Since the development of the first Adblocker in 2002, the technology has only become increasingly common.
In many ways, the Adblocker was little more than a reaction to publishers and advertisers who didn’t both to consider user experience seriously.
In response, internet users (at first power users, but later normal users) began to take advantage of the increasingly effective adblocking technology.
Unfortunately for advertisers, this technology was largely indiscriminate. While users might install the extensions because of particularly annoying ads, the extensions blocked all ads. This punished all advertisers and publishers for the sins of a few particularly bad ones.
This increased usage has led to something of an ad arms race wherein publishers and advertisers have been forced to continuously adapt to the new capabilities of the most popular adblockers.
In this article, we are going to look at the different kinds of adblockers, their history, and how a responsible ad industry can address this increasingly common problem.
The Most popular Adblockers
The most popular adblockers are by far the easy-to-install extensions that are available to users of Google’s Chrome, Mozilla’s Firefox, and Apple’s Safari browsers.
All of these ad-blocking extensions are available on the three major internet browsers.
However, these are just browser extension adblockers. There are several other kinds of adblocking devices and tools out there that can be significantly more difficult to detect.
The different kinds of adblockers
While browser extension adblockers are probably the most common by far, there are other, more advanced options out there.
Browser extensions generally work by maintaining a long blacklist of IP addresses linked to advertising.
Modern online advertising normally functions by retrieving ads from third-parties in real-time as a site loads. This system allows things like extensions to intervene before the ads can be downloaded to the browser and displayed, thereby blocking the ads.
While browser-based extensions are certainly the most accessible and most common form of adblocking, there are several other forms as well. And these forms can be significantly more complicated to combat.
The two most common non-extension adblockers are VPN-based and hardware-based network-wide adblockers.
But before we get into those, let’s dive a little deeper into extensions and how they work.
How extension adblockers works
Ad-blocking browser extensions’ primary function is quite simple. They block blacklisted HTTP/S requests that are going to pull ads to be displayed.
When a user loads a website, one of the first things it does is prepare the ads that the page will display to this specific user. In some cases that involves going directly to an ad server, in others, it means selling the click to advertisers through the real-time bidding process.
When the extension detects an HTTP/S request to an ad server or some other advertisement linked location, it doesn’t let the request through.
But sometimes ads are loaded anyway, which is where extension-based adblockers’ second line of defense comes in: HTML element blocking.
The browser not only stops HTTP/S requests, but it can also kill iframes and other HTML elements that it determines are advertisements.
Other kinds of adblocking
As discussed earlier, two other kinds of adblocking are worth addressing. The first is VPN-based adblocking, and the other is hardware-based.
VPN-based DNS adblockers
Virtual Private Networks (VPNs) are services that allow you to encrypt your internet connection and maintain a high degree of privacy and security.
Business, governments, and universities often utilize VPNs to maintain tighter control of information and prevent the theft of sensitive information.
They are also commonly used to escape geoblocking of certain services (often video streaming sites) and to prevent logging by Internet Service Providers.
Lastly, they also help dissidents avoid censorship in certain nations where the government actively controls the flow of information online.
As the VPN market has become very crowded, many VPNs have begun offering an adblocking service to their clients in order to differentiate themselves better. One such VPN is NordVPN.
Adblocking on Virtual PRivate networks generally works by killing DNS requests toward ad-related servers. This style of adblocking naturally occurs outside of the browser, which can lead to faster load times in comparison to browser-based extensions.
That said, users generally use VPN adblockers in conjunction with browser-based adblockers.
Hardware adblocking is significantly more advanced than both VPN and extension adblocking.
With hardware adblocking, one has a sperate device on his network that is wholly dedicated to stopping advertisements. The most common consumer hardware-based system is the Raspberry Pi-based “Pi-hole.”
This system involves buying a minicomputer known as a Raspberry Pi and downloading and installing the Pi-Hole software. Then the user needs to connect the device to his router. He then tells the DHCP (Dynamic Host Configuration Protocol) server on his router to refer all DNS requests to the Pi-Hole device.
Pi-Hole then sorts all DNS requests and nixes any that it determines to be ad-related.
Again this kind of software is generally used in conjunction with browser-based extensions. This is because browse extensions can also target and deal with HTML elements (something that software like Pi-Hole cannot do).
The user doesn’t necessarily have to use a Raspberry Pi, a computer running on one of the supported Linux distributions is enough.
As you can see, this kind of setup is quite complicated and well outside of the capability of the average internet user.
Projected increase in adblocking
Unlike setting up an at-home hardware adblocking system, installing a browser add-on or extension is not hard. At all. Even back in 2011, almost 85% of Firefox users had at least one add-on installed.
And installing extensions has only become ever more painless since then.
Naturally, this means that the barrier to entry to extremely effective adblocking is quite low. As a result, adblockers have become increasingly widespread.
According to Statista, adblocker usage was at 15.7% back in 2014; in 2019, adblocking usage is already over 25%. By 2021, they predict that it could be as high as 27%.
The percentage of people using adblockers is only increasing, and this naturally has a deleterious effect on the digital advertising market.
How this affects the Ad Industry
It should go without saying that adblockers are by and large bad for the ad industry. As stated earlier, the tragedy here is that adblockers punish even well-behaved advertisers and publishers that are careful with their ad placements.
While users generally install adblockers because of particularly obtrusive ads or ads that make reduce the functionality of individual sites, these sites are usually a minority. But they’re what push users to install adblockers.
And, unfortunately for advertisers and publishers, everyone gets caught in the net.
Declining desktop digital ad revenue
Partially as a result of adblockers, desktop ad revenue has been down for several years now, with the bulk of advertising growth occurring in the mobile advertising space.
As adblocker usage nears 25%, the problem has become severe for both advertisers and publishers.
If digital advertising is going to continue growing, then they need to confront the problem that is adblockers. But what is the best way to combat them?
Here options and approaches vary widely.
How Advertisers can combat adblockers
There are two main ways of thinking in regards to how the industry should address adblockers.
The first is by detection. And once the adblocker is detected, either blocking the user until the site is whitelisted or working around the adblocker to display ads anyway.
This solution treats the symptoms.
The second solution is to improve the ads themselves to such an extent that users don’t feel like they need to download an adblocker.
This solution treats the disease.
The main issue here, however, is that most advertisers and publishers are already careful with their ads. They don’t want the user to have a bad experience on their site or with their ads, because that would reflect poorly on their respective brands.
But some don’t particularly care or have done the math and find more aggressive advertising styles to be worth it for their specific offer. These ads drive users to adblockers despite most of the industry already behaving well.
So for a lot of companies, the first option is the only option. But not for Google and Google might be the only company in the world that can force industry-wide change.
But more on that later.
Adblocker detection began quickly after the proliferation of the first adblockers. At first, adblockers weren’t a problem because so-called superusers primarily were their primary users.
But ad they began to become common among the general population, they became an increasingly large thorn in the site of advertisers and publishers that depended on advertisements for revenue.
So the great tug-of-war began — adblock vs. anti-adblock vs. anti-anti-adblock and so forth.
Detecting adblockers, in general, is surprisingly easy, which is why adblocker detection has quickly become the norm on sites that depend on advertising revenue.
The adblocker naturally tries to block this script, as it believes that it is an ad. However, then the trap is sprung. The rest of the anti-adblocker script then detects that the bait script was blocked. Once detection occurs, the site is locked down, and the user is generally presented with a call-to-action asking that the whitelist the site.
Adblockers have entered something of an arms race where they try to avoid detection and better hone their actual adblocking as websites develop strategies to present ads without looking like ads from the perspective of an adblocker.
There is, however, another option.
And that option is the use of better ads. Instead of entering into an arms race with our very own users and customers, perhaps the industry should focus on only displaying good advertisements.
This is the idea behind the “Better Ads Standards,” a list of standards based on extensive industry research into what ads to which users have particularly negative reactions.
This research allowed the framers of these Standards to identify a series of ads, both on mobile and desktop, that advertisers ought to endeavor to avoid.
That is, if they’re mainly concerned with the preservation user experience.
Google fights adblockers with its browser
And even if they’re not, they might no longer have a choice.
Google has implemented a default adblocker in its industry-leading Chrome Browser. After a lengthy trial period in the US and select other markets, they have launched this built-in adblocker globally.
The idea behind the built-in adblocking functionality is simple. Google has a lot to lose to high adblocker usage. A massive portion of their revenue comes from digital advertising. And as the most significant player in the industry, they naturally have the most to lose.
But as the company behind the most successful browser on the market, they also have the capacity to force other advertisers to change their ways, thereby protecting their own ad revenue.
Now, if a publisher doesn’t want to be summarily blocked on the biggest browser on the market, then they have no choice but to conform to the Better Ads Standards.
Protecting their revenue from the effects of adblocking caused by users’ being fed up with particularly egregious ads is the whole goal.
And there is no other player in the entire ad industry that could pull off such a feat.
Client-Side Header Bidding – slow and painful for users
There is one other trend that is helping to make a lot of progress in the war against adblockers – and again, it is about improving customer experience. This trend is the shift from Client-Side Header Bidding to Server-Side Header Bidding.
Header Bidding is a process whereby publishers call on various Supply-Side Providers from within the user’s browser. By calling on a variety of SSPs, the publisher can be sure to get the highest possible bid for the impression.
This process can lead to significant increases in revenue growth for publishers, which is why the technology spread so quickly.
The downside, however, was that Client-Side Header Bidding took place, well, on the client side.
This meant that the user’s browser was making many more HTTP/S connections every time that the user loaded a new page, then the script had to wait for responses, sort them, find the winner, contact the winner, and, finally, retrieve the ad.
This process took time. And increased load time is not good for user experience. At all.
The primary effect of this was an increase in adblocker usage.
Now, though, the trend is to move most of this process to the server-server side. The “server” is generally a primary SSP that, in turn, asks other SSPs for their bids and sorts them to find the winner.
This shift takes the load off the browser, thereby improving load times.
The popularity of adblocking has become a significant issue over the last few years. It is at least in part a cause of the decline in desktop digital advertising revenue.
The responses that it has elicited have been numerous, but they have mostly had limited success in stopping the spread of adblocking. We’ll see if Google’s implementation will have a substantial effect adoption of adblockers among the general population.
What is certain, however, is that between adblockers and the increasing amount of time that the average person spends on his smartphone, digital mobile advertising now dwarfs desktop. And unlike desktop, it is growing.
This is an environment that has yet to see mass adoption of adblockers, but it is up to advertisers and publishers to make sure that it stays that way.
Mobinner is a high-performance Demand-Side Platform. Since 2017 we have been driving user acquisition and impressive conversion rates. Learn how Mobinner can help bring your business to the next level.