There are many words you could use to describe working in publishing in 2015 – Boring is not one of them. AdsNative CEO and co-founder Satish Polisetti was recently talking to someone at a large news organization who said the next 18 months are likely to be one of the craziest ever periods for anyone working in media.
He says issues from header bidding, ad visibility and fraud to the introduction of monster content platforms like Facebook Instant articles and Apple News are guaranteed to keep publishers challenged. And for Polisetti, head of a leading native advertising platform, figuring out how to deal with ad blocking is occupying much of publishing’s collective intellect.
First and foremost, this is because the problem is growing exponentially: Searches for ad-blocking solutions spiked in 2013 and have kept rising ever since.
The installed base of ad-blocking software is now estimated to be around 198 million monthly active users. And that is costing the industry real money, forecast to be more than $21 billion in 2015, or 14 percent of global ad spend. “All the money paid to DMPs to identify audience is lost, all that optimization for targeting is down the drain,” says Polisetti.
Blocking the adblocking
There are several companies suggesting workarounds that try to trick the ad blockers, and the cat-and-mouse game is sure to continue. Polisetti, however, is really keen for the industry to start thinking differently about solving the problem, seeing the long-term solution around a mix of creative and technology. AdsNative is the ad serving infrastructure company that allows publishers to monetize their websites/applications through visually integrated ads that blend with content and, for Polisetti, it’s important to think about ads as part of the actual site content.
“That means integrating the ad stack tightly with the CMS,” he says “Publishers such as BuzzFeed, Quartz and Politico have already set an example by doing sponsored content which is coupled into their CMS.”
He believes there are three clear motivations for ad blocking and the starting point to solving the problem is figuring out why people are using ad-blocking and to develop ad-serving solutions accordingly.
“We look back to the time before we had responsive design and we laugh… ‘What a stupid way to design pages’. We’ll do the same thing looking back to today, pages loading so slow, with so many scripts,” he says.
A second group are concerned primarily with the quality of the ads.
“Back when pop-ups crossed the line, browsers started to block them and now that’s an accepted feature. Now, with bad banners and autoplay video, advertisers are crossing the line again. Users are reacting and if the browser won’t do the job, then they’ll do it themselves,” Polisetti explains.
The third group simply hates online advertising.
“They think the web should be free. They don’t want to deal with any ads, no matter who they come from or in what format, and they don’t care that ads subsidise content.”
Polisetti doesn’t think there’s much anyone can do about this group, believing they are unlikely to change their minds. “The only real way to monetise them is through micro-donations, subscriptions or paywalls,” he says.
Luckily, this hard-core only counts for a minority of ad blockers. “I don’t think people inherently hate advertising. People get excited to see the first play of the Superbowl ad every year,” he says.
To win back the first two groups, whether they are blocking slow load times or bad banners, publishers need to concentrate on fixing the user experience. Polisetti says this is where publishers need to integrate ad server and CMS, addressing the problem of archaic ad stacks.
He says traditional ad servers are not open (e.g. DFP biased to AdX), not flexible and also rely on an oversimplified philosophy of allocating impressions instead of real-time, fair-market competition. “Publishers have limited tech resources and are hand-cuffed to the status quo. They are resorting to ‘hacky’ solutions which make their sites very slow.”
One of the worst is ‘Header Bidding’ with exchanges advising publishers to include tags in the header of their pages, allowing them to conduct bidding before the page loads. The problem is this slows the page even before a call to an ad server has been made, essentially putting revenue ahead of user experience.
Polisetti believes it’s important to think about ads as an integral part of a site’s content – integrating ad server and CMS. He thinks publishers should see native ads as the way forward, integrating advertising into user experience but also technology.
He sees server-to-server integration offering publishers the best way forward, securing revenues against ad-blocking and improving user experience. He explains that with server-to-server integration configured in the AdsNative system, when the page loads, the publisher’s web server calls the AdsNative server. The AdsNative server gets back with the meta-data of the creative – image, text, title, click URL – and the publisher server bundles the ad along with the content on the server side before sending it to the browser.
“The CMS calls content and advertising, it then builds and delivers the page to the browser as one without identifying the ad element separately,” he says. “If the ads are pre-rendered within the content from the CMS, there is nothing ad blockers can do about it.”
Polisetti is clear on the solution to the ad-blocking problem. “Publishers need to start integrating ad experiences within their sites and apps. They need to start focusing on users, delivering good creative that compliments rather than crashes the content stream and they need to invest in long-term technology solutions. This is a win-win situation for all parties involved – advertisers, publishers and users. That will kill ad blocking once and for all.”
Image courtesy of Sonny Abesamis via Flickr used under a Creative Commons license.