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There is a war happening right now. A war for your eyeballs. Giant technology companies are fighting for your eyeballs – or, rather, for your visual attention. On one side, we have Google: the king of all online advertising. On the other, Facebook: the king of misplaced attention spans. Now, Apple enters with ad blocking in its latest mobile browser.
I’d like to address this first, because it’s probably the obnoxious thing that got you to click through and leave some gnarly, rage-induced comments. And I’m sorry about that. But no, PPC isn’t dead. It may be under threat from ad blocking, though, because once users start blocking ads, they rarely want to go back. It’s really liberating and completely legal.
— Ian Hogarth (@soundboy) September 17, 2015
But search ads aren’t at fault here; they’ve become an innocent bystander in a fight they were never really involved in. I actually commend Google highly for its search ads (which make up only a small chunk of its ad network). In recent times, search ads and PLAs have become useful – genuinely useful. They’re worth clicking on and worth paying for as an AdWords customer. What has gone wrong here is that poorly targeted and intrusive ads appear around the web, with little consideration for users, and users are sick to death of it.
There are some obvious and some not-so-obvious reasons for blocking ads, and they get a little easier to explain with mobile devices. The obvious reason is that ads are sometimes intrusive. They get in the way of what you’re trying to do.
Full-screen ads on mobiles are irritating to the extent that they sometimes make you want to leave a site altogether. Some ads load up in the middle of content, taking you out of your tab when you accidentally click on them. Some are just plain distracting, ugly and annoying, but they can have a sinister side.
Ads embedded into websites can hide malware and let all sorts of bad stuff into your computer or mobile. They also eat heavily into system resources. Did you know that they can double the load time of a website, and sometimes more? That doesn’t just mean that stuff takes longer to load. I have (what’s now considered) a very old iPhone 4, bought in 2010. It does everything perfectly most of the time, so I never felt the need to upgrade. But some ad-heavy news websites and blogs won’t even open. They crash out the browser while trying to load the myriad ads up. How do I know it’s the ads? Because the content loads fine, but the second an ad appears, or a full-screen pop up pops up, it kicks me out. It sucks. But all that extra load has more impact than mere annoyance. It eats into your data allowance.
Advertising is big money. Advertisers pay these sites good money to be prominent on them. Some websites have all their eggs in the advertising basket (I don’t need to tell you why this is a bad idea). Most blogs, news sites and entertainment sites you know of have been monetised with ads. Even monetised sites have been monetised further with ads.
People have abused the trust of users and allowed poorly targeted and nigh-on useless ads to be displayed to them. It’s like a big old middle finger to your fans in some cases. But it brings in the dollar, so that’s why they use them. That dollar is nothing compared to what Google stands to lose, though. It’s one thing to lose the DoubleClick platform, but to lose search ads too? Could 2015 be the year where Google’s advertising revenue peaks?
Holy cow. Just tested a content blocker in iOS9 w/Google Analytics scripts. Yep, blocked. Get ready for a drop in traffic (stats-wise). #wa
— Glenn Gabe (@glenngabe) September 17, 2015
So this is going to have a significant impact on your traffic stats and measurement if it proliferates. And it looks as though it just might:
— AJ Ghergich (@SEO) September 17, 2015
Peace, another content blocker, is a paid app in the App Store. At the time of writing, it’s the number-one app. So we might be seeing the start of something big here.
It should be noted that apps will continue to show ads: these content blockers are solely applicable to the Safari browser, and not to iOS as a whole. So Facebook is probably feeling pretty good right now, as any headway Apple makes here won’t affect its crazy-popular little nest of apps. Plus any hit at Google is a good day for Facebook, the third player in this great eyeball war.
Facebook is a slow burner, quiet and watching from the shadows. What’s its take? I guess one of indifference for the time being. But with its advertising model under threat from desktop ad blockers, this development is definitely going to prick up some ears at Facebook HQ.
So, is it time to start running around in circles, screaming at the sky and cursing our impending doom? No. This is evolution, and anyone who relied solely on advertising to make their money was doing it wrong anyway. Maybe they deserve to die out.
The internet never stops. It never sleeps. And it seldom goes backwards. This is progress, scary though it may be. This could usher in the next golden age of SEO and content marketing. It could see tyrants fall and grassroots take hold. It could mean an overhaul of an advertising system that has manipulated its users and run amok for too long.
I, for one, embrace the change and welcome our new content blocking overlords.
Samantha Noble is well known within in the search industry, she even won the UK Search Personality 2016 at the UK Search Awards in November. This year, she continues to make an impact on the industry by judging not only one, but three, prestigious industry awards.