We all know about the ad block problem: How can we maintain a mostly advertising-funded and “free” Internet without having all these horribly fat and annoying ads crapping all over our browsers? Advertisers don’t care how awful their ads are because they pay publishers, and if one publisher won’t carry a crappy ad for a lot of money, another publisher will. Publishers are under such financial pressure that they are forced to display bloated advertising to their readers just to keep the lights on. Only the very largest publishers, or publishers with unique editorial content that people want to see, may be in a position to forgo ad revenue to protect their readers against crappy ads.
Meanwhile the war between publishers and ad blockers rages on, providing fertile ground for start ups that promise publishers a way to recover their ad blocked revenue. The ad block community continues to enhance the functionality of the ad blockers as these publisher-oriented startups find new ways around ad blockers. And advertisers are just laughing as publishers and end users fight it out. It’s all a huge waste of resources.
Readers are the ones saying “these ads truly suck” and now have the power to turn off advertising altogether, even though they know this is not sustainable in the long run if they want an ad-funded and “free” web. The acceptable ads policy of AdBlock Plus is so limited and lame as a form of advertising, this can’t be where advertising ends up because it’s just not expressive enough as a medium to be the sole mechanism for advertising. The IAB’s L.E.A.N policy is a nice position, but is a publisher really going to turn down a huge ad deal and lose money on the table because an ad isn’t lean enough? That’s hard to imagine. What to do?
I think there is only one path forward: Google must start automatically scoring a site’s overall ad quality using principles similar to the IAB’s LEAN ads proposal. Rather than a black-and-white “acceptable ad or not” policy, this would create a continuum of acceptability which would have profound implications. Google would need to bake this concept throughout their ad ecosystem as follows:
Please disable your ad blocker to view the following content.
- The Google search engine would take into account a site’s overall ad quality as one factor in determining natural search engine ranking. If two sites would otherwise have equal page rank but one site has a bloated and annoying ad experience, the site with the crappy ads will rank lower in search results.
- Google would enhance DoubleClick For Publishers with the ability for a publisher to score an ad’s quality before accepting it, and set a minimum low-end crappiness factor they are willing to accept for ads. Ads that are bloated and annoying beyond the threshold set by the publisher will not be displayed.
- Google would enhance DoubleClick Campaign Manager and DoubleClick Studio to ensure ads are automatically scored for quality. Lower quality will translate into smaller reach for advertisers because they are excluded from sites with a higher quality ad threshold. Ads placed on web sites with a less annoying ad experience and presumably higher quality editorial content will likely result in significantly better click through rates, and a lower bounce rate as well. In other words, advertisers will be able to increase the effectiveness of their ad spend.
- The ad blockers would enhance their current binary “acceptable ads or not” checkbox to be a slider or dial that would allow their users to select how good or crappy an ad experience they are willing to live with based on their own preferences. As more and more publishers attempt to lock out users with an ad blocker, there will be increased incentive on the part of users to set a meaningful ad block level above “no ads” so that they can get into more sites without being blocked by the publisher.
These changes would fundamentally alter the market dynamics for all three players in a way that is biased towards producing better ads. If advertisers want to increase the reach and click through rate of their ad spend, they need to make better ads. If publishers want to see more users showing up on their site without an ad blocker, they need to display better ads. If end users want to have an ad-funded Internet with better ads, they need to decide for themselves what kinds of ads they will automatically accept so they are not blocked from web sites that do not permit ad blockers.
If we enable the marketplace to sort this out, we can all settle down and get back to the main business of publishing: Producing unique and great editorial content that is supported by superior ad experiences rather than being dragged down by bloated adware.