Fifteen years ago, on October 23rd 2000, Google AdWords was released. While its initial growth was slow, it marked an important president. Google was no longer just a search engine, now it was a platform for targeted advertising.
Until that point, advertising had been limited to individual, often free, websites. This meant that avoiding them was simple case of avoiding those websites, or signing upto a premium version of the service which then removed the adverts. It was just part of the way things worked.
However, with these new Google adverts, there was no escape. This caused a riot within the SEO community, where companies had paid tens of thousands to get to the top of search rankings, only to find themselves usurped by smaller companies who pushed their marketing budgets into the new Google service.
Two years later…
Henrick Aasted Sørensen was an unknown student based in Copenhagen, Sweden.
In an effort to ‘distract himself from his studies’, he wrote an extension for a new open-source web-browser called Pheonix (this was later renamed to Firefox). This software essentially read inputs from web pages and checked them against a list of known advertisers, then hid the inputs which got a ‘hit’. Technically the adverts were not removed, it just meant they did not appear on the page.
“I remember it as a runaway success from day one, which caught me quite by surprise … One thing that stands out as funny in retrospect is how giddy it made me when Adblock got a front page mention on a website that dealt with Mozilla technology. Of course, Adblock has been mentioned in far bigger publications since then” (Henrick Sørensen)
With Firefox being open-source, Sørensen never made any money from the original project, but the idea was soon picked up by Eyeo, a German company who developed the idea, with plans to move onto other platforms.
In December 2010, on the first day that Google allowed extensions for their browser, they released Adblock Plus for Chrome. It was released for Android devices in November 2012, Internet Explorer in August 2013 and Safari in January 2014. On September 2015 AdBlock Plus even released their own browser (called ‘The AdBlock Browser’ – trust the Germans for being so literal!) and in April 2016 the company was ranked as the top German Startup by StartupRanking.
Good things AdBlock has done
Who remembers pop-ups? Back in the early 2000’s they were everywhere, and malware was a far bigger issue. Computers were constantly bombarded by programs trying to break their machine: key loggers; Trojans; data worms; backdoor hacks and recreation of popular pages such as Ebay with the intent to ‘phish’ for data were a regular occurrence.
It wasn’t only hackers that were bombarding internet users though: the advertising industry as a whole had taken quite an aggressive and demanding stance. The hungry uptake of these services has, in no small part, been a direct result of this strategy.
Stephan Loerke, CEO, World Federation of Advertisers explains: “We have heard the message loud and clear: an increasing number of people aren’t satisfied with the online ad experience, and they’re voting with their feet. The ad industry needs to better understand what is driving them to opt for ad-blocking, and address the underlying issues head-on.”
Today, the majority of malware and aggressive marketing tactics (such as automatic software downloads) are a thing of the past. In part this is because of an effort to improve web roaming and a large movement to prosecute those who commit online fraud, but largely because of Adblock software.
Bad things AdBlock has caused
The problem with great ideas is that somebody usually gets hurt, and often it is the people who are most vulnerable. Of course Google would probably disagree: Pagefair estimates that they lost $6.6 Billion in global revenue due to AdBlockers in 2014, with this figure growing significantly year-on-year.
A large quantity of AdWords users, however, are not large companies but smaller companies. These companies have fewer established routes to market and are therefore far more reliant on digital advertising to keep their business afloat. With fewer adverts displaying, competition will increase, and smaller players will be priced out of the market. To a certain extent this is already happening, with adverts for lawyer and insurance-based services seeing a sharp increase in the cost-per-click (the phrase ‘best mesothelioma lawyer’ recently cost over $935 for a SINGLE CLICK – data provided by SEMRush, May 2016).
The Road Ahead
This area is one which has been watched extremely closely by large businesses. The data shows some interesting results: firstly a far higher proportion of younger people use AdBlock services – 63% of US millennials use the service according to a study by Fractl and Moz, as opposed to 16% of the total online US population. A report issued by the Internet Advertising Bureau (IAB) also showed that men are twice as likely to be blocking adverts than women.
Globally, AdBlock had a growth rate of 41% in 2015 and is estimated to cost publishers $22bn per year (report by Adobe and PageFair). In the UK, ad blocking grew by 82% (12m active users) between June 2014 and June 2015.
As an intelligent and constantly evolving industry, advertisers have made moves to limit the damage of AdBlock uptake. In 2013, Google were one of many giant businesses to sign an agreement with AdBlock Plus, so that some of their adverts would be whitelisted – in accordance with AdBlock Plus guidelines.
Apple too have used the opportunity to show their support for the idea. They are now developing advanced content filtering to provide greater AdBlocking features for their users.
Of course, the future is tough to predict, but one thing at least is certain – AdBlocker software is extremely popular and presents a real and present danger for retail industries that rely too heavily upon it.
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