability to integrate their software onto the iPhone. But, as of Apple’s release of IOS 9 in September, the new iPhone does allow the ability  for 3rd party developers to implement their software, which potentially means a huge increase in ad blocking users in our near future.  

How Ad Blocking Affects Your Institution’s Online Advertising Campaign

There’s no doubt about it, ad blocking is no longer something that can just be brushed under the rug and ignored. It’s something that is here and has to be acknowledged as a constant challenge in our day-to-day advertising efforts. So how could your online advertising campaigns be impacted?

  • You could see a decrease in the number of users who are engaging with your ads. This means you could see less clicks, a lower click through rate and less conversions on a campaign.  

  • You may see some deceiving results, which can make it difficult to assess what’s working and what’s not. For example, you actually may not see a decrease in impressions, as some types of ads are actually technically not being blocked, but simply being hidden from users by the ad blockers. This is often the case with Google and Facebook ads with certain adblock software products (so watch your costs if you’re using a CPM payment model).

  • As a direct derivative of the challenges just mentioned, you will also face a more challenging day-to-day upkeep of your campaigns. In other words, because so many of your potential users are “hiding” from you with these ad blockers, campaign refinement and proper targeting is more important than ever to try to reach the users who aren’t using it. For example, with Google search campaigns, you’ll want to make sure you’re constantly looking at your campaigns and utilize tactics, such as adding keywords and adding negative keywords (keywords that disqualify your ad from showing when searching for certain things that don’t match your prospective user). I can’t emphasize this enough. Constantly monitoring and managing your accounts has ALWAYS been important, but even more so now than ever.

How Do We Move Forward and Still Run Successful Online Advertising Campaigns?

There’s no denying that this trend towards the use of ad blocking software is a scary one, but like anything else it can be overcome if done correctly and with the right intentions. We’ve seen several online polls that show that users DO want to be advertised to, but they also want to enjoy a great user experience on every page they navigate to and feel safe doing so.

So, moderation and proper outreach and targeting is paramount.

One of our company’s guiding values, what we refer to as our “Vision Points,” is to be thoughtful and strategic. There should be a reason behind every decision. In the case of online advertising, this means thinking about the users and the user experience in order to drive the results and ROI that our clients desire. At VisionPoint, before we begin a campaign, we work with our clients to carefully think through their goals, strategies and tactics and construct an integrated marketing plan that will work. Whether you’re working with us, another agency or managing your online ad campaigns in house, we strongly recommend employing a strategic and goal-oriented approach.

Some things to think about given the current landscape:

  • Consider native advertising, which is advertising that takes on the form of the page it lives on to provide a great user experience. In most cases, native advertising is so well-integrated with a webpage that it appears on, it actually can’t be blocked by ad blockers.

  • On your paid social media and search campaigns, narrow down your audience and make sure you’re targeting multiple, narrow audience segments. The great thing about the technology available today is the ability to target specific users for specific reasons. This benefits both you and the potential customer, if used properly.  

  • Use retargeting to advertise to users who have already engaged with your organization by visiting your website or landing pages. Please know that retargeting ads, through platforms such as Google and AdRoll, are just as susceptible to ad blocking technology as anything else. But because the users being targeted are further down the engagement funnel, your chance for conversion can be much higher. To further ensure this, we recommend looking at narrowing the targeting criteria even further, perhaps by  only retargeting users who visit certain pages and are more likely to be interested in each specific advertised offer. There are also many other ways to narrow your audience, and this is something that should be managed over time based on results.

  • Use frequency caps to limit the number of times a user sees your ad in a given period. This is extremely important for both you and the user, as overloading people isn’t a great way to gain more customers – it’s actually quite possible to do the opposite and push them away or even push them directly to an ad blocker website. Please note that this is also important in retargeting. For example, if you have a retargeting list of 1,000 unique users and you’re getting 40,000 impressions in a week, that means those users saw your ads A LOT. 

  • Finally, if at all possible, we recommend that you don’t focus on only one channel, but instead on several channels based on your goals and budget. Most users don’t just search on Google. They also check their Facebook, scroll through Twitter, browse Buzzfeed and Reddit and peruse the internet in many other ways. So reach out to them! Keep your users in mind when doing this, and make sure all of your channels are working together and not against each other. Remember, many of your potential customers are likely seeing all of your ads in more than one place, so it’s important to consider them and make sure they’re not getting bored of what they’re seeing. Adjust your creative as well as your ads per channel appropriately.