Google launched its Chrome native ad blocker on Feb. 15 to a mix of fanfare and concern.
The blocker is based on standards set by the Coalition for Better Ads (CBA), of which Google is a founding member, aimed at improving the online experiences of the billions of people that use the web. While the move doesn't block all ads, it does block annoying ads — or as the CBA puts it, those "that fall beneath a threshold of consumer acceptability" — including auto-playing video ads with sounds, prestitial ads, pop ups and more. With the Chrome web browser used by over half of those online (56.27 percent according to StatCounter), the introduction of the Chrome ad blocker creates yet another challenge for online advertisers to grapple with.
Google first raised the ad blocker last June, at the time pointing out that poor ad experiences were forcing web users to download and implement ad blockers at an increasing rate, 30 percent more than in 2016 to be precise. This, in turn, reduces the ability for publishers to continue creating free content and threatens the sustainability of the web ecosystem.
Critics point out that Google's place in the online advertising market, where it controls over 42 percent of all online ads in the U.S. according to research firm eMarketer, make it an unlikely choice to marshal ad quality.
So which is it? Will the ad blocker improve user experiences and advertising's efficacy or is this a land grab by one of the giants in the online advertising world?
We reached out to practitioners to hear their take.
Benefitting Web Users or Benefitting Google?
Jeremy Tillman is director of product and business operations at Ghostery, a provider of a free privacy browser extension, which is owned by German web company Cliqz.
Tillman said the Google Chrome built-in ad blocker is less about improving the browsing experience for users and more about forcing publishers and advertisers towards ad standards that benefit Google. “The fact that it is threatening to block all ads on pages that fail to meet its standards within 30 days seems like an obvious ploy to move more publishers to Google’s advertising platforms, which relies on deep and exhaustive data collection that Google has no incentive to curb,” he said.
He added that the new Chrome feature is less of an ad blocker and more of an ad enforcer that, by Google’s own admission, will only impact one percent of all publishers. Tillman also believes this will do very little to dissuade users who are tired of slow, cluttered websites harvesting their data from installing privacy tools and ad blockers.
“If anything, Chrome’s ad blocker normalizes the need for tools to help users protect themselves against all the unseen costs of browsing the web,” he said.
Forcing Advertisers to Think Like a Content Marketer
Conductor is a New York City-based organic marketing platform provider. Patrick Reinhart, senior director of Digital Strategies at Conductor said that with the ad blocker, Google is penalizing sites that forcibly redirect users' search intent.
“It doesn't matter if you're pushing a conversion or sharing an inspirational quote — yes, those Forbes interstitials will qualify as bad ads in Google's book. If you make it difficult for the user to get the information or experience they came to the page for through the search engine results page, Google is out to block you,” he said.
Reinhart said marketers share a common misconception that Google is out to make their lives more difficult with all of its updates and changes. Instead, he said, the company is actually obsessed with user experience, because it wants people to continue using its search engine so it can continue to serve them ads.
That said, Google is improving its product and wants to provide the best user experience it possibly can to achieve that end goal. Consumers want Google to surface the content they search for quickly and without interruptions.
“Digital advertisers will have to think a lot more like SEO strategists and content marketers. They'll need to create compelling content that aligns with search intent. While the best digital advertisers have been doing it this way for a while, it's a change in mentality for a lot of the industry," he said.
A Response to Broader Consumer Pressure
Esme Rice is marketing manager at London-based social influencer marketing agency, the Goat Agency. She said ad blockers will impact marketing channels such as programmatic and display marketing, and put more pressure on brands to reach their audience using alternative methods, such as public relations or influencer marketing. The ad blockers therefore create both a challenge and an opportunity for brands to increase audience engagement and make their marketing efforts more effective.
John Murphy, VP of marketplace quality at Pasadena, Calif-based programmatic advertising technology company OpenX, agreed. He said that while advertisers and publishers may feel intimidated by Chrome’s attempt to regulate ad quality, it is clear that Google has taken careful steps to ensure its measures meet a broader set of industry-accepted quality standards — not just Google’s.
“Clearly, with fewer disruptive ads, users will have better digital experiences, making them less inclined to install ad blockers and more inclined to engage with relevant and higher quality marketing, which should ultimately drive up the monetized value of good ad experiences for publishers,” he said.
Making Pop Up Ads a Thing of the Past
The introduction of such a blocker is something premium publishers have been anticipating and preparing for for some time, said Emma Newman, UK country manager for the Palo Alto, Calif.-based online advertising software specialist PubMatic.
However there's a concern that Google may still block all ads from a site if only one doesn’t meet Google's standards. With over half of internet users globally using Chrome to surf the web, this could result in incremental revenue loss for the publisher. Newman sees both the positive and the negative in having a company like Google behind this initiative: while it grants Google even more power over the digital ecosystem, having one of the biggest players in the industry championing this positive change will hopefully help ensure progress is made to clean up the industry.
Finally, Neil Andrew is marketing manager at Bolton, U.K.-based PPC Protect, provider of an AdWords click fraud prevention platform. He said companies won’t feel the full power of the ad blocker until around mid-March, but the results will provide a better overall experience for web users.
“I think it's a good idea to have a built-in ad blocker, not only does it force malicious websites to clean up, but it also gives users a better web browsing experience. Hopefully, it will also help reduce the number of malware and virus infections from dodgy popups,” he said.
He added that the cheaper and less regulated networks have probably taken a big hit in terms of traffic exposure and predicted that if other browsers implement their own ad blockers, pop up ads will become a thing of the past.