Your guide to adblockers and revenue recovery

User adoption of adblocking tools and extensions has been on the rise since they first emerged in 2013.

Fast forward to last year: There were over 257 million monthly active users with adblockers enabled on desktop and 586 million on mobile, according to our 2021 PageFair Adblock Report.

In March 2021, Blockthrough surveyed over 5,000 internet users to better understand their adblock usage. Users were able to select multiple options. We found that the most popular adblockers in the US were:

  • AdBlock (50%)
  • Adblock Plus (25%)
  • AdGuard (19%)
  • uBlock Origin (16%)

Now that we know active adblock users are increasing and the adblockers they prefer to use, we’ll look at what this means for publishers. And see what they can do to recover their ad-blocked revenue.

But before we dive in, let’s go over the basics.

What is an adblocker?

An adblocker is a piece of technology that is used to prevent ads from displaying on a website, both on desktop and mobile devices. This technology can be distributed in the form of web plugins, browser extensions, or even hardware. Adblockers are known for blocking the following:

  • Ad formats served by third-parties
    • Display (banner) ads
    • Video (instream or outstream) ads
    • Native ads (except advertorials)
  • Third-party tracking technology
    • Ad targeting (cookies)
    • Ad measurement (viewability trackers)
    • Ad attribution (conversion trackers)
    • Analytics (Google Analytics)

With adblocking enabled, the end-user would either see a collapsed container or an empty ad slot.

How does adblocking work?

First, we’ll take a step back to review the basics of header bidding.

  1. A user lands on your webpage.
  2. As your page loads, an ad request is sent to multiple ad exchanges.
  3. Participating demand partners place simultaneous bids on the available impressions.
  4. The ad request is then sent to the ad servers.
  5. The bid with the highest value is selected.
  6. Winning ad creative is loaded and displayed to users.

Adblockers listen to network calls on your website. They then compare them against a filter list that includes regular expressions (regex) and known ad networks related to advertising. Think Google Ad Manager, for instance. If there’s a match, it will block the network request from completing, and the ad creative won’t load.

There are 3 ways for an adblocker to accomplish this.

Preventing HTTP calls via Javascript ad tags

It doesn’t matter if you are a publisher, advertiser, an SSP, a DSP, or anyone from the ad tech landscape. Chances are, the technology you use is most likely built on Javascript.

Adblockers look at the HTTP calls made from a publisher’s website. Then, they prevent anything that looks like it came from a known ad platform from delivering. More specifically, it looks for known Javascript ad tags that are usually associated with advertising. Once it recognizes the advertising-related call, the returned ad call and/or creative will fail to render.

The ad does not load so the publisher does not get paid for that impression.

In Chrome Developer Tools, we can see that Adblock Plus blocked certain scripts from rendering.

CSS element hiding

What if you use an in-house ad server for native ads? Bypassing the need to use third-party HTTP calls. Adblockers can track and identify that as well.

In this case, adblockers look for CSS elements, like <div class>, that are typically associated with ad creatives.

Adblockers use regex to identify CSS elements related to an ad creative. At this point, they can add a CSS rule to your website’s stylesheet. A rule that tells the browser to hide that element.

In this scenario, the ad has loaded, so the publisher will be paid. However, the ad was not viewable. Thus, the advertiser paid for an ad that did not appear.

Removal of page elements

Similar to CSS element hiding, the adblocker can also remove page elements that contain ads, preventing their content from ever loading.

The ad does not load, so the publisher does not get paid for that impression.

ScenarioEnd Result
Javascript ad tagsThe ad does not load
CSS element hidingThe ad does load, the publisher is paid, but the ad is not viewable so the advertiser paid for an ad that was not seen
Removal of page elementsThe ad does not load

All in all, adblockers simply need to locate and identify any ad-related CSS and/or HTTP calls and reference them against their main regex list for it to do their job.

This leads to something that almost all adblockers use in order to function: a filter list. There are a few filter lists that are in use today. We’ll focus on EasyList, the most popular filter list, for reference.

TL;DR: The EasyList contains over 50K expressions that can identify ads. Adblockers use this list as a reference in tandem with the aforementioned blocking methods to disable ads from loading on websites.

!-----------------------General advert blocking filters-----------------------!
! *** easylist:easylist/easylist_general_block.txt ***
&ad_code=
&ad_height=
&ad_ids=
&ad_network_
&ad_slot=

Why should publishers care?

Ads not displaying on your website equates to revenue leakage.

Active adblock users are on the rise, causing an estimated revenue loss of almost $12B in 2020 in the US alone.

Adblockers also block more than just ad calls and creative. Any JavaScript code that is related to your ad tracking, measurement, attribution, and analytics, can also be blocked.

So even if you are able to monetize your users, you lose vital information about them.

How to recover your adblocked revenue

Our adblock report found that the number one motivation behind using an adblocker was to avoid interruptive or annoying ad experiences.

Fortunately, there are ways to monetize adblock users while delivering a positive user experience.

Use paywalls

By using adblock detection scripts, publishers can see when a user has an adblocker enabled. From here, they have 5 different types of paywalls they can choose to implement.

Hard Paywalls

Remember the last time you were browsing through the internet, only to be stopped in your tracks and asked to pay for a subscription to view a website’s content? You were hit with a hard paywall.

Hard paywalls are commonly seen on major news publication websites like the Financial Times.

As lovely as it may sound to directly charge users for your content, it is a very risky strategy. One that is usually implemented by major media companies or news publications.

Soft paywalls

Bringing us to our next alternative, soft paywalls.

Soft paywalls give users limited access to a website’s content, as decided by the publisher. Allowing the user to consume just enough content before asking them to buy a subscription to view more.

Digiday uses this method for their news articles. Offering 3 free articles per month before requesting the user to purchase a subscription to access more content.

Example of Digiday using a soft paywall.

For the more tech-savvy users, one way to get around the limit is to clear their cookies or simply access the website in incognito mode.

Freemium paywalls

We will continue to use Digiday for this example as they implement 2 paywall methods to monetize their content. On top of offering 3 articles every month, Digiday offers an exclusive subscription called Digiday+.

This specific type of content is only available for premium members, with no free articles to offer. By implementing both paywall types, Digiday increases its ability to monetize their content.

Dynamic paywalls

Not everyone values content the same way. Perhaps a user leaves your website after reading only 1 page. Or, you have a return website visitor who reads at least 3 pages before exiting. Dynamic paywalls only offer subscription requests to users who have shown high interest in your content.

This requires analyzing user behavioural data to determine who is most likely willing to pay for your content and when it is the best time to ask.

Adblock walls

The aforementioned paywall types all result in publishers asking users to pay to view their content.

But not all publishers are able to do so. Sometimes when a publisher can detect that someone is using an adblocker, all they can do is simply ask for the user to turn it off. For instance, like Forbes magazine. This is an example of an adblock wall.

Example of Forbes using an adblock wall.

Also known as whitelisting, adblock walls have a conversion rate of 10-20%. Therefore, they can only ever monetize a small subset of adblock users.

Running an adblock wall results in diminishing returns. After a while, most of your likely-to-convert users will have done so. You’ll continue to see that revenue regardless of you keeping your wall up. However, you will still miss monetizing your non-converted users.

All in all, given that users find paywalls to be interruptive, they can have a negative impact on user experience. In turn, this may cause users to leave your website if they can find similar content elsewhere. Read more about the advantages and disadvantages of using paywalls.

Acceptable Ads Standard

In 2021, we found that 52% of the top 100 Comscore-ranked publishers used Acceptable Ads to recover their adblocked revenue.

But what exactly is Acceptable Ads?

It is a Standard put in place by the Acceptable Ads Committee (AAC). Learn more about its history and Blockthrough’s role with the AAC.

Popular adblockers such as AdBlock, Adblock Plus, uBlock, and Crystal work with Acceptable Ads to show whitelisted ads that are non-intrusive. Here’s a detailed guide for everything you need to know about Acceptable Ads.

Most publishers have an adblock rate of anywhere between 10-40%, depending on a variety of factors. By monetizing with Acceptable Ads, publishers can start to recover the revenue lost to adblockers.

In theory, any publisher can join the Acceptable Ads program.

However, in practice, it’s an easier process for larger technology platforms (like Google or Amazon), as they have full control over their advertising stack and can easily ensure compliance with Acceptable Ads.

Publishers who rely on third-party ad tech partners may not have the same resources. That’s where a committed Acceptable Ads provider like Blockthrough comes in.

Blockthrough is the market leader in adblock revenue recovery. By helping our publishers succeed with Acceptable Ads, we’ve recovered over $80M in lost ad revenue since our launch in 2018. Last year, we were recognized as the most popular dedicated Acceptable Ads provider with a 48% market share amongst the top Comscore-ranked publishers in the US.

Below is an example of Healthline, one of the publishers we help, with Adblock Plus enabled. As they are in compliance with the Acceptable Ads Standard, they are still able to monetize users with an adblocker present.

Find out how much revenue you’re losing to adblocking with our recovery calculator.

In summary

Adblockers are growing in popularity with users who are looking to avoid interruptive ad experiences. This poses a monetization risk to publishers as adblockers can disable ad creatives from ever loading.

The good news is that there are a few ways to work around this.

While implementing any of the listed paywalls are valid approaches to monetize your adblocked users, they may compromise your revenue goals or only work for the short run.

By partnering with a dedicated provider of Acceptable Ads, you will be able to monetize your non-blocked traffic as usual, as well as your adblocked traffic without compromising revenue.

Excited to start recovering 10-40% of your adblocked revenue? Fill out our form below to get started with Blockthrough.

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