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Every day we are exposed to 5,000 ads either through Internet, TV or printed magazines. Did that number scare you? Fortunately, this is only urban myth. I don’t know what the real number is, but it will be much lower. Anyway, I have a question for you. In case you own a website of any kind, do you display advertisement there? Or, as a regular web reader, do you use any ad blocker or similar extension? Whether you do or not, advertising on the web became a hot and serious topic. In this post, I want to inspire you to think about it from different views.
Couple weeks went by since we heard any new opinions or critiques on ad blockers used by people in their browsers. Truth to be said, the majority of these opinions were predominantly coming from people involved either in advertising or web design. From this point of view, we can debate whether are these objections legitimate or not. However, they are at least understandable. Both of these parties are involved in the topic. One create the content, second design where and how it will be shown. What’s interesting is that they are not on the same boat. At least not all of them.
We can, without any doubt, divide these people into two groups. One group stands on the side of users. This group supports using ad blocking extensions on the Web and even encourages it. The second one is trying hard to convince the user and people in the first group to stop what they are doing. Honest, they do it mostly because they are losing their money. Yes, when you use some ad blocking extension you are basically cutting off the profits of website owner and owner of that advertisement. This is the main point behind this mess. However, there is much more to it.
Web Is Not Print
The first and one of the most important things I want to point out right in the beginning is that Web is not print. Surprise! Even though these two mediums look similar, they are different. The problem is that we are often overlooking these, sometimes subtle, differences. One of these differences is that majority of information on the Web are free. This is can’t be said about print, at least not in all situations. Meaning, if you want to read a magazine or newspaper you have to buy it. In other words, you have to pay for every piece of information you will get from that medium.
On the other hand, when you open your browser and visit a website, the majority of information is right there on the spot. Everything for free or at least a piece of it. This is, I think, where the main problem is, where Web and print divide. In case of print, even though publishers include advertisements in their publications, they are also charging you certain amount of money. That’s the untold agreement between you and publishers. Unfortunately, publishers and not only them are trying the same strategy on the Web as well. Without success so far.
Said in the simplest form, big chunk of Internet users is not accustomed to pay for information they find. Similar thing, in a smaller degree, applies to music industry. Why should you pay for whole CD if you can either pay for services such as Spotify or listen to the radio for free or buy just the songs you like. Let’s also mention the often not addressed option in the form of piracy. You can sideways and get what you want illegally. Anyway, back to print and Web.
Next important thing to mention is that even browsers are starting to play against advertisers and publishers. The ability to use your browser in incognito or anonymous mode has been there for a while, but Mozilla took it further. Now, if you use developer version of Firefox browser, you can use tracking protection feature. Is this as powerful as available ad blocking extensions? I don’t know. However, it is at least saying where browser vendors are standing.
Bad for Business Good for Users (Or Not?)
I mentioned in the beginning that web professionals such as designers, developer, etc. are mostly standing on the side of users using ad blockers. The question is: why? The shortest answer I can give you is this. Performance. The more is the website filled with ads the longer it usually takes to load it. This is kind of double-edged sword. On one hand, website owners want to increase and optimize the loading speed as much as possible. On the other, they are also displaying various advertisements to cover the expenses running a website brings and also to make money aside.
The paradox of this situation is that the longer it takes the website to load the less like will users wait for it and come back. This means that any advertisement displayed on the website will be seen by smaller number of people and, consequently, smaller number of people will click on it. As a result, advertiser and website owner will make less money. What would happen if they would use “less is more” philosophy? Well, with smaller number of ads and amount of bits to be transferred, website would load faster. As a result, bounce rate would probably drop and overall user experience would get better.
In case this hypothesis s right, why it is not already applied? There may be several reasons. What exactly these reasons are and whether are they plausible I will leave for someone else to answer. What I want to point out is that reducing the amount of advertisement you as an owner display on your website is actually good for your business. Believe it or not, the less stuffed and cluttered will your website be the more money you will be able to make in the long term.
The equation is simple. Less ads equals faster website. Faster website and, I hope, user-friendly design equals more happy visitors. Happy visitors equals less bounce rate and more sessions. These KPIs will help your website rank better in search results thus bringing you even more visitors. Let’s add some math on the top … The more visitors your website will have the higher the probability of someone clicking on some of your ad will be. To sum it up, less ads on your website will result in more money on your account. Does it sound too good to be truth?
Web and Democracy
Another point to make is a bit more philosophical. Yes, you can read what do you want, but you also have to watch ads that we want. Well, not exactly. We, or the majority of us, are living in a democracy. Meaning, you are free to choose what content do you want to consume. Does this also apply to blocking advertisements you don’t like? Should it apply? Who can decide what the answer is or should be. There is no neutral third party. Well, except the government.
Problem with the idea of government forcing one solution over another is that there will be some groups of people rejecting it. There is always this group of rebels. What we also have to consider is the scope at which government can force such a decisions. Take a look at China and their firewall. How successful are they with preventing Chinese citizens from accessing “restricted” content? No matter how much effort local government make, people who don’t want to be restricted will always find their ways around.
In this sense, it would be questionable whether government restriction or regulation would change anything. Also, it would create interesting case about democracy and freedom everyone living in this political system has. Hypothetically, after agreeing on applying such a regulation what would be the next government could “agree” on? Fortunately for Web user, Internet is hard to restrict and regulate and no government has such a power, yet. Just think about the silk road.
Web, Advertising and the Future
Government-forced solution is, I guess out of question. It would only make things worse and many people angry. What’s more, it wouldn’t be neutral. One group, the publishers and admen, would get much more from it and user would be the one left with scars. There are two things that will not change in foreseeable time. First, people want access to information in some form. Second, publishers have to make money in order to be able to provide people with that content. From this point of view, the best solution would be a mutual consensus.
It is only through such a consensus between content creators and publishers and content consumers we can find a way from this loop. Nothing else have better chance to work while doing the less harm possible to either of parties involved. The question that remains unanswered is if content creators and publishers will accept this solution as a one possible way to solve this puzzle. What am I certain about is that “solutions” that include pushing one group to the wall is not the road we should go. History showed us the best that forcing one into something almost never worked or at least it not worked as well and for a long time.
We have to understand that this is not a war, Web is not a battlefield and content creators and consumers are not enemies standing on opposite sides. Pointing a finger on advertisers and making them look bad for the work they are doing is also not a solution. In the end, we should remember that we are all actually on the same side, we just may not either see it or believe it. Only by acknowledging this, we can solve this problem and prepare foundation for the future where we all will co-exist and flourish. Future where we will not only survive, but thrive.
Disclosure and Food for Thought
Before leaving you I have to make full disclosure. I use ad blocking extensions and incognito mode is a default mode I use for browsing. If the fact that I don’t want to be distracted by flashy banners while reading some article online means I will have to make some sacrifice, I can accept that. It can be result of buying my favorite magazines when I was a kid, but I am willing to pay for content I like to read. If you think about it, this goes much wider than just magazines (I don’t read a newspaper).
What I mean is that books are content as well and we are pretty okay with paying for them. Sure, you can go to the bookstore and sit there for a whole day while reading something “for free”. Or you can go through irregular channels. However, what it is that makes it so different? Why we are willing to voluntarily pay for books (We even buy and give books as gifts!) while refusing to pay for content on the Web? Are books different or more valuable than the rest of the content?
Honestly, I don’t think there is much difference. Books, magazines or articles on the Web. Unless you read some real crap, they are all the same. They all required some effort and work from authors. Yes, some required more effort and time and some less. However, in the end none of it just “appeared” from nowhere. Every piece of information was created as a consequence of someone’s work. Why should we deny rewards to these creatives? Does it really matter in what form the content comes? If so, why? The only important thing should be truthfulness and usability of the information. Nothing else.
Closing thoughts on web and ads
First, let me thank you for spending your time with me and being involved in this discussion, even if it was only in your mind. Without any doubt, as a Web user, you have the right to decide about what content do you want to see and what not. That being said, there are also consequences you have to acknowledge and accept. For example, if you are not willing to look at ads on the Web and you are also not willing to pay for the content (subscriptions, etc.), don’t be surprised when the publisher will have to “close” the store.
What are your thoughts on this subject?
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