The ongoing battle between native advertising and adblock software is a war, but not the end of the world, or even the Internet. It is a technological arms race between advertisers and those seeking to surf the web without ever encountering commercial messages.
Adblock isn’t a new concept by any means, with the original version launching in 2004. Millions of people have installed it, and while many more millions have not, it is getting more and more popular. According to the New York Times, about 200 million Internet users use it. That leaves at least 800 million who do not – as of today.
Apple’s introduction of iOS 9 for mobile phones used Safari extensions to block ads. That means many more web browsers do not see typical web ads, but Google, whose main source of revenue is advertising, is the target. The online advertising industry is responding by increasing the use of native advertising. This is hardly new, but, like Adblock browser extensions, is growing in popularity.
Native advertising is advertising that matches the form and function of the platform upon which it appears. Native advertising content runs on the host site’s domain. It may contain links to the advertiser’s landing page, but plenty of content articles also contain links to other sites. Done in a deceptive manner, this can backfire on companies. It can upset consumers to find out they thought a “legitimate” article was actually an advertisement.
However, when done properly, native advertising can benefit everyone. It provides consumers with content that is helpful, entertaining, or educational. People don’t want businesses interrupting their online activities. They want valuable content that they can learn or take something away from at their own discretion.
Native advertising is hard to detect with blunt tools like Adblock extensions. These fairly primitive extensions cannot read and detect ads from other content. Instead, the extensions simply block all content from known advertising network domains. In other words, they get the obvious ads, but miss the not-so-obvious. Also, the adblockers can’t follow every link and then evaluate those pages. Most internet users want their new pages to load quickly, so if their adblock extensions slow down their online speed, most will opt to see the ads.
Native advertising works best on sites where the content looks natural. In one way, ad blocking will make native advertising more cumbersome, but also more effective. Businesses pay ad networks to place their banner and display ads on any and all popular sites. Because adblock extensions will block content from ad networks, native advertising will need a more private arrangement. This will force advertisers to become more discriminatory about where their content appears, which will make audience targeting more effective.
Given the banner blindness of most Internet browsers and low click-through rates for ordinary ads, combined with the higher effectiveness of intelligent and well-targeted native advertising, businesses may wind up thanking the adblock developers.
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