Content is king: 5 strategies to fight ad blockers and ad blindness

AS one of the pillars of the publishing world, advertising enables publications to thrive, while providing an avenue for businesses to reach out to audiences. Readers, meanwhile, get to enjoy content for free, without the constraints of paywalls and subscriptions.

In an increasingly digital publishing environment however, one of the key challenges is to optimize reach without necessarily sacrificing the user experience. For instance, majority of web traffic now comes from mobile devices, and the trend continues to grow. This means advertisers need to vie for screen real estate on small devices, as well as rapidly declining attention spans.

This leads to one big concern among both publishers and advertisers: ad blindness and its more active and aggressive counterpart, ad blocking.

Ad desense

Users have been desensitized to ads, especially those bombarded with hundreds of banners, pop-ups and auto-playing videos. Some users opt to install ad blockers on their devices. For instance, Been Choice, an ad-blocking platform for mobile devices, recently launched on iOS with the aim of enabling users to block ads on their mobile browsers.

Monetization therefore becomes a challenge. With an increasing preference for an ad-free experience, both publishers and advertisers need to find ways for sustainable content distribution without turning off their audiences.

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1. Optimize for mobile devices

Obtrusive advertising is among the primary reasons why users prematurely leave a website. Bounce rates are even more pronounced in a mobile setting. Imagine that a banner ad or popup covers most of the screen and impedes the user from reading or viewing content. This is extremely annoying, especially when it happens in the middle of reading an article or viewing other interesting content.

This is true not only for advertising, but also for other forms of interruptions, including calls-to-action, sharing links and email subscription forms, among others. Consider that your content should be the primary purpose of publishing in the first place, and that advertising should only come in secondary.

2. Use a native ad experience

Advertising platforms have evolved far beyond simple banners, inline links and the like. For instance, native advertising platforms  enable you to incorporate advertising into search results, videos, text, and design elements, making them an integral part of the user experience, rather than an extraneous obtrusion to be avoided.

Native advertising is also beneficial for brands, as these better engages users through targeted content in different formats. Most native ad platforms are responsive, which means that any ads or images should conform to any screen size or device type, thus ensuring an optimal user experience.

3. Use in-image advertising

Another strategy in combating ad blindness and ad blockers is the use of in-image advertising. Considering that images are already a powerful means to engage and attract an audience, users are more likely to click on a story with an interesting image rather than a purely textual one. Thus publishers and advertisers alike should take advantage of this trend.

An artist's rendition of in-image advertising. Pic: Vibrant Media

An artist’s rendition of in-image advertising. Pic: Vibrant Media

In-image ad platforms would usually involve programmatic analysis in order to match the most relevant image to the content and context, which increases the likelihood that a user will look at the image and the messaging within it, whether implicit or straightforward.

One main benefit of in-image advertising is that ad-blockers do not filter out these images, which ensures the message reaches the intended audience. Needless to say, the use of contextual and relevant images will also help make the content itself attractive.

4. Run sponsored content

This is a contentious issue in the publishing industry, especially if the sponsored nature of content is not disclosed outright, which raises questions on journalistic integrity. However, native ads are growing to a $21 billion industry by 2018. When done right, running sponsored content can be an effective strategy in monetizing your website, whilst also ensuring a viable income stream.

In fact, the Media Buyer’s Guide to Sponsored Content says 25 percent more users look at sponsored content than display ads. However, according to a 2015 study by Contently, most users cannot distinguish between editorial content and sponsored content. Thus, it will be important to make sure that sponsored content is relevant to your website’s overall theme, and that you are providing adequate disclosure.

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5. Join an affiliate network

Doing affiliate sales can also be an effective way to monetize content without worrying about ad blindness and blocking. Since you can incorporate the affiliate products or links into your native content, you can easily engage audiences and make money from commissions in the process.

Consider that the global B2C e-commerce market is projected to reach $2.3 trillion by 2017. This means that there is a lot of opportunity for publishers to get a fair share of this market, with highly targeted content and relevant affiliate products.

The takeaway

There’s no question that the publishing business is evolving, and that publishers can no longer rely on the traditional means of monetization to run a sustainable business. Ad blockers are a big challenge, but the fact that users are becoming blind and desensitized to advertising can also be a big hindrance.

This requires a more out-of-the-box approach, which will involve running campaigns that are relevant, highly targeted and which use data to programmatically decide on the best assets or messaging to use.