Publishers should seize the opportunity that exists outside of ad blocking

Ben Barokas, CEO and Co-Founder, Sourcepoint, says publishers should ‘look beyond ad block and ensure that their efforts to engage their users address their entire audience’

Over the last few years, publishers have been increasingly aware of the impact resulting from ad block usage. While the rate of ad blocker adoption appears to be slowing – with eMarketer scaling back its estimates for the total number of US ad block users from 86 million to 75.1 million this year – the software is still used by over a quarter of internet users and with recent news about Google Chrome potentially developing built-in ad block capabilities has brought the issue back to the forefront. The cost to publishers is expected to reach $27 billion globally by 2020, so it’s easy to see why publisher have been so focused on addressing ad blocker users in an attempt to safeguard revenues.

But if their efforts continue to  solely focus on the users of ad block software, publishers are failing to recognize the greater opportunity that exists if they expand their view to the wider audience. Ad block adoption is merely a symptom of deeper issues; one of which is the strained relationship between publishers and their audiences caused by a lack of understanding about the value exchange that exists between online advertising and content consumption.  And while this issue is most acutely observed in the users who download ad blocking software, it applies to all internet users. Ask any group of consumers – from a room full of friends to an office full of colleagues – about their feelings towards online advertising, the overall sentiment is likely to be negative and this is something that must be addressed.

So how can publishers take advantage of the opportunity that exists beyond ad blocking and improve relationships across their entire audience, not just those who have resorted to ad blockers?

Make the value exchange more explicit

The first step in engaging the non-ad blocking audience is to open up a conversation about content compensation, educating them on the role advertising traditionally plays in funding online publishing and the necessity to pay for content in one form or another.

Internet users are already moving into a phase of compensation awareness as they begin to understand online content is not actually free. Reports of politically-motivated New York Times subscriber base expansion and ‘sponsor a subscription’ programs for students, are amplifying awareness of the existence of paid access models for news brands, and the steep rise in Spotify subscribers indicates consumers are increasingly willing to pay for ad-free audio content.

To further educate audiences and engage them in conversation around content compensation, publishers can deploy bespoke messaging, tailored to their own brands and to specific audience segment preferences. By using tools that allow them to undertake A/B testing, publishers can determine the optimal message wording and design to drive results with particular audience segments, for instance tailoring their messaging to ad block and non-ad block users. Many publishers have already started this process, with publishers like The Atlantic delivering messaging that asks readers to either whitelist their site or take up a paid subscription.

Provide content compensation alternatives

Alongside making wider audiences aware of the necessity of paying for the content they consume, publishers should consider offering their users a variety of choices in how to pay. In a recent trial by major UK consumer publisher Dennis, audience messaging that featured multiple compensation options boosted user engagement by an average of 61%.

The options presented to audiences can still include ad-supported models such as opting into advertising, as many users will choose to view advertising rather than providing direct financial compensation. In further results from the Dennis trial, 57% of users opted to continue their visit with ads enabled, while 38% of users chose to add the publisher’s site to their ad block whitelist when presented with messaging.

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Other options to present to audiences could include macro payments, where a monthly subscription provides access to a broad range of content, and micro payments where one-off fees are charged for individual articles or videos. Publishers could also look for specific alternatives that suit their business models, such as watching a single video to completion or filling in a survey in return for ad-free access to content.

While we await the next challenge for online publishing, it’s clear that publishers must take the opportunity to look beyond ad block and ensure that their efforts to engage their users address their entire audience. By engaging this wider audience – and offering choice, control, and flexibility in content compensation – a balanced and sustainable media ecosystem is achievable for all.

Barokas is the CEO and co-founder of Sourcepoint, a platform built for publishers, which provides the data needed to make informed decisions about content compensation.

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