One could argue that advertising is a necessary evil. Necessary? Advertising pays the freight for television, magazines, newspapers, and much of what you read online. Evil? Advertising is ubiquitous, often misleading, seldom subtle, mostly in your face. And it’s getting worse.
Nowhere is advertising more evil than online. Why? Advertisers have the ability to track online users from site to site, which ads they view (or, which are exposed to their viewing spectrum; reading an ad is a different proposition), which sites they visit, what they click on and when. Today’s websites have become invested with oppressive amounts of advertising and tracking mechanisms and users have begun to fight back.
Keep It Simple? No!
Instead of keeping advertising simple and straightforward– here’s my ad, view it, read it, hopefully click it– advertisers have banded together to track online viewers behind the scenes, capturing data far beyond what most internet users would deem acceptable.
Worse, advertising takes up bandwidth to a degree far greater than the content upon which it rides, devouring resources; CPU usage, graphics, bandwidth, time, and more, without regard to the user experience, which has degraded in recent years.
Those offended by television, radio, and print medium advertising can ignore the messages, and, indeed, studies show that internet users ignore ads, too. Advertisers fight back with an array of in-your-face techniques; pop ups, drop downs, auto play videos, deceptive click-bait ad words and images, and that’s getting worse, too.
Internet users are fighting back by installing ad blockers on their browsers; usually a background application that finds and blanks advertisements and tracking devices.
We conducted tests on Mac360 in recent months and found that nearly 25-percent of all visitors blocked the few ads we have remaining on the site (we once ran as many as 18 ads; now there are three). Ad blockers are accused of blocking website revenue, too, so there is a danger that smaller publishers could go out of business unless there is an alternate method to obtain revenue. Indeed, our monthly advertising revenue, now mostly from Google, has declined precipitously in the past few years. The same has happened elsewhere on websites all over the internet, and it’s about to get worse.
With iOS 9, Apple offers a feature in Safari which allows for third party ad blockers. I’ve tried a few and some are good and offer controls and whitelist options, while others are all or nothing propositions. To many internet users, ad blockers have become a necessary evil. Necessary? Yes, they make browsing from site to site easier and faster (and with more privacy). Evil? Perhaps, because publishers see their advertising impressions– and revenue– go down. And it’s advertising that has been paying the freight for internet content since the early days of the public internet.
What. To. Do.
This situation is little more than a convoluted war between disparate but connected interests. Advertisers need readers to view ads, click on ads, and the data that comes from tracking. Publishers need the revenue that advertisers bring to a website. Readers do not want to be tracked or visually offended by advertisers and have revolted; hence the increase in ad blockers.
Is there a middle ground?
The world often seems like a battleground where everyone must fend for themselves; like it or don’t, we humans are the ultimate individual self interest groups. In-your-face ads are not going away. Neither are ad blockers. But some websites will be the first casualties. Mac360 voluntarily reduced the number of displayed advertisements dramatically in recent years, now down to three per page. We’ve removed Google Analytics, which tracks users on websites. The result has been a continued and steady drop in advertising revenue, despite growth in daily visitors.
What’s the solution?
There are not many. We make some revenue when a visitor or reader clicks on an advertisement. When the number of ads are reduced, so are the number of clicks. And the number of clicks per ad displayed has dropped precipitously as well.
Google does not help. You would think that Google would have a primary interest in protecting one of its most profitable revenue streams, but that does not seem to be the case. If we run an article comparing the Mac to a Windows PC, you may see advertisements for a manufacturer of windows. Real windows. If an article mentions a ‘boatload’ of features contained in a new app, you’re likely to see an advertisement about boats. There are dozens of examples like that.
Google just isn’t as good at matching website content to advertisements as they want everyone to believe. Is it any wonder that ads get ignored by readers, and have become a source of hatred; to the point where people pay for technology to block ads on websites they visit?
What’s the solution?
We’ll take suggestions.