Google Blocked What?


By Yann Fassbender,20 Mar 2018

Right at the point where most advertisers have started to realise that ad blockers are only causing very limited industry damage, a special guest has recently decided to join the party. Most certainly no one had them on the initial invite list as one would assume they would boycott rather than actively support the initiative. Yet, Google recently confirmed that they will indeed actively be blocking ads by introducing a native ad blocker to the Chrome browser for early 2018.

For a company that is forecasted to exceed $70 billion+ in advertising revenue in 2017, this is most certainly a big statement. But there is a key difference between this ad blocker and most other ad blockers in market. Rather than calling it an ad “blocker”, Google prefers to refer to it as an ad “filter”. The tool will by no means block all ads and instead only focus on blocking the ones that are deemed “beneath a threshold of consumer acceptability”. And more precisely, anything that does not comply with the Better Ads Standards from the Coalition for Better Ads, an ad and publishing group of which Google is a member. In a developer preview version of this ad blocker functionality, the tool can be found under “Site Settings” which allows you to toggle on a feature that will “Block ads from sites that tend to show intrusive ads”. In other words, the feature will likely not be enabled by default and therefore limit the initial consumer uptake.

Google says its Chrome ad blocker will stop showing ads that do not comply with these standards, including its own. They also announced that from January 2018 onwards its Chrome browser will block outstream autoplay video ads with sound by default. The move is being positioned as yet another push by Google to clean up the web and continue being the gatekeeper to the internet.

Or is it yet another push to further solidify its position in market and road towards complete domination of all online advertising? After all, advertising is by far their biggest revenue source and they are essentially blocking competitor ads with these moves.

The consumer benefits are clear. Google will remove annoying pop-up ads, autoplay video ads with sound, flashing animated ads, large sticky ads on mobile and a few others that are deemed to be lacking user friendliness. In a way, it is a necessary undertaking to take the digital advertising industry to the next level and make quality assurance the key focus moving forward.

But let’s take a step back and look at the impact of ad blockers to date to get a better understanding of the potential impact of this new Chrome update. Ad blockers in Australia have so far not had a major impact on the advertising industry and have actually been on a decline in 2017. As of April 2017, 24% were using ad blockers across desktop and only 5% across mobile, down from 21% and 6% respectively in 2016 (Source: IAB, 2017). What this is showing is that there was clearly a reaction in market as a result of the rise of ad blockers. Fewer intrusive ad units, publishers blocking content when ad blocking is enabled and consumers realising some of the drawbacks of ad blockers.

Ultimately, this led to consumers changing their mind about the use of ad blockers.

According to the IAB’s 2017 Ad Blocking report, some of the key reasons identified that would make people stop using ad blockers (i.e. ‘actions that would very likely influence people to stop using ad blockers’) were the following:

  • Guarantee that ads are safe from virus
  • Guarantee ads won’t slow down browsing
  • Favourite site blocks content
  • Site guarantee that ads won’t cover content

Google’s ad filter is in essence working towards minimising each of the above to improve the user experience and help pushing back on more aggressive ad blockers.

But let’s take a step back and look at the impact of ad blockers to date to get a better understanding of the potential impact of this new Chrome update. Ad blockers in Australia have so far not had a major impact on the advertising industry and have actually been on a decline in 2017. As of April 2017, 24% were using ad blockers across desktop and only 5% across mobile, down from 21% and 6% respectively in 2016 (Source: IAB, 2017). What this is showing is that there was clearly a reaction in market as a result of the rise of ad blockers. Fewer intrusive ad units, publishers blocking content when ad blocking is enabled and consumers realising some of the drawbacks of ad blockers.

The question to ask is why does Google get to decide what qualifies as an acceptable ad? Why does a company that has a huge interest in filling their own pockets with ad dollars also get the privilege to decide over which ads to block and which ads to deem acceptable? The new standards will most certainly not give Google a disadvantage in the market and instead continue building their dominance.

Albeit, the fact that the industry is showing an increased focus and dedication towards providing a great user experience is most certainly a positive development. Everyone has seen intrusive and annoying digital ads and the industry needs to fight this. Google is certainly not innocent in this realm either with their display network not being perceived as the highest quality either.

Assuming that the ad blocking feature will not be enabled by default, the short-term impact of this change will be relatively low and uptake will be slow. Due to the large Chrome market share across desktop, desktop inventory will naturally see a higher impact compared to mobile. Publishers will likely start put a bigger emphasis on the Better Ads Standards and make sure at least some of their inventory complies with those standards. Looking at overall time spent across mobile with the majority of this being in-app and the most popular browser being Safari, the impact will be much lower and likely not enough to convey publishers to make changes to their ad units just yet.

Nonetheless, the industry needs to continue increasing the focus on being user-friendly. There is a big difference between brand recall and positive brand recall. Stimulating positive brand recall through digital advertising requires user-friendly ad units. Thus, the shift towards bespoke, UX-focused, Rich Media ad units will continue to thrive. The question remains how Google can play both sides of the fence and whether they should be the ones writing the rules of the game. The key takeout is that the industry as a whole needs to make sure that the consumer wins in the long-term. Advertisers should already put a big emphasis on providing great user experiences, no matter what Google decides to do. After all, they are talking to potential customers and advertising is therefore the first touch point of a company’s customer experience.

By Yann Fassbender,

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