Mobile ad blocking: will it hurt ad-reliant websites?

Posted by David Murton on Tue, Sep 29, 2015 @ 10:45 AM

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With the recent release of Apple's new iPhones and iOS 9, the discussion around ad-blocking on mobile browsers has heated back up.

While ad blocking on smart phones has been possible in the past, Apple's decision to allow Safari ad blockers to be designed and made available via the App Store has brought about a significant shift. With such influence on the smart phone world, the company's decision to permit ad blockers could change the future of mobile browsing.

Mobile ad blockers and how they may benefit users

Mobile web ad blocking serves the same purpose as ad blocking on desktop. Ads - be they banners, Google AdWords, Facebook ads (that aren't within the main feed), pop-up videos, etc. - will be entirely blocked for the user.

This feature will appeal to certain users, particularly those who actively loathe the seemingly innumerable ways in which ads can manifest themselves on mobile devices. However, ad blockers not only manage to stop ads, but they also help prevent things such as the tracking cookies different online ad platforms may use to track user behaviour (e.g. a retargeting ad). This, again, could be a big plus among those concerned about their privacy.

The final benefit is that for websites that have an excessive number of ads served on each page, having these stripped away via an ad blocker will likely improve the site's performance on the users' end. With less resources being eaten up, research has found ad blocking on the iPhone has improved browsing speeds by up to 500%.

The potential pitfalls of mobile ad blockers

Besides the concerns websites that rely on advertising could face (I'll touch on this soon), there are some pitfalls that ad blockers can bring to the average user. While none of them are particularly severe, ad blockers are designed to block content. They identify coding, widgets, etc. that fit into a pre-defined algorithm that deciphers ads from other content. While it's not too common, there is the potential for ad blockers to incorrectly block certain content.

Outside of this, ad blockers can occasionally impact on site performance in a negative way. That's because websites with ads are, logically, built around that layout. Ad blockers can alter the layout slightly (by changing the spacing where an ad would otherwise sit) and, in turn, lead to slight navigational issues. It's not too common of an occurrence, but it can happen.

The challenge for websites that advertise

Ad blockers have been around for years, with desktop browsers such as Chrome, Firefox and Safari permitting ad blocking extensions to be added. In the mobile world, however, ad blocking is in a relative state of infancy. But as more and more people choose mobile as their platform of choice for web browsing, that means ad blockers could impact on the profits websites make from their ever-growing mobile visitors.

While average users may not see this as an issue, the main way any successful website or online service remains free is through advertising profits, as evident from social media platforms such as Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. For those that want to include ad-free options, these typically come in the form of paid subscriptions (e.g. Netflix, news sites that may implement pay walls for premium content, etc.).

Unfortunately, like it or not, there's no way of stopping the rise of ad blockers. Going forward, ad-reliant websites may need to reassess how they work in promoted content. Some have already started addressing this via native advertising (e.g. Mashable, BuzzFeed, etc.). Other considerations, such as subscription tiers, may also be necessary.

However, only time will tell as to the impact ad blockers have on websites and their mobile audience. So, for now, it's still a bit of a guessing game.

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* Man Browsing Phone Image via Shutterstock

Topics: Business News, Technology

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