Some companies are now pandering to ad-free options, while others are cracking down. Multiple websites now offer notifications that if your ad blocker is turned on, they are blocking some content. And Yahoo is now piloting a feature to test how users will react if they are blocked from their inbox while they have an ad blocker turned on. But, trends show that an ad free environment isn’t always about the user. And, despite its high stakes in the ad market, even Google is getting involved with programs like Google Contributor, which allow users to see reduced ads for a small monthly fee.

Why Ad Blocking Isn’t Always About User Experience

Apple and many other companies have made it quite clear that they are offering ad free options so they won’t be displaying Google’s ads in their space. Originally a consumer commodity, ad-free is now becoming a turf war, where each company is trying to earn as much as possible from available screen space, which isn’t possible if Google is taking home all of the ad revenue. For example, Apple introducing ad blocking on iOS 9.  It’s important to keep in mind according to Search Engine Land, 75 percent of Google’s mobile search revenue comes from Apple Devices.

Multiple mobile carriers in the EU and UK, including 02 and EE in the UK, are discussing introducing ad blocking, which would remove ads from more than 50 million phones. The argument for ad-free suggests that they are concerned about consumer choice, but some are also considering it as a way to demand a share of ad revenue from players such as Google in exchange for allowing the ads. Because I believe neither carrier is even close to rolling out ad blocking, they’re likely simply jostling for a position, looking to follow in the footsteps of France’s ISP’s Orange, which negotiated compensation for traffic with Google in 2013. However, if major carriers continue to discuss ad blocking, could Google, with its capital, not simply purchase its own carrier?

Fewer Ads Require Relevancy  

While the network of consumers blocking ads has grown by about 45% in the last year, bringing numbers to 198 million users with ad blockers installed, advertisers have something to learn from it. Marketers have to start producing and planning campaigns that deliver a relevant ad at the right time without disrupting the user experience. Most customers don’t want to feel like they’re being marketed to, and they don’t want intrusive auto play ads, so the introduction of ad blocking could force marketers to create higher quality ads that don’t disrupt user experience. Content marketing could still take up some of the slack for the estimated 27 billion in lost ad revenue created by the ad blockers, but ads aren’t going anywhere if they adapt to the new market and change with the times.

The Future of Anti Marketing

Network wide ad blocking may be a hot discussion topic, as is the rapid adoption of online ad blocking technology and ad free browsers, but ads are still a vital part of the Internet. Content marketing and social media advertising may offer some alternatives, but higher quality, relevant ads that don’t disrupt user experience are still the future of advertising.

The governance and standards of Paid Search Mediums such as Google AdWords has greatly improved, and I have no doubt that Google can align to this shift towards absolute relevancy for their users and evolve their AdWords product.

Ad formats offered by publishers will also have to change. Publishers who push interrupting content to force misleading, low-interest ads on consumers will not survive. Page takeovers or mobile interstitials that disrupt the user experience online are an example. Media publishers who use these formats on their sites need to ask themselves if the effect of this negative user experience towards the brand is worth the short term ad revenue? I feel they should look to monetize more long tail efforts and added value content programmes rather than alienating existing traffic. It’s already proven that native ads perform better than disruptive ads and banner ads, and a prime example is email marketing, which offers an extremely low click through rate unless the email provides direct value before the user clicks. Marketers and site owners need to adapt and we should put our reader’s interests first, perhaps by adopting a policy of only publishing ads and formats that match the values of our sites and our customers.

There is no such thing as a free internet, it’s costly to manage and run even a small site. The Ad blocking debate makes this self evident. However, it is my hope that we can use these changes to create a sustainable user focused marketing ad model. I feel ad blocking will also accelerate the adoption of digital one click micropayments that could ask users to pay a small amount to engage with a service or brand online. Digital media is rapidly changing, and while it necessitates that we adapt our approach to ad marketing, it is my hope that we will see some very creative solutions as a result.

Image / M&M Global