Why I block ads

... and how to fix it

Dear Content Producers, Advertisers, and Publishers:

You might be interested to know why I block ads. In fact, since I'm pretty typical of the hundreds of thousands of geeks out there who have convinced their friends and family to block ads -- well... do some quick math and you'll find that you should be very interested in why I block ads.

Actually, you know what? Rather than address you all, let's make this easier. I'll split you up into three groups and I'll explain to each of you. Go on, get over by that wall and line up.

OK, first up 1999-era Slashdot, Something Awful, Metafilter, car forums, etc. -- you guys stand over there under the banner that says "Community Sites".

Congratulations. You've found the winning lottery ticket. You're there because you've reached critical mass. You have a community of smart, knowledgeable, engaging users that I want to join, participate with, or at least read the content that they write. You don't have to do that much work, and yet I'll happily pay. A couple bucks for a membership fee or a dollar or two a month. You're a small group of sites, but you're indispensible. Give me a way to subscribe and you'll get my money. In return you have to -- and I'm serious about this -- make sure you NEVER show me an ad. Not one. No no, you don't get to bargain on this one. You're good enough that I want to use your site, and I want to engage with you (and remember: my contribution is your content, so I'm paying you in time too). Keep the site well-updated (software-wise), keep it running smoothly, and act like a good steward of the property and I'll keep paying. But all that comes with the stipulation that you don't get to show me ads. If you have funding issues we can talk. I think you'll find that people who consider themselves members of your community will feel a sense of camaraderie and will actually be pretty flexible in terms of working out an arrangement that lets you keep the lights on. But no ads. You show ads, we leave and turn out the lights behind us.

Alright the rest of you standing there? When I say "content is king" how many of you think that top-10 lists make for great content? User-submitted how-tos? User-uploaded GIFs? Raise your hands!

Great, now everyone who didn't raise their hand, please go stand under the banner that reads "Professional Content". Yes, that's you LWN. And you, The Truth About Cars. Jalopnik, you can stand there too. AnandTech? I'm talking to you my friend. And the one or two authors brandishing portfolios of longform articles and trying to cover up where it says "Buzzfeed" your ID badge... you can stand there too. I know: "any job that pays", I get it. You don't have to be ashamed, we know you're not like the rest of the site.

I'd be willing to pay for your content, but sadly I don't read you regularly enough for that to matter. So paywalling your content is not going to help much, I'm afraid. (Note: this would be why the NY Times is standing over there in a corner shooting holes in its feet and sobbing to itself.)

Don't worry though, you guys have good content! And I do read it when I get linked to it! I just block ads because your ads are not your content, and your ads suck. If you put even half as much thought into your advertisements as you did your content, I'd reconsider. No, a third party ad network that scans the page's content and serves up a "relevant" ad does not count. Especially because its ad-selection algorithm will inevitably knock back a bottle of tequila and spontaneously decide that the most relevant ad category for a long form article about monetary policy is "porn malware". Not cool.

So what do you have to do to get me to stop blocking ads?

  1. Pick ads that are relevant to the interests of the readers who are reading the content. "But how do we know what's relevant?" I hear you ask. Well, now's the time to make that "dialogue with your readers" more than just a bad joke that you tell to advertising execs.
  2. No animation on your ads. Ever. I am coming to your site to read something. Animation distracts me from that. Distracting me from reading your content is the opposite of what you want. Serve ads from your domain. If you make me play a game of reverse whack-a-mole trying to figure out what ad servers to whitelist, I won't bother.
  3. Serve the ads from your servers and I won't need to do that. And if you don't serve animated or otherwise moving ads, the bandwidth costs will be minimal (see #2). That's it. Do that, and I'm happy to throw some cash your way in terms of ad revenue. Hell, if you pick the ads right I might even add to your conversion numbers. Provides good motivation to actually do the ad selection by hand, no?

OK, the rest of you? Yes, that's you Buzzfeed. WikiHow! Don't try to sneak away, get back there with the rest of the group. CNET? Yeah, it's not 1999 pal -- I'm talking to you too nowadays. OK, I want all of you to stand over under the banner marked "Good Luck".

See when I hit your site it's never a direct hit. I never go to you to start my search for something. You always get my view via a deep link to a specific bit of content. And even then, it's for one of three reasons:

Nobody else had a better, more in-depth review of something and reading your article is better than me repeatedly mashing my head against the mouse and hoping I order the best from Amazon Someone sent me a link, and I figured I owed it to them to check it out. You had a page title that sounded like what I actually wanted, and I didn't realize it wasn't that until I went to your site. You are, to put it gently, proper fucked.

You can put up ads. I will block them. You can try to make them sneakier. Smarter people will improve their software, and I will block them. You can start to embrace "native advertising", which actually might improve the quality of your content a bit... but not enough that #3 won't hold true. And -- if you do continue to try to get more and more in my face with ads -- I will simply block your entire domain.

Then, when I accidentally click on a link to your site, I'll get exactly what I get when I hit SourceForge: a notice reminding me that my ad blocker is blocking that due to a user-supplied filter.

Then I'll say to myself "Oh yeah. Forgot about that. Screw those guys." and I will go somewhere else.

Now you may be wondering how you are supposed to get revenue in that case.

Actually, you're probably mentally writing me off as a freeloader, asshole, etc. I know. I would too.

But you don't have to! You can still get money from me. You know how?

You can be good enough to stand with the "Professional Content" group. So get your act together. Lists are cheap to produce, I know. But cheap ain't free, and you're not gonna be able to do that without ad revenue. So get it together, start churning out real, in-depth content, start building meaningful relationships with the community and we can stop fighting.

So there it is. I block ads. That's why. I'm happy to pay for good content with either money or impressions for relevant, non-invasive ads. But anything else? You will lose. Sorry. But that's how it's going to be.

Let's work together on this, OK?


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