Markus Karlsson, CEO and founder of business platform provider Affino, says the publishing industry still hasn’t grasped the full extent of the problems it faces from ad blocking. In a recent study of PC-based ad-blocking among a combined audience of 2.4 million people across 12 of its UK publishing clients, Affino found that 36 percent was actively blocking ads.

“We’re stunned that people aren’t doing more about this,” he says, “The whole set up publishers have is compromised.”

Affino was founded in London in 2009 to deliver technology and consultancy to digital business owners. It supplies an SaaS single-source publishing solution that integrates CMS and CRM with a single customer view for personalisation, sales and marketing automation, ecommerce and site analytics and has developed an in-depth audit for clients, evaluating the impact of blocking technology.

Karlsson explains that he and his colleagues first became aware of the ad-blocking problem a couple of years ago and is concerned that it has taken so long for the penny to drop. He is happy that publishers have finally woken up to the issue of ad blocking, and that the industry appears to be coming to accept that it has to do something about intrusive online display advertising. “Even the IAB has apologised,” he says.

But he is also concerned that publishers don’t appreciate the full range of reasons behind the growth in the adoption of ad blocking technology. Ad blocking became popular as a way of improving the browsing experience, stripping out slow-loading, unwanted advertising. Now, annoying ads are not the only thing being blocked.

Privacy concerns are an issue, with people wary of being tracked according to their behaviours. And un-regulated digital advertising also poses the risk of infection from malware, as highlighted by the experience of Economist readers impacted on Halloween by a PageFair hack.

“I can’t blame consumers for using ‘protection’, says Karlsson.

The publisher’s perspective

Karlsson explains that while ad-blockers may be offering the audience protection from unwanted and unsafe advertising, they are also compromising user experience, at least from the publisher’s perspective. Consumers are simply not seeing the site publishers think they’re producing.

Smart ad blockers have moved on from 3rd part cookies and Flash and are now targeting GIFs, HTML5, scripts and keywords commonly associated with advertising. Images, buy buttons, share buttons, sign ups, all are getting blocked, he says. “Publishers are serving a broken experience.”

Analytics blocking is also a problem for publishers with many unaware that they have only been tracking 40 percent of their audience. “They have no idea what a very savvy 40 percent of their audience is doing across their properties; they are modelling all their engagement on the 60 percent that aren’t blocking tracking,” Karlsson explains.

Affino client TTG Media went into a platform migration believing their traffic was in the region of 250,000 visits a month, with their biggest competitor claiming higher numbers. Moving on to the Affino platform, TTG was able to report 360,000 visits through Google Analytics, a rise of 44 percent. Using Affino’s own metrics, the site recorded 600,000 visits.

“There are 800 different ways that the average ad-blocker blocks Google Analytics. We know exactly the number of pages being served to humans through Affino,” says Karlsson, “Analytics can’t be blocked because the system counts the pages it serves.”

Fast and accurate

In implementing Affino for publishers, TTG Media has also benefitted from improved site performance. In a case study presented at the B2B Media Strategies conference, Karlsson compared the new TTG Media site to a popular UK media brand site. The conventionally built page took 20 seconds to download 20MB with thousands of errors in delivering the page, compared with the TTG page at 4MB delivered in in less than two seconds, error free.

“The conventional page is built on 30 different platforms, none of whom care about each other, or want their code to work with each other, and it’s all sourced from different places,” he explained. “In contrast, the TTG site delivers 3MB in a couple of seconds including tracking, targeted ads and personalised content. Because we do that in the same space as we serve up the page, it takes no time at all.”

A lot of the background to the work that Affino is now bringing to market, was developed for Angry Birds creator Rovio, supporting campaigns to 100 million people and making the whole experience work for a variety of content types from a single sign on. “The big thing I took away from working with Angry Birds was that speed is all important, especially on mobile or tablet. You have to deliver very quickly.”

“Alongside accurate reporting, TTG now has full delivery, all ads, all communications, all profiling to their entire audience, not to 60 percent of their page views. That’s a really big deal,” says Karlsson.

He believes publishers and advertisers really have to wake up to the fact that they are living through a paradigm shift where the current publishing model no longer works. “We try to teach people to overcome the problem, but they often don’t realise they have a problem. It’s a car crash, they just don’t know it yet.”

“We don’t know of anyone else doing what we are doing. If people solve the blocking problem using Affino, I’ll obviously be delighted. But if they find another solution that makes the web better, that’s a win for everyone.”