AdBlock is a bad thing and the people who use it are selfish.

There, I said it. AdBlock is a bad thing and the people who use it are selfish. Not only are they selfish and self-entitled; they’re also incredibly short-sighted and ignorant about the impact that ad blocking software could have on the future of the Internet.

The costs.

Firstly, lets talk about the costs of running a website:

  • The website’s domain name, which requires an annual payment of some sort. The amount that is paid depends on the type of domain and the various discounts that are on offer.
  • Web hosting: Typically speaking, hosting will take up the bulk of the cost of running a website. As traffic begins to rise, more and more server resources will be needed. We’re talking bandwidth, CPU resources, disk space and memory. These resources are limited and they all cost money in some form or another. When you land on a website, you are actually using up some these resources. Your web request leads to CPU / memory usage and the size of the data that you view / download is deducted from the website’s allowable bandwidth limit. Often, web hosts will automatically disable websites that reach their limit, forcing them to upgrade their package.
  • Advertising, marketing and search engine optimization: A lot of new websites will pursue various methods of promotion in order to get themselves up and running. It isn’t easy to start from scratch.
  • Web design and development: If the owner isn’t skilled in web design or web development, they will be forced to allocate a sizeable amount of their budget to hiring freelancers and development agencies.
  • Time: The biggest cost of all. We all value our own time and there aren’t a lot of people out there who will continuously sink time and effort into something that isn’t giving them anything back in return.

To me, using AdBlock is similar to walking into a cafe, ordering a cup of coffee and then walking out without paying. You are using up physical resources that you are unwilling to pay for.

“They shouldn’t have created a website if they need to rely on advertisements.”

If everyone were to take this advice seriously, we’d end up in a situation where the vast majority of websites are:

  • Boring brochure websites that represent real-life companies or people. These are only useful when you’re looking for specific information about a company (closing times, menus, location, etc).
  • Online shopping carts. These can afford to go without advertisements, simply because they are selling products.
  • Websites that require visitors to purchase a subscription of some sort.
  • “Review websites” that coax visitors into purchasing certain items so that they can make a commission off the sale (this is called affiliate marketing).
  • Sites or services that are funded by investors.

For those with a limited budget, it is extremely difficult to “get up and go” without the help of online advertising.  If your site is content-based, and it doesn’t actually sell anything, then displaying advertisements from the Adsense network is the easiest way to keep things ticking over.

Why not do it out of the goodness of your own heart?

There are many people who create websites with the noble intention of providing services or content for free, without the aid of advertisements. These people will soldier on and bear the brunt of the financial costs, all the while providing free content. Unfortunately, these ventures seem to be short-lived, as they either lose the incentive to continue their efforts, or they simply cave in and renege on their promise of not displaying adverts.

I’ve actually witnessed several cases where the user base kicked up a storm and revolted as soon as the site they visit decided to display adverts. They’re more-than-happy to use the site on a regular basis, eating up its resources, day-after-day. However, as soon as the owner decides to monetize or offload the cost of running the site, all hell breaks loose.

Adverts can be annoying.

I agree. A lot of websites tend to overdo them. They’ll have popup adverts, auto-playing videos and three or four advertisements that are located above the fold. In some cases, you’ll need to scroll down just to see the content that you’re looking for.

However, that still doesn’t change the fact that AdBlock takes the “guilty before proven innocent” approach, with many honest sites suffering as a result.

Many ardent AdBlock users will respond to this by saying that they whitelist the website’s that they like. Unfortunately, I don’t think that this behaviour is as common and prevalent as they like to pretend it is. If that were the case, they’d be constantly white-listing domains as they browsed the Internet (that would be a pain). It also provides little comfort to those of us who receive the vast bulk of our traffic from search engines – In these cases, visitors will often land on a page, consume the content and then leave, never to return again.

“Why do you care? Most people don’t even use AdBlock.”

That’s true. However: Usage of AdBlock is rising and people are becoming more and more Internet savvy as time goes on. Personally, I can’t think of one reason why it won’t continue to rise in popularity, especially seeing as its user base is so quick to spread the word and recommend the plugin to others.

According to a study by PageFair (WARNING: 3MB PDF), the average ad-blocking rate on 220 websites was found to be in the region of 22%. That’s a 22% fall in advertising revenues! In one particular instance, it was estimated that ad blocking software cost the site $500’000 per year. I’m sorry, but that is just insane.

To make things worse: This rate of ad-blocking is significantly higher for websites that are orientated around games, comics and technology, where visitors are Internet-savvy and therefore more likely to have AdBlock installed.

By 2018, it is estimated that the average figure for ad-blocking will rise to about 30%.

adblock rise

A rise in the number of people searching for AdBlock.

“But I don’t click on advertisements anyway.”

Website owners also get paid for ad impressions. i.e. Views = more advertisement revenue. Typically, a website will be paid a certain amount per 1000 views, depending on the type of advert that is being displayed (this is referred to as CPM). Simply viewing adverts on a website will contribute towards its revenue.

“I don’t care about the revenue of some company.”

Most websites are run by individuals who put a lot of time and effort into what they do. Most websites are run by individuals who can’t afford to employ other staff members. Most of the time, they’re just trying to pay bills and put food on the table, just like everyone else. It’s important to note that the money earned via advertising isn’t that good. In most cases, you’ll be extremely lucky to get $1 for every 1000 views. To make matters worse, this will rise and fall, depending on the time of year (advertisers in general tend to pay less after Christmas).

By using AdBlock, you are actually making it easier for larger companies to dominate the Internet.

“Choose another business model.”

This isn’t always possible. For instance: There’s a huge difference between a website that provides you with a search tool for keyword insights and a website that serves up pictures or animated gifs.

There are plenty examples of where “choosing another business model” isn’t realistic:

  • Video website: Your competition is Youtube and it provides free video content on nearly every single subject that you can think of. It is owned and backed by Google, a large corporation that can continue to operate the site, even if it is running massive losses. Only in certain specific cases can you use pursue a different business model.
  • Gif / Image macros: Nobody will pay a subscription fee to access a website that displays animated gifs.
  • Lyrics: The majority of people searching for song lyrics can be categorized as “smash-and-grab” visitors. They land, take what they want and then leave.
  • Blog: Unless you’re a highly-reputable website (Financial Times, for example), nobody is going to use a pay wall to access your content.

Improving AdBlock: The Compromise

Instead of an all-out block on all advertisements on all websites, AdBlock should take a smarter approach. For example (these are just ideas, by the way):

  • Block pop-ups by default, simply because they’re intrusive and annoying.
  • Block auto-playing video advertisements by default.
  • By default, allow only one advert above the fold. If a site has three advertisements above the fold, show the first one and block the rest.
  • By default, display only three adverts per page. If a site has six advertisements on one page, show the first three and block the rest.

As you can see, there’s a lot that could be done to make AdBlock act more “intelligently”. By doing this, it could entice webmasters to present their advertisements in a more user-friendly manner.

The future.

The writing is on the wall and I’m not sure if there’s a way to prevent it from happening: As AdBlock and some of the other ad blocking plugins continue to take hold, more and more websites will be left with a difficult decision to make. Either block AdBlock users until they whitelist your website or force readers into subscription plans (hence the rise of pay walls on reputable content-orientated websites). Unfortunately, none of those options are popular amongst the vast majority of Internet denizens, who expect the Internet to be a free and open place.

The way I see it: The Internet is going to become a place where only investor-backed websites can survive over the long term. Shopping websites and company websites will continue on like they always have, simply because they can sell products and fund their sites via other revenue streams. However, your average Joe will find it more and more difficult to “run with an idea” and provide visitors with free and open content, simply because short-term funding will not be available (unless he or she is willing to run at a personal loss, which won’t be sustainable).

Ironically enough; a lot of the people who complain about pay walls and the like are also AdBlock users. It’s as if they think that they should get content for free, at the expense of the person / company who provided them with it. Hence the reason I used the polarizing term “self-entitled.”

Related: PHP & JS library for detecting AdBlock.

Responses

Jonathan offers an alternative metaphor for Adblock:

More like walking into a cafe with repetitive “buy me” ads playing instead of music and choosing to wear headphones.

This is a flawed metaphor, simply because you wouldn’t be using up any resources by refusing to listen to the adverts. It costs the cafe nothing if you choose to wear your headphones. However, when you land an on a website, you are actually using server resources and taking up bandwidth.

aced985 reinforces my point about the sense of self-entitlement that many people exhibit when it comes to Internet advertising:

I don’t care for whatever has been said in this article. Suck it up. I use adblock, and guess what? I even DONATED money for ad block. Why? Cause I hate advertisements clogging up my screen. There you have it and that’s my honest opinion. Cheers!

Jose Peixoto writes:

This is all bullshit: I PAY A BIG MONTHLY FEE to have access to the internet;
THIS GIVES THEM BILLIONS: SREW IT…… ADBLOCK for me, will install it now,sick and tired of eliminating ads;over and over..I don´t need any ads; i look for stuff.

When you pay your “big monthly fee”, you’re paying your Internet Service Provider, which is probably a large corporation. None of that “big monthly fee” reaches Joe Soap and his small blog about model airplanes.

Gene Romm provides a typical edgy response:

Whoever wrote this is a faggot, capitalist c*cksucker.

I don’t really need to respond to that.

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