Advertising Digital Publishing
9 mins read

How to win in the fight against ad-blockers

Advertising is an enormous industry. Every day, companies of all sizes and from all corners of the world spend billions of dollars to promote their brands, services, and products through ads. 

For years, this was a good model for spreading the word about your business and grabbing people’s attention. Many publishers have made a decent living through selling premium print and digital real estate to advertisers and brands that were looking to engage new people, to show them what they do and sell. But as the industry grew bigger, the number of people who responded to advertisements and tolerated their existence started to heavily decline.

The Reuters Institute’s Digital News Report 2019 made it clear as daylight that advertising is becoming more intrusive and that publishers can no longer fully lean on it.

According to the latest research conducted by GlobalWebIndex, 47% of all Internet users today have some sort of an ad-blocking tool installed across all of their devices. When you do the math and figure out that this number totals to 2 billion people, it certainly sheds a light on a burning problem: ads don’t really work anymore.

The downfall of ads

People are fed up with advertisements, and especially those that manifest themselves online. There are many reasons why people nowadays reject ads. Based on Instart Logic’s and Propeller Insights’ study, most Internet users don’t want to be forced into reading something they have no interest in. They find pop-ups banners to be too intrusive, remarketing campaigns too creepy, and auto-playing videos beyond annoying – especially when they’re on their mobile phones.

Today’s Internet users are barely able to read a news article without scrolling past a dozen ads and accidentally clicking on one of them. At a time when breaking through the noise and getting people to acknowledge and interact with brands is harder than ever, publishers and advertisers can’t afford to ignore the audience’s irritation with the whole system. Perhaps it did take a genius to point out the obvious: “insanity”, said Einstein “is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.”

If brands and publishers want to survive and continue to thrive in the digital space, they will need to learn how to adapt to the new terrain and figure out a new way to engage users and stay on their good side. Not all publications are in a position to support themselves solely on reader revenue, and of course, implementing a subscription doesn’t necessarily mean divesting yourself of ads, anyway. Few publications offer a completely ad-free existence. 

Here at Content Insights, we’ve had many opportunities to meet, talk, and work with publishers who, against all odds, still successfully run ads and grow their business in this overly competitive and unforgiving climate. From their experience, we have learned that both brands and publishers can have their cake and eat it too when it comes to ads – if they’re smart enough. Here are a couple of things publishers need to do if they still want to earn profit through promoting different brands, products, and services on their website and pages:

1. Optimize for quality and put more thought into who you’re going to promote on your website

In a massive study conducted by HubSpot just a year ago, 83% of people questioned agreed that not all ads are bad and that they use ad blockers to filter out the really obnoxious ones that pollute their feeds and haunt them online.

As it turns out, modern Internet users don’t hate ads; they hate bad ads.

And that’s a huge difference.

Publishers and brands can still make money through advertisements if they figure out what kind of ads people consider to be bad and annoying, and how to stop investing their money into something that doesn’t effectively communicate their values to targeted audiences.

To elevate the quality of their ads, publishers first need to become far more selective when it comes to displaying ads. If they continue to give their ad space to everyone who’s willing to pay for it, their ad-block opt-in campaign probably won’t work.

If, for example, you run an online magazine that writes mostly about cars, motorbikes, and is predominantly read by men – then you shouldn’t really rent your advertising space to a company that sells face cream for women. This should seem self-evident, but we see advertising at cross-purposes like this often enough to know that even this basic approach hasn’t gone the way of the Dodo.*

Publishers need to stop selling what they want to sell and start selling what their audience wants to buy. They have to ensure that they are doing business with brands that relate to their readers.

News portals and online magazines need to stop advertising generally and learn how to hit their ideal audience. If the click-through rates are low, that’s usually a sign that the ads are not landing in front of the right people. Investing more efforting into developing smaller, more detailed target groups, creating better landing pages, doing better remarketing, and producing smarter copy to make your deals seem more relevant to your audience goes a long way in this business.

2. Don’t be intrusive – give people a reason to let their guard down 

Most people find ads annoying because they have an extremely difficult time avoiding them. Pop-ups place ads front and center, blocking the entire page, which really irritates people. Users are forced to deal with them immediately which most find to be too aggressive, so faced with a fight or flight response, many choose to just navigate away from the page..

In order for their ads to be effective, publishers need to allow users to discover them on their own. That’s why top social media platforms place their ads on the right sidebar and carefully slide them into users’ news feeds. It’s a much more calm, organic, and relaxed way to push sponsored content.

If publishers want people to turn off their ad-blockers for their website, they need to give them a good reason to do so. 

They need to design and run effective ad-block opt-in campaigns.

Just like Bored Panda, publishers can try to appeal to their readers’ human side and force them to think about the cost of running that website:

Or they can follow The Guardian’s example and use a non-intrusive ad-block detection campaign on their site. The best thing about this approach is that The Guardian does not directly ask from their readers to whitelist the website on their ad-blocking device or sign up to their ad-free version of The Guardian. Instead, with an easily dismissible floating bar, they encourage visitors to support them by paying a monthly fee, so users can continue browsing through the ad-free website. It not only helps The Guardian make money, but it makes readers feel like they’re supporting something that they believe in. 

The third option is to follow Wired’s example and ask people to subscribe to get the ad-free version of their website.

It’s a fair trade if you really despise advertisements.

It really shows that Wired listens to its readers and is working hard to come up with a solution to give them fans what they want, but still stay in business.

Understanding your website’s readership and their tendencies will go a long way towards developing your own ad-block opt-in campaign. The important thing to remember here is that people respond to honesty above all else. Readers are savvy. You can’t really dupe them into letting their guard down. You need to speak to them at an eye level and give them concrete reasons why they should whitelist your website.

3. Invest in smarter marketing strategies

Lots of Internet users – and I include myself here – have been introduced to cool products, brands, and services through well-placed, well-executed ads that follow the inbound marketing methodology

When I wrote about how content marketing and native advertising strategies work for publishers recently, I mentioned brands like Netflix who did amazing things with the WSJ, The Atlantic, and New York Times for their shows NarcosHouse of Cards, and Orange is the New Black.

Unlike traditional ads, the main idea of content marketing and native advertising is not to chase people online and aggressively push them to buy specific items, products, or services, but to slowly, subtly, and patiently build solid relationships.

Through a steady stream quality content, publishers and brands build trust, credibility, and authority which in return helps both parties come out as winners. People begin to see publishers as credible sources and recognize the expertise and the quality of the brand offerings that work with them. This ultimately lowers the level of difficulty needed to break through potential customers, get them to trust publishers and their recommendations again when it comes to products and services.

Sure, it’s a much more of a complex and demanding process than simply placing ads on pages, but it works. And that’s the only thing that matters.

Personally, I don’t have a problem with publishers and advertisers collecting my data if that means that they are going to target me with products and services that are in perfect sync with my interests.

The problem with ads isn’t in the volume, but in the way they communicate their messages and where they appear. Inbound marketing tactics usually work because people are given a chance to come into contact with brands, products, and services when they actually want to. 

4. Utilize powerful content intelligence solutions that help you craft more relevant content 

Content intelligence software rises in importance as publishers and brands begin to better understand the difference between what persuades certain individuals to remember specific messages, become loyal, and act on specific offerings; and what creates momentary buzz.

In this ad-blocker era where everyone is investing extra money in more expensive, complex, and sophisticated types of advertisements, this type of information is now of great value.

Every effort counts. Every move costs money and every missed opportunity and wrongfully placed ad can hurt your brand and drive valuable readers away from your website for good. 

Sure, quality editors have a keen eye for creating engaging content and they know their audiences pretty well, but even the best of them are unable to say that they fully know how to meet their readers’ needs and preferences without seeking assistance from powerful editorial tools that interpret great amounts of data at record times – and that’s quite normal. They’re only human.

A lot of editors still resist using such software because they believe it will enslave them, but quality content intelligence solutions do quite the opposite – they don’t tell you what to do; they provide you with relevant information about your audience’s behavior and show you how your decisions in that department resonate with your readers. 

Apart from helping you understand how to produce better content, content intelligence software can help you find amazing places on your website where you can push your advertisements and have a better chance of getting the right response from your readers.

Solutions like Content Insights allow publishers to scale their operations and successfully optimize their content for reader relevance. 

With the help of our unique algorithm that recognizes three different behavioral models (Exposure, Engagement, and Loyalty) and our next-gen content performance metrics, users now have all that they need to translate complex editorial data into actionable insights and deliver the right messages, at the right moment, to the right type of readers.

We frequently publish use cases about our clients that make it transparent how organizations like Süddeutsche ZeitungMittelbayerische ZeitungDe Persgroep, and The Local get the most out of their content efforts and build stronger, more relevant bonds their readers. 

At Content Insights, we know that different news organizations and online magazines operate on different business models, so we create compelling guides that teach people who run their companies on native advertisementssubscriptions/memberships, and ads how to look for insights that are relevant to their particular way of operating.

Content Insights (and any other tool does) gives publishers and brands a chance to better understand the things their audiences love to read, what they don’t; what helps drive the desired action, and what doesn’t.

Ctrl-Alt-Delete your ad strategy

Even though the use of ad-blocking devices is still on the rise, there are still more than a couple of things brands and publishers can do survive this deadly wave. We’re going to have to be a bit more proactive about how we tackle ads. Just as ad blockers aren’t going to disappear overnight, nor too are readers suddenly going to become less discerning and more accepting about the established practices by which they try to entice us to try or buy whatever they’re selling on any given day. We have to stop expecting 20th-century practices to work in a 21st-century world. It’s time for a massive rethink. 

Advertisers and publishers need to truly work together, and collaboratively reboot their ad strategy so they can build a more service-oriented relationship with their readers/customers. After all, both parties are in search of the same result: a reader and customer base who are loyal, interested and willing to buy into both a publication and the products those publications are advertising.

by Goran Mirković

Republished with kind permission of Content Insights, the next generation content analytics solution that translates complex editorial data into actionable insights.