The Ad Blocking Debate: Have Apple and Google Got it Wrong?

The Internet is constantly changing
The Internet is constantly changing

Each year the way we search seems to change. Whether it’s thanks to the continued growth of mobile technology or another alteration to Google’s main algorithms, the way we stalk the internet for information is constantly evolving.

Naturally, every shift of the online world’s virtual contours is welcomed by everyone – not least those tasked with marketing a product to the masses such as PageFair’s Sean Blanchfield. Following Apple’s announcement that iOS 9 would support ad blocking extensions, Blanchfield called is the “Napster of the advertising industry” and a change that could dramatically reduce revenue for millions of companies.

Indeed, echoing this sentiment, market analyst Mary Meeker of Kleiner Perkins stated before the announcement that mobile ad revenue could revive the newspaper industry with ad revenue worth $25 billion in the US alone.

However, after ad blocking extensions were permitted on Safari, she was forced to reassess her projections.

Negative Implications for Interstitials

Part of its larger movement to improve its overall “browsing experience”, Google made interstitials (ads that block main page content) a target at the end of 2015. First highlighted by Google’s Maile Ohye during the SMX Advanced conference, the issue then became the source of much debate in the industry.

UK marketing agency Greenlight Digital explained how Google take a stand against app install interstitials that highlighted some flaws with the changes, while other agencies shared a similar amount of scepticism.

Reports by TheSEMPost that interstitials would contribute to negative rankings then filtered through the digital marketing world deemed mobile-friendly, but not everyone was happy. In fact, as noted by Greenlight’s Matt Hawes, Google’s definition of interstitials could be somewhat problematic for those in the marketing world.

A Broad Stroke Doesn’t Please Everyone

A broad stroke doesn't please everyone
A broad stroke doesn’t please everyone

Following constant pressure from users to reduce the number of ads they’re exposed to (in 2013 Adobe discovered that 62% of UK users found online ads “annoying”), Apple has allowed ad blocking apps to become a more significant part of the app store.

As expected, there has been backlash from webmasters and marketing companies who believe the sweeping approach to ad blocking could have a major impact on the way they run their businesses. Indeed, a report by Adobe and PageFair, as cited by the New York Times, suggested that Apple’s new measures could cost publishers $22 billion annually.

Adding some personal insight to that figure, John Gruber of Daring Fireball told the New York Times that he is part of an ad network that provides “good-looking ads for high-quality products.”

For those who draw the bulk of their revenue from advertising, that’s not the end of the issue.

Around the same time that Apple announced the advent of ad blocking, Google made another change to its policies.

Not All Ads Are Created Equal

A broad stroke doesn't please everyone
Not all ads are created equal

Echoing the sentiments of Daring Fireball’s Gruber, other industry analysts have suggested that using a broad stroke to penalise all interstitials could mean users actually miss out on some useful ad content. While questioning Google’s move against app install interstitials, Greenlight compared Yelp and NME (two sites that use interstitials) and the type of ad content they displayed.

Although the article notes the potential issue of interstitials for the user’s experience, it does state that Yelp’s “relevant content” is much more welcome (and therefore valuable to the user) than NME’s unrelated ad content.

What appears to be the concern among webmasters and marketing companies is that the approach to ad blocking by Google and Apple is too broad. While it’s certainly true that users want to see fewer ads and feel less imposed upon, it’s also true that not all ads are created equally.

Gruber’s summation of the issue to New York Times is just one story among a growing chorus of discontent from webmasters. Ads make the virtual world go round and, if used correctly, they can actually ad a user’s experience (Venture Beat found that its conversions increased by 7X by using well-placed interstitials).

The Ever-Changing Internet

The Internet is constantly changing
The Internet is constantly changing

Of course, Apple and Google understand this, but it seems the recent changes to their operating policies have made things more difficult.

Whether they’ve got things right in the last few months will depend on whether you’re a user or an ad company, but what is clear is that the way in which we all handle ads will change in 2016.

Companies will be forced to explore other ad options and take a subtler approach which, in turn, means the way in which browsers experience the internet will continue to evolve.


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