Acceptable Ads: A detailed guide for publishers
For the last couple of years, things like privacy compliance, the impending death of third-party cookies, and COVID-induced CPM crash this year have continued to dominate both headlines and the mindspace of publishers, with the threat of ad blocking seemingly on the back burner.
The Blockthrough/PageFair 2020 Adblock Report showed that by the end of 2019, 236 million users were blocking ads on desktop and 527 million users were blocking ads on mobile devices—a 16% decline and 64% increase from the last report (2017), respectively. With equal distribution of traffic between desktop and mobile, ad blocking is still net trending upwards.
We also reported on how ad blocking is diversifying with VPN and DNS-based ad blockers, browser extensions, content blocking, and the rise of “ad blocking by default” as a browser feature; giving users more options than ever before when it comes to blocking ads.
“Ad blocking may not be increasing at double-digit rates anymore, but it’s also not going away,” Nicole Perrin, principal analyst at eMarketer, said in a forecast last year. “There’s a substantial number of internet users rejecting the current tradeoff of ads for content as unfair.”
Here’s what all this means: the threat of ad blocking hasn’t changed in the last few years. What has changed, however, is publishers’ ability to fight back. There are multiple strategies that publishers are now successfully using to recover their adblocked revenue, and ad recovery using Acceptable Ads is the most popular one with top US-ComScore publishers.
So, what are Acceptable Ads?
The Acceptable Ads program was started by Eyeo GmbH, the maker of AdBlock Plus (ABP)—one of the most popular ad blocking extensions, with the intention of establishing a healthy middle ground between the legitimate needs of users who want to block annoying, irrelevant, and intrusive advertising and publishers who depend on ad revenue to stay profitable.
Instead of blocking all ads for all users, which is detrimental to the open Web, the Standard allows publishers to serve ads that meet a predefined criteria to a segment of opted-in users who don’t mind advertising that is respectful, non-intrusive, and relevant.
Over the years, publishers have experimented with various ways of monetizing their adblocked traffic, including adblock circumvention, pivoting to paid subscription models, selling “ad free” passes, and requesting users to whitelist their website.
The downside of such messaging-based strategies is that they disrupt the natural flow of users and therefore witness high opt-out/bounce rates due to their interruptive UX. Acceptable Ads allow publishers to monetize without disrupting UX or forcing additional choices on users.
According to the program, 200 million users have consented to seeing Acceptable Ads, which includes more than 90% of all Adblock Plus users. And at this time, 54% of ComScore top 50 desktop properties are monetizing their adblocked audience using Acceptable Ads.
Who sets the Acceptable Ads Standard?
Adblock Plus created the Acceptable Ads program in 2011, but in 2017, it handed over the reins to an independently governed entity called the Acceptable Ads Committee (AAC).
Image courtesy: Acceptable Ads
The AAC is divided into three coalitions:
- For-profit coalition: Consisting of advertisers, ad tech providers, advertising agencies, publishers, and content creators, this coalition advocates for the importance of the ad-supported model of the web and works with other coalitions to set the Acceptable Ads standard.
- User advocate coalition: This coalition consists of digital rights organizations and actual adblock users. It exists to make sure users’ voice is represented in the committee and that the Acceptable Ads standards are delivering on their core promise of better user experience.
- Expert coalition: Consisting of user agents, creative agents, and researchers, the expert coalition brings industry experts in advertising and ad blocking to the table.
The reason for having a formal structure with three distinct coalitions is to make sure that the standards created by the AAC have been vetted by all the different interest groups.
Some of the organizations that are currently part of the Acceptable Ads Committee include Dell, Trivago, BuySellAds, Criteo, System1, Future plc, TED, WeTransfer, Local Media Consortium, The Media Trust, OKO Digital, Leaf Group, The Inquisitr and Blockthrough (more on that later).
Placement, distinction, and size
All Acceptable Ads must meet the criteria for (1) placement, (2) distinction, and (3) size. This means that ads should not disrupt the natural reading flow and should be placed either above, below, or beside the primary content. Next, all ads must be clearly distinguishable from other content and marked with the word “advertisement” or its equivalent. And finally, there are strict size restrictions for individual ads, as well as the total screen space occupied by ads, that must be adhered to.
- Text ads designed with excessive use of colors and/or other elements to grab attention are not permitted.
- Static image ads may qualify as acceptable, according to an evaluation of their unobtrusiveness based on their integration on the webpage.
- In-feed ads are permitted in between entries and feeds and are allowed to take up more space, as long as they are not substantially larger than other elements in the list or feed.
- Search ads—ads displayed following a user-initiated search query—are allowed and permitted to be larger and take up additional screen space.
- On pages with no primary content, only text ads are allowed.
Criteria for mobile ads (released in 2017)
- Static ad types are allowed to be placed anywhere on the mobile page.
- Small ads are allowed to be placed as a sticky ad on the bottom of the screen. Other formats are not allowed to be sticky.
- Large ad types (e.g. native tile ads) are only allowed to be placed under primary content.
- Ads implemented on a webpage must not occupy in total more than 50 percent of the visible portion of the webpage.
- Ads implemented as a ‘sticky ad’ have a maximum height restriction of 75px (or 15%).
- Below the Primary Content, ads may occupy up to 100% of the screen space.
Animations are allowed for the 6×1 ad type when placed as a ‘sticky’ ad on the bottom of the screen. Animations have to comply with the LEAN standard for animations, and a close button or some other closing mechanism must be included.
Note: This is a condensed version for indicative purposes and does not include specific details about the criteria. For the full official specifications, see the Acceptable Ads Standard.
What is not considered an Acceptable Ad?
Certain types of ads or advertising experienced have been found too intrusive or disrupted to be a part of the Standard, here are some of them:
- Ads that visibly load new ads if the Primary Content does not change
- Ads with excessive or non-user-initiated hover effects
- Animated ads
- Autoplay-sound or video ads
- Expanding ads
- Generally oversized image ads
- Interstitial page ads
- Overlay ads
- Overlay in-video ads
- Pre-roll video ads
- Rich media ads (e.g. Flash ads, Shockwave ads, etc.)
Acceptable Ads vs. Better Ads
Acceptable Ads Standard is not the only framework attempting to clean up the ad tech supply chain; there is also the Better Ads Standard. Despite sharing the common goal of promoting better ad experiences, the standards serve very different purposes, as summarized below:
|Acceptable Ads Standard||Better Ads Standard|
|Created by||Adblock Plus (ABP)||Google, P&G, IAB and 12 other founding members|
|Governed by||Acceptable Ads Committee||Coalition for Better Ads|
|Goal||Allow publishers to monetize adblocked audience with respectful, non-intrusive, and relevant advertising||Improve online advertising for consumers by reducing the use of ads that disrupt their experience, interrupt content and slow browsing|
|Scope||Standard aims to regulate ad quality on the adblocked web||Standard aims to regulate ad quality across the entire web|
|Enforcement||Warning and eventual removal from the Acceptable Ads allowlist||Chrome-based ad filtering and excluding offending publishers/SSPs|
Frequently asked questions
Most publishers have an adblock rate of anywhere between 10-40%, depending on website niche, traffic source, and device split. By monetizing with Acceptable Ads, publishers stand to start recovering the revenue that they are currently losing due to ad blockers, most importantly—without making any changes to their site or disrupting UX.
For the vast majority of publishers, there is no direct cost associated with monetizing with Acceptable Ads. However, most ad exchanges do not natively support Acceptable Ads, so a category of solution providers (such as Blockthrough) has arisen, which specializes in monetizing Acceptable Ads either by (a) enforcing Acceptable Ads across the publisher’s existing ad stack using proprietary ad-scanning technology, or; (b) by operating an exchange that only permits compliant ads to bid. Such solution providers generally charge a rev share as a technology fee, and absorb any costs associated with participating in Acceptable Ads.
Adblock Plus has no control over the Acceptable Ads Standard ever since the Acceptable Ads Committee was formed. Eyeo, the company that makes ABP, does charge the big Internet platforms, large publishers and ad tech vendors who monetize with Acceptable Ads for access to the Acceptable Ads ecosystem. This helps subsidize compliance monitoring and keeps Acceptable Ads cost-free for smaller publishers.
That depends on a number of factors, but the primary levers are monthly traffic numbers, ad blocking rate, CPMs on non-adblock inventory, and overall bid density. This is a question we get asked a lot, so our team has internal calculators to give publishers an accurate estimate based on those metrics. You can also try our online ad recovery calculator to obtain a quick estimate.