Google On Guard Against Ad Blocking

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Google On Guard Against Ad Blocking
Google On Guard Against Ad Blocking

In the conflict between publishers that want to deliver ads to more eyeballs, and the possessors of those eyeballs who try to block them from appearing, Google is presenting itself as the gatekeeper of choice. It offers to serve as guard to a site's content, and only let in those who either allow the ads to run or who pay for their ad-free experience.

About a quarter of the US online population used ad blockers last year; and even higher percentages did so in other countries. That all adds up to an estimated loss of $42 billion globally, according to a report by OnAudience.com. With so much money at stake, it's no wonder that more and more sites now withhold their content from visitors using ad blockers, or at least make note of the use of ad blocking in the escalation of the ad blocker arms race.

For those companies that want to call in the really heavy guns, there's the possibility of getting Google on guard. In a blog post entitled “Helping publishers recover lost revenue from ad blocking,” Google announced it was expanding its Funding Choices solution, launched in beta last year.

Sites that pay for that Google service have the search engine giant not just detect ad blockers but halt content from loading from visitors who are using them. The individual who comes to such a site is presented with a message. Typically, the visitor is given a choice of either allowing ads, with a request to disable the ad blocker, or to "whitelist" that particular site. Those participating in Funding Choices also can extend the option of keeping ads at bay while viewing the content if they pay for the privilege, by buying an ad removal pass through Google Contributor.

Some sites prefer not to immediately alienate their audiences. They may opt for what Google calls a “dismissible message,” which allows the visitor to proceed without whitelisting, sometimes after clicking a “continue with Ad blocker"option, or the like. However, this kind of free pass is designed to last only for a limited number of visits. The anti-adblocker keeps count of those and will enforce a block on content once the visitor hits the maximum number of free views the site owner has set up.

You typically see those kind of messages on articles from publishers like the New York Times, which will allow only 10 free articles a month to nonsubscribers. Other sites may do something similar as Google has begun testing on a new option “that allows publishers to use their own proprietary subscription services within Funding Choices.”

Though it has not yet emerged from the beta state, Google boasts that, thanks to Funding Choices, “in the last month over 4.5 million visitors who were asked to allow ads said yes, creating over 90 million additional paying page views for those sites.”

While those are large numbers, it still represents a minority of users. Google reports that when faced with the Hobson's choice set by Google only 16% decide to allow the ads on average, though it hastens to add some publishers could do better, as some have achieved “rates as high as 37 percent.” Interestingly, it does not reveal percentages for those opting to pay for a pass, which would make me inclined to believe that percentage is very small indeed.

Nevertheless, Google is optimistic about its products and says it will expand Funding Choice to another 31 countries. The blog posts ends on this upbeat note: “Our goal for Funding Choices is to help publishers get paid for their work by reducing the impact of ad blocking on them, and we look forward to continuing to expand the product availability.”

With Google at the gate, it's possible that publishers will reduce that $42 billion loss somewhat, but I expect the reduction to be relatively small, as the majority of Ad Block users still seem to prefer to keep the ads away – even if it means not seeing the content.

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