Relevance and Quality: The Keys to Unblocking a Better Web

by Tamir Lipton, VP of Business Development
September 22nd, 2015

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Ad blocking is the topic du jour for the digital ad industry and fueling the next iteration of the Great SPAM Wars. Only instead of spammers vs. Matt Cutts, spammers vs. spam filters, or bot traffic vs. human traffic, it’s ad blockers versus the ad blocker blockers (Pagefair, SecretMedia, and Sourcepoint, to name just three).

On the surface, the argument for blocking ads makes sense: consumers are annoyed by ads and want to experience content without intrusion. They want to be protected from bots, viruses, and malware that can be hidden within seemingly innocuous advertising. They find cookies “creepy” and want their privacy protected.

But what if these aren’t the real issues? What if the pro-ad block movement is based in something else altogether? Something that’s entirely within our control and, in fact, if solved would create an environment where advertising isn’t blocked, but welcomed? I argue that people don’t inherently hate ads—they hate irrelevant ads; they don’t necessarily want ads blocked—they want to stop being annoyed and interrupted by bad advertising.

Addressing ad blocking without examining the core, underlying issues is akin to treating the symptoms, but not the disease. And the true plague here is irrelevant, unhelpful advertising.

Truthfully, everyone in the ad ecosystem shares in the responsibility of spreading that plague. That is, advertisers, publishers, agencies, and even technology companies are all to blame for the rise of ad blocking. To date, the consumer has a limited voice in the “user experience.” The best they can do is avoid sites tainted with annoying, poorly targeted ads, or deploy an ad blocker.

Digital media is personal. You consume it on a screen that you choose and you can customize the entire experience down to the font. It’s a consumer’s digital world, curated from start to finish. It stands to reason that the ads should be curated, too. They have to blend into the media in a way that captures user attention, but doesn’t distract them, trick them, or run counter to their curated experience. This means making the ad relevant to the user at every given moment.

The challenge is using real-time data to infer the user’s mindset, and simultaneously having the tools to serve an ad that’s relevant. Companies like Yieldbot have solved this by learning how to assess first-party publisher data and not cookied user data. Since publisher data is by nature more valuable because it is first party, more scarce and harder to collect & organize, they can justifiably charge higher prices. This means that even with an increase in ad blocker use, publishers can more than recuperate revenue loss via CPM gains.

For years, publishers have been trying to do more with less. Assuming a $15 RPM, consider that a publisher must generate five million page views to earn a mere $75,000. That’s a lot of page views. No wonder publishers are willing to cram more and more ads on a page. They have to just to keep the lights on. Sadly, ad blocking requires publishers to do less with even less. It shouldn’t be that way.

Ask someone if they like ads, and you’ll see overwhelmingly negative responses. But advertising is additive to many experiences. The Super Bowl, Search, Vogue, our youth. When ads are relevant, people click on them. It’s that simple. Want more proof? Trillions of dollars of value has been created by people clicking on ads. Google, Facebook, ever hear of those companies? Built by people clicking on Ads. New York Times, yeah, built by ads. Ads add.

In reality, it’s easy for the industry to address the underlying issues and make ad blocking unnecessary and irrelevant.

  1. The creative has to work in its environment. If users are reading text, use text ads. If they are on a mobile device, use simple creatives that don’t slow down load times or create high bounce rates. People read content, so make ads readable. The “look and feel” argument will be a lot easier to make when you deliver greater performance, greater advertiser satisfaction, and greater campaign renewal rates.
  1. Avoid questionable cheap inventory. This is where bots and malware live, and it tends to be heavy in open exchanges. Premium, cultivated environments keep out bad actors and limit the chance of a consumer clicking on a seemingly legitimate advertiser’s ad only to have it be masked malware.
  1. Go beyond the cookie. It’s a mobile-first world, which means cookies are of limited and decreasing value anyway. But moving beyond the cookie in desktop also means that advertisers will be able to deliver more sales through cookieless solutions, shifting dollars away from campaigns that users find “creepy,” and away from third-party companies that don’t value the power of first-party publisher data.

Relevance and intent are the pathways toward a better ad experience. A better ad experience is the path to eliminating users’ desire to block ads. As an industry, we need to treat what truly ails of our online ecosystem – irrelevant, bad ads – and move toward a more robust, more relevant web.

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Tamir Lipton is VP of Business Development at Yieldbot. Tamir works collaboratively with sales, client services, and account management to nurture relationships with top-tier Publishers, Agencies, and Advertisers who believe that the best ad technology leads to the best ad performance.

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