There’s a new trend emerging in the world of online advertising, and it stands to not only severely hamper advertisers’ reach but also have a detrimental impact on content quality on websites. In the face of intrusive, gaudy ads on websites, users are increasingly installing ad-blocking software, such as Adblock Plus, to render their browsing experience ad-free. Adblock Plus, one of the most popular ad-blocking software, has been downloaded nearly 180 million times since it was born in 2007, with 3.5 million downloads coming in October 2012 itself. While consumers believe that using such software only betters their browsing experience without harming the websites—most believe websites are paid for ads only if they are clicked—the reality is that many websites are paid on a per-view basis. That is, they are paid when the ad is displayed. Using ad-blocking software, thus, amounts to going to a restaurant, eating and leaving without paying. The fall-out for websites is that advertising revenue falls, forcing sites to use more distasteful ads (‘looking for a girl in your area?’) or reduce their content in terms of quantity and quality. At the moment, around 9% of all page views come from browsers using ad-blocking software, and this number is estimated to grow sharply in the next few years. Sites are getting around this by (a) forcing you to watch ads (like the ones that play before a YouTube video) or (b) by offering subscriptions that then allow access to ad-free versions of the site. But these efforts are still limited.
The fault in all of this, if it can be called that, lies with advertisers. It is true that users have become immune to most online advertising, ignoring it as if it wasn’t there, but the reactionary move to this—intrusive and irritating ads—is what has driven users to ad-blocking software. It might be optimistic to hope that ads will go back to being more understated, but that may really be the only way out.