If the websites we love so much require advertising to survive, why are so many of us using adblockers?

Inevitably I spend an awful lot time on the internet, and a lot of that is spent looking at news, gossip, information and god knows what else. I also use an adblocker. Over the last few weeks I’ve been reading more about the debate around the adblockers. The Culture Secretary, John Whittingdale, compared adblocking services to ‘a modern-day protection racket’ as some companies can pay to have their site white listed.

I’ve spent the last couple of weeks thinking about where I stand on adblockers, and why I use one. Do I object to sites advertising? Is it a problem of those sites collecting data about me through the use of cookies? Is it because the idea of targeted advertising worries me? To be honest I’ve come to conclusion it’s none of those things. It’s because the ads are usually rubbish.

Think about it. When was the last time you saw an advert online that you can remember clearly, let alone liked? Online advertising isn’t like other traditional forms of advertising. The space is usually cramped and has low impact. I turn the ads off because I know I’ve had ones that have affected my experience of visiting a site. That may be a rollover that pops up when you move your mouse over the wrong thing, or a gaudily flashing banner that induces a headache. Or maybe worse still it’s an unwanted video that starts playing automatically.

This was annoying people before mobile usage. So now that you have to use up your possibly tiny data allowance on downloading something that is going to annoy the hell out of you, there’s even more reason to block them.

There is, however, a problem. These sites we love so much and visit every day, need the advertisers in order to make any money. With more of us blocking the adverts, the websites have to go one of two ways. They either put their content behind the paywall, which can only be successful if the publisher has deep pockets in order to sustain the website while it builds up its subscription base. Alternatively they end up making the content less valuable, as they need to use more salacious and cheaper content in order to draw in audiences big enough to justify the advertising.

Recently a number of websites have been trying to make a deal with their readers. They understand ads are annoying, but they are necessary for the website to continue, so as a reader you can either turn off the adblocking for their site, or pay a subscription to have the site ad free.

This seems to be a fair enough deal. However, I have a problem with it. The ads are still generally rubbish. They still annoy me, and they are detrimental to the user experience.

There is a responsibility on the reader to accept that on some level there is a price to pay when reading someone’s content. There’s also a responsibility on the part of the publisher to make the experience as good as possible, which means looking at both content and design.

However there seems to be one part of this particular triangle that is missing. The advertisers. Stop making rubbishy and annoying ads. If the model doesn’t work, look at changing it. If the real estate available is worthless, look for something else.

Two possible suggestions for a way forward are:

The subscription model

One of the things modern marketers love above all else is data. Good quality data. I would suggest a sort of paywall. But rather than paying in money the reader pays in data by signing up to a free subscription, one that allows a weekly or monthly email to be sent with advertiser messages and offers. This allows for greater segmentation, more accurate data on click throughs and site visits. It allows the site to build up the one thing of real value to advertisers, a mailing list. It also costs the reader almost nothing.

The redirect

If we accept that ads are a necessary evil, wouldn’t it be better to offer a reasonable space to advertisers? This could be done by offering a full web page for them to create an advert that the user would see before the content is loaded, say a 5-10 second spot.

The proviso on this is that the advert would only be shown if the user was on wifi, rather than mobile data. After all as a publisher, I don’t want my users wasting their meagre data allowances on adverts.

I’m sure there are lots more solutions out there. What are yours?