The 3 types of adblock recovery strategies (with pros and cons)

adblock recovery

Earlier this month, with the release of the 2021 PageFair Adblock Report, we revealed that 843 million devices globally are now blocking ads—with a 10% YoY growth on mobile devices and 8% YoY growth on desktop. As media outlets that cover the industry put the ad tech identity crisis front and center, the threat of adblocking is far from over, and worth revisiting for publishers.

For the second year in a row, we analyzed how the top 100 Comscore-ranked US publishers who rely on advertising to fund their operations are responding to adblocking. We found that these top publishers rely on three main adblock recovery strategies. Here’s a rundown of what those strategies are and how they work, along with their main pros and cons.

Note: You can download a copy of the report to view the full analysis.

1. Adblock circumvention

Adblock circumvention was one of the earliest industry attempts to counter adblocking. Ad tech vendors who offer circumvention re-inject ads on web pages viewed by adblock users by exploiting technical loopholes in how the adblockers detect ad units on the page. For example, one type of circumvention involves deliberately obfuscating HTML/CSS classes and IDs, so that adblockers cannot detect those elements as an ad unit based on common nomenclature rules.

This might seem like a quick fix, but there’s one problem: circumvention is massively anti-user. It completely ignores the users’ decision to install an adblocker and then perpetuates the same bad advertising experiences that made the users install the adblocker in the first place. Moreover, adblock vendors actively thwart circumvention attempts by updating their ad filtering rules, which means that, even as a monetization strategy, circumvention only works some of the time and cannot be relied on as a dependable or sustainable source of revenue.

Due to these concerns, circumvention has fallen out of favor with most publishers, who have since moved on to alternate strategies that respect user choice and experience.

Pros:

  • None; Blockthrough does not recommend using circumvention

Cons:

  • Anti-user solution
  • Perpetuates bad advertising experience
  • Does not yield predictable results

2. Messaging-based recovery

Messaging-based recovery relies on direct messaging (usually pop-ups) to convince adblock users to take a desired action on a website. This action can either be a request to whitelist a specific website or buy an “ad removal” pass, usually delivered via a dismissable pop-up (soft wall). Some publishers take a more aggressive approach and restrict adblock users from accessing any content until they whitelist the website or disable their ad blocker (hard wall).

Messaging-based recovery is an improvement over adblock circumvention, as it takes user consent into account. However, this approach too has some potential downsides that publishers need to know about. First, most users find pop-ups annoying, in fact, they are precisely the type of web experience that users install adblockers to avoid. In the 2021 PageFair Adblock Report, we asked 5,423 US Internet users about what they would do when presented with an adblock wall, and 68% said that they would simply exit the website. Second, due to the low conversion rate associated with messaging-based recovery (~10-15%), they are only able to monetize a small subset of a publishers’ total adblocked audience and have diminishing returns over time.

Soft and hard walls can also have unintended consequences for publishers such as a sudden increase in bounce rate and a corresponding drop in search rankings and traffic, which can both be difficult and time-consuming to reverse. Whether you’re considering building an in-house messaging solution or choosing a third-party vendor, it’s important to model the cost of losing this audience vis-à-vis the revenue that you might generate from adblock monetization.

Pros:

  • Based on active user consent

Cons:

  • Most users find pop-ups and messaging walls annoying
  • Only allows monetization of a small subset of adblock users (~10-15%)
  • Can increase bounce rate and reduce search rankings/traffic for publishers

3. Ad recovery via Acceptable Ads

Ad recovery via Acceptable Ads works by serving light, non-intrusive advertising to adblock users who have opted in to receive it. An independent industry body called the Acceptable Ads Committee is tasked with creating The Standard, which defines the types and formats of ad experiences that are allowed and those that are excluded. Ad formats that are deemed interruptive in nature, such as pop-ups, animated ads, interstitial ads, overlay ads, and auto-playing sound or video ads, and pre-roll video ads are excluded from the standard.

In recent years, the Acceptable Ads program has become increasingly popular both among participating adblockers and publishers looking for an effective adblock recovery strategy. By the end of 2020, more than 200 million adblock users had signed up to receive Acceptable Ads, growing 54% between Q1 2019 and Q4 2020. Additionally, of the top 100 Comscore-ranked US publishers who use at least one type of adblock recovery strategy, 52% are now using ad recovery via Acceptable Ads to monetize their adblocked inventory.

Unlike adblock circumvention and messaging-based recovery, ad recovery via Acceptable Ads is a pro-user monetization solution. Here’s what that means: These light, compliant ads are served only to users who have consented to receive them, users can opt out of seeing Acceptable Ads at any time, and Acceptable Ads don’t interrupt users by obstructing content as they visit websites.

Pros:

  • Based on active user consent
  • Does not interrupt users with annoying pop-ups
  • Effectively monetize the majority of adblock traffic (~80%)

Cons:

  • Violating the standard may lead to account suspensions

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