Is Ad Blocking Software Finally Forcing Advertisers to Build a Better Internet?

When the Internet was designed for dial-up access, Internet advertising was simple. Banner ads added to page load times, but at least they were easy to ignore. And, oh, how banner ads are ignored: across the industry, they have a click-through rate of 0.07 percent, meaning that for every 10,000 people who see a banner ad, only seven click on it. And there’s no telling how many of those clicks were in error. As Internet speeds increased, advertisers took advantage of new capabilities to make ads more content-heavy, feature-rich, and harder to ignore, with features like auto-play videos, pre-roll video ads, and self-expanding banners. It’s no surprise that ad-blocking software became popular: if you’ve never used it, this software prevents many, but not all, online ads from appearing on the sites you visit. Are advertisers throwing in the towel? “We messed up. As technologists, tasked with delivering content and services to users, we lost track of the user experience,” Scott Cunningham, IAB Senior Vice President of Technology and Ad Operations, wrote in a recent editorial. “This steamrolled the users, depleted their devices, and tried their patience.” He goes on to propose a new, voluntary standard for online advertising called LEAN: Light, Encrypted, Ad choice supported, Non-invasive ads. It’s the first and last principles that are the most interesting — if ads become less data-heavy and less invasive, it could make all our favorite sites faster to load and more enjoyable to use. Why the sudden change of heart? A recent report from, a company that tracks use of ad-blocking software online, shows just how popular such software is. In the U.S., use of this software increased 48 percent from June 2014 to June 2015, meaning a total of 45 million online Americans are using it. Worldwide, ad-blocking software will cost online advertisers $22 billion in 2015. The online advertising industry isn’t happy about this. At an Interactive Advertising Bureau (IAB) leadership summit this July, industry leaders discussed the possibility of suing ad-blocking companies, or urging websites to make it impossible for people running the software to view site content. Surprisingly, they may opt for a third option, one that may actually please Internet users. What about the content providers? Sites supported by online advertising argue that this advertising allows them to provide content free of charge, and it’s hard to argue with that. There’s one problem, though: people don’t care. One recent study produced results that shouldn’t surprise anyone outside the online advertising world: 67 percent of users wouldn’t support websites via alternative funding methods, and 82 percent of consumers don’t care that this software costs advertisers money. Among those who don’t use the software, only 4 percent say they think the software is unethical, compared to 38 percent who have never heard of the technology. Will LEAN work? There are no guarantees that online advertisers will adopt these new principles, but it seems obvious that continuing to create ads that annoy people may get more eyes over the short term, but will only contribute to increased ad-blocking over the long term. If advertisers do adopt LEAN principles, it will probably benefit mobile users and those with slow connections the most. People with data limits on their home plans may see some benefit, but ads represent a small amount of data compared to streaming audio and video. Although it’s up to online advertisers to improve the Internet by improving the state of online advertising, there’s something you can do to improve the quality of your online browsing: enter your ZIP code below to see the high-speed Internet plans available in your area. [zipfinder]

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Will Smith is a copywriter living in Chattanooga, Tennessee. His favorite word is “petrichor,” and aside from wordplay, he loves reading history, watching Dodger baseball, and racing with the Sports Car Club of America.

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