Google and Facebook are currently in another race. With the increased use of mobile technology for accessing the internet (now a greater amount of time than computer access to the internet) both Google and Facebook have realised the need for faster and less data intensive ways to allow users to access articles on linked sites. Facebook announced their Instant Articles, which imbeds striped down versions of the linked article onto the Facebook stream, and Google just announced their AMP, Accelerated Mobile Pages. I’m not so interested in the fast download speeds or on the question of whether or not Google will be boosting the search rankings of APM pages. What I think is so very important about these changes is the effect it can have on advertising.
The amount spent on digital advertising has been rising dramatically over the last few years, and there is plenty of space left to grow. However, overall this money has not been spent on user friendly advertising. Especially if you are on mobile internet, the cluttering of pages with data intensive images and videos that detract from the user experience also increases the time that pages take to load. What things like AMP and Instant Articles do is strip down the linked page to the bare minimum. Though Google have yet to announce what formats exactly will be allowed as advertisements on AMPs, it is highly unlikely that you will see those annoying pop up adds that follow you as you scroll down the page.
I don’t see many of these sorts of advertisements anymore anyway. I started a while ago to use Addblock (though now I have changed to uBlock) because I was tired of looking for the random pop up advertisement that was playing annoying audio, or being distracted by the flashing lights of an add at the side of the page. However, if I visit a site regularly and I want to help support the creator in some small way, I turn my addblock off and, if the adds aren’t too intrusive, I add the site to my addblock’s whitelist. This means that whenever I go back to that page, the adds will be displayed, and the site will generate some revenue.
I do not expect the rest of the addblock users to act the same way. Currently around 15% of UK adults use some addblock software and around 28% of Americans, and I would expect this figure to rise quickly, not only due to new adults starting to use the software especially after the increased exposure it’s been getting with iOS allowing its use on iPhones, but also due to the fact that younger people are more likely to use it.
If people continue to use addblock for all content they consume then the producers of the content will face the
choice of forgoing add revenue and charging subscription fees, or making one of four changes. They can:
• Block the blockers- sites can purchase a script that allows them to identify whether a user is employing an addblock programme and deny that user access unless they turn addblock off.
• Join a whitelist- just like I can compile my own whitelist, Eyeo, the makers of Addbock Plus, charge companies that wish to make sure that the adds on their pages are displayed. These adds have to qualify as uninstructive to the user experience.
• Produce native advertising- these are articles or pages that look like other pages on the website, but are in fact commissioned and largely produced by an advertising agency.
• Rely on AMP or Instant Articles to push through an add friendly environment.
But the best outcome would be for addblock software to no longer be necessary. The only reason that it has a foothold is because digital advertising firms operated, and continue to operate, with a fundamental misunderstanding of how users interact with the medium. Unfortunately, in many cases, there is a similar misunderstanding from the side of the consumer about the role of advertising in the development of online content and it may be difficult to convince users to go back to seeing advertisements on the internet. And in many cases it is only large companies that can afford to buy their way onto an add blocking software’s whitelist.
So while the end product may be the same: an internet where advertising is kept unobtrusive and user friendly. It is websites, big and small, that need to change their advertising habits now in order to avoid the seemingly unstoppable movement towards addblocking and the reliance on either whitelists or on Google/facebook. If these habits do not change fast enough then the open and creative internet that I love so very much may start closing doors.