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Ad Blockers Aren't the Solution to Eliminating Bad Ads from the Web

The Huffington Post The Huffington Post 1/04/2016 Rob Haralson
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Ad blocking programs discriminate against good content publishers and legitimate advertisers
Ad blocking software has been around for a long time, but over the past year, its popularity has steadily risen and presented a unique set of challenges for advertisers and publishers trying to reach consumers online. Today, app stores for both desktop and mobile platforms contain a nearly endless list of apps and plugins for users to download to block ads in any browser. Unfortunately, by default, many of these programs block all ads -- good and bad -- and what consumers may not realize is the real harm content blocking software can have on the online advertising ecosystem and the web as a whole. More importantly, these software programs do nothing to address and help fix the problem of bad ads on the web.

According to the Interactive Advertising Bureau (IAB), internet advertising in the United States has grown by double digits over the past five years and topping $49.5 billion in 2014 - a number the industry will easily surpass once the 2015 numbers are tallied. Internet advertising has democratized the entire industry by allowing any person or company - no matter how big or small - compete in the marketplace to reach consumers. It has also allowed publishers to use ads to earn revenue alongside the content they publish.

But as advertising revenue increases, consumer sentiment toward online ads seems to be decreasing, and the industry is quickly reaching a tipping point that must be addressed.

At, we often talk about "bad ads" in the context of those that are fraudulent or malicious (e.g. ads promoting counterfeit goods, online scams, etc.). In reality, the term is much broader and includes ads that are of poor quality or irrelevant to users as well, and it's because of bad ads that the primary need for ad blockers exists and reason they have gained in popularity. These bad ads can be disruptive to the user experience. And it's the user experience on which platforms like Google, Facebook, Yahoo and others are constantly focused.

Much like effortlessly turning the pages of a magazine or newspaper, online ads should enrich content of a webpage or mobile app and allow users to glance and then engage by clicking on the ad or simply move on. Even better, platforms have the ability to serve users ads that are more relevant to an individual, and are constantly evaluating how best to serve ads without disrupting the flow of content or the user experience - the variable being the somewhat subjective nature of ad quality. These platforms have strict ads policies and devote significant resources to help advertisers create better ads and protect users. However, unlike a print publication, online platforms are serving ads in near real-time and at a massive scale, so it is sometimes difficult to filter ads that may be of lesser quality but still in compliance with their respective advertising policies.

Platforms address this issue by giving users a significant amount of control over the kinds of ads they see - like Google's Ads Preferences Manager, Facebook or Yahoo's "X" option, and the Digital Advertising Alliance's YourAdChoices icon. In addition, platforms like YouTube have implemented skippable video ads that highly incentivize advertisers to create more engaging ad content.

However, advertising platforms still have a lot of work to do to achieve that balance of an engaging experience with online ads, and they are greatly incentivized to do so - ensuring a positive experience for all users is essential to maintaining a vibrant and successful internet ecosystem. Google, Facebook and others devote significant resources to not only identify and remove ads that may be harmful or malicious, but also those that are of lesser quality and relevance, and provide advertisers with guidance and a number of tools to help them create better ads aimed at improving the user experience.

Advertisers, too, share this responsibility to ensuring that content in ads is relevant, engaging and of good quality.

Online ads are vital to the continued growth of the web - they are the oxygen that keeps the web alive. Many of the services we all flock to on the web utilize advertising as their primary source revenue. It's what makes applications like Gmail, Google Maps, Yahoo Mail, Facebook and countless others free to users. Granted, ad blockers may have a minimal impact on companies of this size. But for the news organizations, bloggers and other content publishers around the globe that rely on advertising revenue to run their sites, or the small businesses that buy advertising to sell their products or services, ad blockers can be incredibly harmful by outright blocking ads altogether and discriminating against good content creators.

Can you imagine buying a version of your favorite magazine or newspaper with the ads cut out? That's what ad blockers effectively do to content publishers online, and it is simply the wrong approach to fixing the the problem of bad ads on the web. The industry must work together to improve and protect the user experience and ensure advertising continues to breathe life into so many incredible products, services content online.

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