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What’s the deal with ad blocking?

Ad blockers prevent or remove advertising content on a webpage. While they come in a variety of forms – standalone browser, plugin/extension or mobile app – they essentially fall into two categories: pure ad blockers, which prevent ads from loading, and content blockers, which block additional content like web analytics tracking. The distinction is important because of their impact on ad inventory and site traffic.

While ad blockers prevent advertisements from serving, they continue to generate a page view in your web analytics. In this scenario (assuming your readers are starting to install ad blockers), web traffic remains steady but ad inventory decreases, as these particular visits do not generate any ad impressions.

Content blockers prevent ads as well as any web analytics tracking (including conversion), so not only are these visitors not generating impressions, it’s as if they never visited your site at all.

Who uses ad blockers and why?

Overall usage is difficult to track because there’s no standard measurement tool. It also varies by country and demographic. According to a study by Pagefair and Adobe, penetration in Canada rose from 10 per cent in 2013 to 20 per cent in 2015, and a joint Sourcepoint/comScore study pegs the Canadian rate at 16 per cent.

The same Sourcepoint study suggests ad-blocking usage skews towards younger demographics – about 50 per cent of Canadian millennials reportedly use ad blockers.


There are three main reasons given for installing ad blockers:

  • Performance: websites load faster and use less data, especially important for mobile users;
  • Privacy and security: analytics tools that track visitor behaviour is sometimes seen as invasive, and third party files that make ads more interactive may also allow malicious code to run, infecting computers with viruses or malware (inadvertently or intentionally);
  • Easier to navigate: ads deemed annoying or intrusive (such as popups and overlays) are blocked, sites with excessive ads appear manageable.

What’s the answer?

As publishers, there’s no easy solution to preventing ad blocking and the industry is still learning. Here are a few current examples:


Washington Post experimented by blocking content to those using an ad blocker and encouraging them to turn it off or provide their email in exchange for access to an article.


Some sites (like Reddit) use their ad space to thank readers for not using ad blockers.


YouTube is bypassing ad blockers on Chrome and not only forcing users to watch ads, but also disabling the option to skip video ads.

The Interactive Advertising Bureau (IAB) has developed a set of guidelines (DEAL) on how to formulate a response:

  • Detect ad blocking, in order to initiate a conversation
  • Explain the value exchange that advertising enables
  • Ask for changed behavior in order to maintain an equitable exchange
  • Lift restrictions or Limit access in response to consumer choice

As advertisers, start talking to your agencies and publishers about user experience. In addition to DEAL, the IAB also established guidelines for LEAN ads (Light, Encrypted, Ad choice supported, Non-invasive), and publishers, advertisers and agencies will need to work together to bring this to life.

Two other things to keep in mind, which may impact how you spend your advertising dollars: ad blockers are not currently available for mobile apps and, of course, there are no ad blockers in print!

Marce Bylinska is a digital strategist at The Globe and Mail. She can be reached @mmmarce.

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