Adblock has caused significant revenue losses to online publishers for a decade, with the current US adblocking rate averaging 26% and EU exceeding 30%. The revenue impact is in the tens of billions. So naturally, publishers are eager to find anti-adblock solutions to mitigate the losses, recover lost ad revenue, and reduce the impact of adblockers on their websites.
By honing in on adblock revenue recovery, you can do just that — and as a result, increase revenues, maximize average revenue per visitor (ARPV), and build more stable and sustainable first-party relationshis with your best visitors.
Additionally, the guide answers common questions about adblock technology, impact & measurement, user motivations, allowlists, and ad reinsertion.
Adblock is a software solution to prevent advertisements from downloading or appearing on web pages. Adblock solutions can be a browser extension, built-in to the browser, or a stand-alone application. Some adblockers stop specific types of ads deemed annoying, such as pop-up ads or auto-playing videos. Other adblockers block anything designated as an ad, and many block source code for tracking, cookies, and some third party scripts. Some adblock solutions even replace existing page ads with alternative ads deemed "acceptable".
The lines are blurring between ad blockers and tracking blockers, with some blockers focused on each category and some blockers promising it all. Many tracking blockers also block ads but do not disclose that. Sometimes this category is referred to more broadly as content blockers, since many blockers can be configured to block diverse types of content — unrelated to ads or trackers -- based upon the filter rules used.
Adblock software can be very effective at circumventing ads and more. Many of the most popular adblockers have been tested by review sites, and found effective at blocking most ads on webpages. Some also block ads in apps, or in videos. However, generally adblockers are only as effective as the filter rules selected by the adblock user.
In some cases adblockers are “too effective” at blocking content, essentially breaking websites by blocking things that are not ads — including forms, login, paywalls, site analytics, subscriber content and more. There are few, if any, published standards for what constitutes an ad, tracker or other categories of blocked content. Instead, adblock forums, github issues/comments and many behind-the-scenes requests are made, resulting in filters breaking websites without notice or explanation.
In fact, in some cases filter-list creators know they are breaking websites — even circumventing copyright access control in violation of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) — yet they refuse to remove offending filter rules. This can create a bad experience for users who cannot operate sites properly, damage publishers who cannot protect their copyrighted content from unauthorized access, and even create legal liability for filter authors and adblock companies that distribute access control circumvention filters.
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Worldwide estimates of the adblock user base exceeds 600M desktop and mobile devices. According to Statista, the average global adblocking rate is 28%, with a high in Greece of 42%. eMarketer reports steady year-over-year growth of adblockers in the US, with an estimated 75.4 million US adblock users. Desktop adblock rates range anywhere from 10% to 70% depending upon country and site demographics. Mobile adblock rates are much lower, usually less than 10% in the US/EU — but mobile adblock adoption is growing at a faster rate than desktop.
Interestingly, many adblock users didn’t install their own adblocker or don’t even realize they are blocking ads. A survey of adblockers by Admiral found that as much as 70% of adblock users either didn’t realize they had a blocker or didn’t install their own adblocker. That suggests that a large chunk of blockers are not wedded to their blockers and are willing to allow ads for sites they enjoy.
Here are some of the top reasons people choose to use an adblocker:
"68% of adblockers didn’t turn on or install their adblock software, and 10% didn’t even know they had adblock software running."
An adblocker survey sent to 5000 users found that 68% of adblockers didn’t turn on or install their adblock software, and 10% didn’t even know they had adblock software running. This suggests that most adblock users are not militant about the topic — they didn’t even install their own blocker — and thus might disable for websites that focus on quality ad experiences and ask respectfully. Other surveys have shown a percentage of adblock users are willing to engage publishers in value exchanges and paid subscriptions. Publishers should consider becoming Better Ads Certified and taking advantage of the CBA-Admiral partnership to promote the improvements they have made in the ad experience. This can be an instant revenue driver.
The lines continue to blur greatly between the meaning of privacy, tracking, and ad blockers, but each type of blocker has a core objective. Adblockers focus on preventing ads from displaying, tracking blockers focus on preventing the tracking and recording a user’s online activity, and privacy blockers are focused on third-party requests, cookies, and scripts. For more information, see this tracking definition blog post.
Adblock Plus and AdBlock account for the majority of adblock market share -- possibly 70-80% directly or indirectly -- but some of the most common adblock browser extensions include:
The following sources all provide best adblocker recommendations lists for end users. To varying degrees, they consider availability, setup, features, install base, update frequency, and more:
All of the most popular browsers have their own built-in adblock functionality, including Chrome ad blocker, Firefox, Opera, Safari, IE and Edge, but their level of blocking varies. Google adblock via Chrome blocked 3 billion ads in 2019.
Adblock software is usually made up of at least two separate pieces of code: Filter Lists and Blockers. While loading a new web page into the browser, the adblocker compares the page code to lists of sites and scripts it was built to block, rules about blocking, and specific elements the user has selected to block. The ad blocker then blocks the ads from appearing based on those rules and lists.
EasyList is hosted on GitHub and updated in real-time by approved filter list authors. Just one section of EasyList focused on blocking ad server calls (easylist_adservers.txt) is over 16,000 lines long, and another section focused on hiding on-page content (easylist_general_hide.txt is over 20,000 lines long.
Each adblock solution is slightly different, but a couple of the primary ways they work is by blocking calls to specific ad-related servers, or hiding specific ad-related elements on a page. Additionally, they offer users customization options to only block specific types of ads.
Blocking ad resources: This approach prevents a webpage from fully executing scripts that reference ad delivery or targeting resources called from 3rd party servers. When a page is loaded by the browser, an adblock application reads the webpage scripts, identifies the calls for ad-related resources, then compares those locations with a list of web addresses to block, (EasyList is the most common block list). When there’s a match, it blocks those assets from being called to complete the ad delivery process.
Hiding elements: Adblockers can be set to focus on specific page style source code which contains ads, and hide those elements from displaying on the page.
In theory yes, some adblockers can block all ads and most are pretty effective. Many claim to be able to block all ads, however, adblocking technology is still a game of cat and mouse with anti-adblock technology. Constant innovation can result in some ads being seen, until the adblock company releases a new version. Attempts to force ads on users often cost publishers more time and money then they recover, plus forcing ads on visitors without consent hurts UX and publisher-visitor relationships. Lastly, much of the control for what type of ads are blocked is dependent on user choices and settings.
For publishers with the resources to serve their own sponsored stories using the same system and domain as they use for content, many adblockers may not work by default. Buzzfeed is an example of this, with the same writers working on the sponsored article, and the article served from their own content publishing system.
Additionally, blockers that have Acceptable Ads turned on by default (i.e. Adblock Plus), will show ads that adhere to standards, in exchange for a cut of publisher revenue.
The jury is still out on whether adblocking is legal or not, but multiple legal theories have been put forth by publishers and adblockers. Adblockers argue they are simply an agent of a consumer, doing the same things a consumer would be allowed to do themselves. Some publishers have argued theories of unfair competition, business interference, copyright and more to suggest that blockers cannot block ads, or at least cannot profit from blocking ads by showing alternative ads or forcing publishers to pay for unblocking or "acceptable ads".
Most cases so far have been brought in the EU, with a series of cases by Axel Springer ending with mixed outcomes. Courts sided with adblockers in multiple decisions on the topic of unfair competition, but have been friendlier to publisher copyright arguments. In fact, the world’s largest adblocking company EyeO, was ordered to stop circumventing Axel Springer’s efforts to protect access to their copyrighted content on Bild.de — even requiring EyeO to remove filter list entries and public postings that described how to circumvent Bild.de copyright access control measures. Copyright disputes regarding adblock are ongoing, including the question of whether modifying copyrighted website code creates illegal, unlicensed derivative works.
The requirement for anti-circumvention laws was first globalized in 1996 with the creation of the World Intellectual Property Organization's Copyright Treaty. Admiral was the first company to create a copyright access control platform specifically for digital publishers, based upon the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, Article 6 of European Directive 2001/29/EC, and related global anti-circumvention laws. Representatives of the world’s largest adblock filter list, EasyList, have publicly stated that EasyList will not add filters that circumvent Admiral’s copyright access control platform and will remove circumvention filters if they exist.
Lastly, Senator Ron Wyden has urged the FTC to investigate the legality of adblockers showing ads and how companies like Google have been able to buy unique treatment for their ads by the blockers.
Adblock impacts publishers in multiple ways: reducing revenue, breaking site functionality, distorting Google analytics, and breaking 3rd-party data connections that helped publishers fund more content with fewer ads.
Some adblock users may think that sites do not lose revenue because the user “never clicked on ads anyway”. That makes a faulty assumption that publishers are only compensated when ads are clicked via pay-per-click (PPC) revenue models. Most digital publishers sell ads on a cost-per-thousand impressions (CPM) basis, so every lost impression results in lost revenue. That assumption also ignores that adblock users as a whole are some of the most active Internet users and click on all parts of pages — even ads — more than the average Internet user.
The amount of revenue digital publishers lose due to adblockers has been estimated at over $30 billion per year.
Yes, adblock technologies have a significant impact on ad revenue for publishers. A study by OnAudience reports that in 2017, global ad revenue losses due to adblock were estimated to be $42 billion. Informa Group estimates $35 billion in adblock losses for 2020, and eMarketer reports suggest similarly sizable losses. When 20-30% of a publisher's visitor traffic stops seeing ads, that revenue cannot be recouped by presenting more ads to the visitors not using adblock. Additionally, advertisers typically pay a premium for highly targeted and engaging ads, thus the combined effects of adblock on targeting scripts, rich media, and innovative ad types, combines to reduce overall CPM rates.
"In 2017, global ad revenue losses due to adblock were estimated to be $42 billion."
Publishers typically lose from 15-30% of ad revenue to adblockers, according to various research reports such as Interactive Advertising Bureau (IAB). Adblock losses vary by publisher niche and audience segments, the number of page or ad views per month, ad inventory fill rate, and average CPM rate for each publisher. YouTube star PewDiePie, whose real name is Felix Kjellberg, confirmed his adblock losses had grown to as much as 40% of ad revenue. Such losses can be devastating to a smaller blogger, YouTuber, niche content or local news site. For a large news publisher with 1M visitors or more per month, the losses can exceed the cost of multiple staff positions, making it harder for them to produce the same level of quality content.
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Adblock recovery refers to a variety of methods online publishers can use to compensate for lost ad revenue due to adblock use. Solutions initially detect if a visitor is using an adblock solution, then apply methods for:
The best adblock recovery solutions offer a combination of options to optimize both the visitor experience and publisher sustainability. According to a 2018 adblock user study, 76% agree publishers have a right to revenue, and many are willing to support them if provided options.
Yes, thousands of publishers worldwide use adblock revenue recovery to protect their content and offer a value exchange for access control to their content. Admiral, the category leader, recently hit a milestone of reaching 600 billion impressions across our adblock recovery network.
The size of publishers using anti-adblock solutions range from large publishing groups, such as NBC and Capital Broadcasting, groups of news publishers such as Advance Local Media Group and the Local Media Consortium, and niche publishers like LeitesCulinaria and TappedOut. Because adblock recovery platforms usually charge a performance-based revshare, publishers are able to unlock guaranteed net revenue gains regardless of their traffic levels.
The largest publishers, with the most well-known brands within their niche, typically recover via both visitor engagement and allow-list adblock recovery because of its superior results. Alternative value exchanges, including subscriptions, ad-lite experiences like AcceptableAds and email newsletters, are sometimes used by smaller publishers in combination with whitelist-based recovery.
At the very least, most publishers size their adblock losses with free adblock analytics platforms, allowing them to gather data for building an action plan with internal stakeholders.
Anti-adblocking refers to technology or efforts to limit revenue losses or page functioning problems caused by adblock technology. Anti-adblock approaches can involve whitelisting engagement, ad reinsertion, ad-lite experiences, ad-free passes or other value exchanges to help publishers support continued quality content creation, servers, staff, etc. The use of “anti” can be misleading, since some publishers are comfortable providing an ad-free environment, if the visitor is willing to agree to an equitable exchange of value. Anti-adblock has been used synonymously with adblock recovery, as well as terms like "block adblock" or "adblock killer".
Typically the best adblock recovery solutions start by detecting if a visitor to a website has an adblock solution turned on. With over 100 adblock technologies and new methods constantly in play, this step alone can be a daunting task for publishers to handle in-house. There are a handful of vendors who specialize in the constant changes necessary anti-adblock measures, and publishers should reveiw this adblock recovery build-vs-buy analysis.
Adblock technology can disrupt tracking analytics, making it difficult to accurately track adblock losses. Fortunately, there are free solutions to measure the impact of adblock on your site revenues. By placing a specialized adblock recovery tag on your site, you can immediately get free access to Adblock Analytics dashboards. Each vendor and solution is different, but the screenshot from Admiral illustrates there are options for desktop vs mobile, page views, ad impressions, blocked impressions, and more.
For more detail, visit: Adblock Analytics: How to Measure Adblock Losses and Revenue Recovery
Using an allowlist or whitelist, visitors add a website they like to a list of sites that are exempt from adblocking functions. Users can control this list on a site by site basis, usually with just a click or two. An allowlist facilitates users to disable an adblocker on a particular site they want to support — without disabling ad block for all sites.
Adblocker surveys have shown that a significant number of web surfers did not know they had an adblocker running, and were willing to turn it off for their favorite websites. Some users prefer to adblock sites with annoying or excessive ads, while allowlisting/whitelisting sites that provide a more responsible ad experience.
Most blocker software enables allowlisting/whitelisting with just a couple clicks on the blocker extension and UI. Instructions for how users can whitelist a website across 27 popular adblockers and browsers, can be found in this guide for how to whitelist a website for with all major ad block apps.
Admiral also invented a solution called 1-Click Whitelist® that empowers adblock users to manage their own custom whitelist choices in a single click.
Ad reinsertion is a method to recover lost revenue due to adblockers, by showing ads to visitors who use an active ad blocking plug-in or software. There are two methods of ad reinsertion: Ad Recovery reinserts the original ad, and Ad Replacement replaces the original slot with a more "acceptable" ad.
There’s concern from some publishers that using Acceptable Ads helps to fund and support the largest adblock developer, Adblock Plus, going as far as calling it an “extortion racket”. EyeO, the developer of Adblock Plus, also developed the Acceptable Ads initiative. Adblock Plus automatically opts-in its users to the AA program and EyeO is funded by requiring a cut of publisher revenues to allow any ads to show. Some believe Google's "deal with the devil" makes it the single largest funder of adblocking on the planet and their double-dealing has drawn congressional scrutiny with antitrust implications.
Alternative value exchange includes a multitude of offers a publisher can make to an adblocker to allow access to their copyrighted content. For example, a publisher can offer access in exchange for an adblocker joining the publisher’s email list or following the publisher’s social channel.
Another popular example includes offering paid ad-free passes or paid recurring subscriptions as an option for visitors to keep their blocker and access content. Other options may include site registrations or participation in user panels. The options are only limited by the publishers imagination and the sophistication of their recovery implementation partner.
None of the adblock recovery options described above need to be considered as mutually exclusive with the others. In fact, the best recovery comes from some combination. Through a combination of allowlist/whitelist-based recovery, reinsertion-based recovery and alternative value exchanges, savvy publishers are able to earn more revenue for their content than they were losing to adblockers in the first place. The combination allows publishers to monetize adblock traffic optimally, some even exceeding a 100% recovery rate.
Most adblock recovery solutions are performance-based revenue share, with no out-of-pocket costs. Admiral’s Adblock Recovery solution is risk-free, 100% net-revenue to the publisher, and includes advanced analytics, recovery management tools, creative templates, dedicated getting-started support, one-click whitelisting, and more.
Additional questions about implementing adblock:
Each vendor has a different implementation method, but most adblock monetization solutions can be implemented in days, not weeks or months. Admiral’s “One-Tag” solution can be implemented in less than an hour, and even large multi-site publishers can measure impact and be recovering revenues in less than 24 hours.
No. In fact, engagement-based adblock messaging unlocks your existing ad stack, existing demand and existing advertiser relationships. Note, there is at least one flavor of adblock recovery using Acceptable Ads that brings 3rd-party ad demand instead of recovering your existing advertisers.
There’s a strong case for leveraging vendor expertise in adblock recovery, due to the large number of adblocking technology vendors, browsers innovations, complications with tracking and privacy blockers, and constant modifications of adblocking code. Additionally, most vendors use a revenue-share business model with no upfront costs so it’s 100% performance-based. For more info, see Admiral’s article discussing 10 advantages over in-house, DIY methods.
"Use messaging as the foundation of your adblock recovery efforts, but offer multiple value exchanges along the visitor-to-subscriber journey."
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