The ad block wall: How anti-adblock popups harm UX and ad revenue
August 17, 2023
To ad block wall or not to ad block wall? Though it doesn’t have the same ring as Hamlet’s original soliloquy, it’s the million-dollar (in some cases, quite literally) question facing publishers today. As ad block users increase, publishers scramble for methods to recover lost revenue and maintain business continuity. Adblock walls - also known as anti-ad block popups - is one such method employed by 17% of major US publishers. But do these walls work? What do they really accomplish? In this blog post, we delve into ad block walls and how they can cause more harm than good for publishers.
What are ad block walls?
Ad-block walls are virtual “walls” that prevent ad-block users from viewing a website’s content. Users who do not have adblockers installed can access the content without any issues. However, users with adblockers installed face anti-adblock popups when attempting to enter the website. Typically, the popups ask users to disable their adblocker or add the website to the adblocker’s whitelist (list of approved websites). Some popups will request a supportive action for the website, such as subscribing to their newsletter, in exchange for temporarily viewing the site without ads. If the ad block user does not comply with the request, the site will continuously deny entry. Ad block walls are instilled by publishers looking to recover ad revenue losses caused by ad blockers.
Do ad blockers block ad block walls?
To determine whether ad block walls can successfully recover lost ad revenue, we first need to consider how often ad block users actually face anti-adblock popups. After all, ad blockers are highly effective at blocking ad popups - so do they also block anti-ad block popups?
The answer is: occasionally no, but mainly yes. Back in 2018, a representative from Eyeo (Adblock Plus) told Vice that, while it would be “technically … very easy to bypass the ad blocking walls”, Adblock Plus allows their presence because “websites need advertising to fund their team and development.” Similarly, Adblock (a different ad blocker from Adblock Plus) allows ad block walls, echoing Adblock Plus’ justification that blocking them could infringe on publishers’ rights. However, Adblock Plus and Adblock’s policies are outliers. Other prominent ad blockers, including AdGuard, Brave Browser, and uBlock Origin all block ad block walls; moreover, countless browser extensions dedicated to blocking ad block walls are readily available for users. Our research shows that anti-add block popups work properly for only 30-50% of ad block users, depending on the website’s characteristics (ie. mobile/desktop ratio).
How do users react to ad block walls?
Surveys reveal that the 30-50% of ad block users forced to interact with ad block walls are deeply unsatisfied. When a soft (dismissible) ad block wall is displayed to users, only 16% turn off their ad blockers. A whopping 68% decline; 12% leave the website; and 4% are aggrieved to the point of searching for a stronger ad blocker. The adblock recovery rate is undoubtedly better for hard (non-dismissible) ad block walls, at 62%. However, the percentage of users exiting the site more than doubles to 26%, and the percentage of users searching for stronger ad blockers triples to 12%. The increase in users searching for stronger ad blockers causes long-term losses for publishers, considering new blockers could block not only ad block walls but other recovery methods. Consequently, publishers unwilling to sacrifice UX and user retention do not use ad block walls as a recovery strategy.
How much revenue is recovered via ad block walls?
As mentioned above, 62% of ad block users comply and turn off their ad blockers when faced with hard ad block walls. But that doesn't mean hard ad block walls recover 62% of lost ad revenue. Remember, ad block walls only work for 30-50% of ad block users. So the 62% recovery rate only applies to the 50% (at most) of ad block users who failed to bypass the ad block wall. In the all-around best-case scenario of 100,000 ad blocker web visitors, only 50,000 are actually stopped by the ad block wall, and only 31,000 remain as ad impressions. In other words, the best possible short-term yields for ad block walls are only about 30%. And that's without considering the significant long-term costs of user turnover and additional ad blocker installations that come with an ad block wall’s intrusive UX.
Though 30% is far from ideal, it’s possible that this rate is still higher than other methods. Admiral, an ad block wall solution, claims to generate 7.3 times more recovered revenue than Acceptable Ads, AdBlock Plus’ controversial ad filter program. But, like the 30% recovery rate, the increase in revenue is fleeting. While the initial revenue recovered through ad block walls increases, it gradually decreases over time as users who initially complied later result in adding filters to block ads.
Strategies for sustainable growth
We’ve examined how ad block walls can recover revenue for publishers prioritizing immediate, short-term recovery. But what about strategies around long-term, sustainable growth and recovery?
For publishers wanting long-term results, Ad-Shield provides a next-generation ad block recovery solution that consistently recovers 90% of ad-blocked impressions. That’s over three times the best-case-scenario, short-term recovery rate for ad block walls. We understand the power and consequences of UX, so our technology recovers ads without bothering your users in any way. To learn more, reach out to our team of experts now - we’re just a click away.