I’ve been thinking a lot lately about ad blocking technology and how it impacts the work we do as pay per click marketers. Browser extensions like Ad Block Plus have been around for a while, and there seems to be a renewed interest in apps that strip out advertising from online articles (a good example of this is the excellent Readability program). At this week’s WWDC 2011 event, Steve Jobs announced a new function of the Safari browser that strips out excess content (ads, in particular) from webpages.
People wanting to remove advertising from their media experience is certainly not news. For the last decade, television watchers have used Tivo to minimize their exposure to commercials. People pay premiums to services like Pandora to avoid audio ads. If you’ve ever upgraded from a free mobile phone app to a paid version of the same program, chances are you did so to avoid the mobile ads. People don’t want to see ads, but content providers need to have them in order to pay the bills.
With all this anti-advertising sentiment, you might think that the state of web ads is in trouble. I disagree. A great many of these ads being affected by ad blocking are of the image ad variety. These are designed to get as many brand impressions as possible, as cheaply as possible. Losing a couple thousand (or million) of these impressions probably isn’t going to affect your bottom line as much as you might expect. Pay per click ads, on the other hand, rely on search intent to be effective. The job of the PPC ad is to connect a searcher to information they might find relevant and valuable. Someone who is actively searching for information is less likely to use an ad block, since an advertisement might contain the information they’re looking for. Users might find image ads to be an annoyance, but I’ve yet to hear of anyone complain about all the relevant text ads they get on their search results pages.
In fact, ad blocking is probably a good thing for web advertisers. If someone is going to go out of their way to block your ads, chances are they weren’t interested in what you were selling anyway. This narrows down your audience to those who are more likely to take action on your ads, increasing the quality of each individual ad impression with no effort on your part. The junk impressions are self-selecting themselves out of the pool thanks to the ad blocking programs.
So I’m not worried about my job security even if millions of computer users are actively trying to block out my work. In fact, I’m one of those users of ad blocks and readability programs myself. But if I’m ever searching for some key information, you bet I’ll switch off my ad block to see what a PPC text ad might offer me.