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What Advertisers Need to Know about the Google Chrome Ad-Blocker

7 MINUTE READ | January 12, 2018

What Advertisers Need to Know about the Google Chrome Ad-Blocker

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Kara Eccleston

Kara Eccleston has written this article. More details coming soon.

An ad company creates an ad blocker. Don’t bother waiting for a punchline because this isn’t the setup of a joke. Google will be launching the newest version of its Chrome web browser with a built-in ad blocker. That makes as much sense as a tobacco company telling people not to smoke.

Ok, it’s not really an ad-blocker because it doesn’t block all ads (how else would Google make money?). Google is positioning this new feature as an ‘ad-filter’ – only filtering ads that deliver a poor user experience because they want to give users the best possible experience when browsing the web. Google is also worried about the threat ad-blockers pose to the current web ecosystem that supports publishers’ ability to provide free content to users in exchange for advertising revenue.

Chrome ad filtering will roll out February 15, 2018.

This isn’t Google’s first initiative at enforcing better ad standards and holding publishers accountable for delivering a better user experience, especially on mobile devices. In August 2016, Google announced to webmasters that it would dock organic search rankings for pages on mobile sites that had inaccessible content. This included content that was interrupted by:

  • Pop-ups that cover the main content when a user clicks to a page from a search result regardless if the popup is shown immediately or while browsing the page.

  • Standalone interstitials that require action or dismissal from the user before they can access the content.

  • Above-the-fold portions of the page that look similar to an interstitial but the original content exists below the fold (think of websites with a giant header image or masthead).

But now Google is shifting its attention to advertisers since threats of organic ranking declines didn’t significantly curb intrusive content. By building an ad-blocker–I mean, filter–publishers and site owners are forced to rethink how ads are being served on their sites or figure out other ways to monetize their content.

Google claims this initiative is to improve user experience across the web. Though true, the bigger issue is the crumbling integrity of the online advertising industry. Google, being an ad company, is attempting to get rid of the bad apples that tarnish the rest of the industry’s reputation.

But Google’s real enemy is other ad-blockers. They continue to grow in popularity with no signs of slowing down. In 2018, eMarketer predicts that 30% of internet users in the US will have installed an ad-blocker.

Ad-blocking software and browsers are an immediate threat to Google’s revenue stream. By 2020, blocked ads could cost publishers $27 billion in lost revenue. But this move makes sense. Ad blocking is growing, and by conquesting that territory, Google can potentially slow down the adoption of third-party ad blockers and competing web browsers. Google has a firm hold on the internet browsing market, which hovers around 55%, and it has no plans to loosen its grip.

browser bar graph

Firefox and Apple (competitors of Google) can design their browsers with a user-centric approach by emphasizing privacy and curtailing ad exposure because they do not have advertising revenue at stake. In fact, they are able to leverage ad-blocking technology to their advantage by luring users away from Chrome. If Chrome doesn’t keep up with ad-blocking trends, it suffers the same fate as Microsoft’s Internet Explorer nearly a decade ago. My how the tables have turned.

So why do people block ads? Well, because they can be annoying and intrusive. Think of all the times you’ve had to prematurely abandon a website because it was riddled with so many ads that the main content you were trying to access couldn’t even load or was blocked by a giant interstitial. As a user, that’s a terrible experience. As an advertiser, that’s not the environment your want your audience in when you expose them to your ads.

adblocking motivations chart

According to PageFair, people block ads because:

  1. Exposure to viruses and malware

  2. Interruption

  3. Slow website loading time

  4. Too many ads on webpages

  5. Privacy and tracking by unknown parties

Google’s motivation isn’t to kill all ads, just the ones that people hate most–even if that means ads on Google’s own network. But who gets to determine if an ad gets put on the chopping block? Turns out it’s the Coalition for Better Ads (which to no surprise is an organization comprised of the biggest players in the media space like Google and Facebook). Their goal is to develop and implement new global standards for online advertising that addresses consumer expectations.

The CBA has based their ad standards on more than 25,000 surveyed Internet users in North America and Europe. Their research measured consumers’ preferences for particular ad experiences across desktop and mobile devices. Participants were asked to rank ad experiences from least frustrating and annoying to most.

desktop popup ad

Least Preferred Desktop Ads

  • Pop-up ads

  • Auto-playing videos with sound

  • Prestitial ads with a countdown

  • Large sticky ads

Least Preferred Mobile Ads

  • Pop-up ads

  • Prestitial ads

  • Mobile pages with more than 30% ad density

  • Flashing animations

  • Poststitial ads that require a countdown to dismiss

  • Fullscreen scroll-over ads

  • Large sticky ads

  • Auto-playing videos with sound

  1. Don’t run any of the ad formats that you see here. They pose a good chance of being blocked. A good rule of thumb to keep in mind: if the ad is interruptive or blocks native content, it’s probably not worth running.

  2. Avoid running ads on sites with more than 30% ad density.

  3. Chrome will not filter ads until a domain has had a “failing” review status for more than 30 days. If they do have a failing status, the publisher will have to submit their site to Google for review once they’ve cleaned up the offending ads.

  4. If you’re concerned about your ad being filtered on a publisher’s site, ask to see the publisher’s Ad Experience Report. This is available to any website property verified in Google Search Console and will notify site owners if any of the ads they’re running violate ad standards. Google reviews mobile and desktop ad experiences separately, so there is a separate report for each.

  5. Because publishers will have fewer ad units to sell, it’s possible to see an increase in CPMs as advertisers compete for inventory.

  6. Expect to see an increase in native advertising, especially considering it’s a portion of the industry Google has been trying to penetrate for years and finally launched their own native offering last year.

  7. When working with media partners, demand transparency and ask if their ad formats comply with the Better Ads Standards.

  8. Brands should pay attention to their own owned media. Google defines an ad experience as a “combination of site layout and behavior, and content and ads that your users are exposed to.” This could affect content such as newsletter signup interstitials or sticky banners commonly used by retailers for current promotions, especially if they’re served by third parties.

Ad Experience Report

Google’s Ad Experience Report

Advertisers who’ve been diligent about preparing for this change shouldn’t fret too much. According to PMG’s very own Programmatic Media Director, Justin Scarborough, Google’s effort to clean up the internet is a good move for the digital advertising industry. “These are all ads that are terrible user experiences to begin with, and smart advertisers aren’t buying them anyway, so it’s more about cleaning up fat around the edges.”

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This move will only be costly to advertisers who ignore these new ad guidelines because they will waste time and money on ad creative that ends up being filtered by Chrome. The industry has been dealing with ad-blockers for several years now so as long as brands and advertisers focus their efforts on creating better ad experiences for users and have a diversified marketing mix, casualties and disruptions should be minimal.

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