How do you make money from a website? It’s a question that’s haunted marketers and content creators alike for years now. Unless you’re selling a physical product, most people aren’t willing to pay for written content or digital services. As a result, it falls to advertisers to make up the cost of hosting millions of users a day.
The portents for online advertising, however, are not good. We all know about the rise of adblocking, but marketers and end users seem to be testing each other’s limits. Desktop adblocking software had been downloaded over 500m times by 2016, while mobile adblocking was also catching up, with almost 420m devices reporting some kind of ad obstruction.
As more and more traffic moves to mobile, where screen real estate is at a premium, things seems to be coming to a head. The question is this: can advertising find a way to be effective and user friendly, or is a different approach to online revenue required?
Today, this post on Brand Republic revealed that one in five adults, or 22% of British internet users, are using ad-blockers. The number is surprising, and for the websites that rely on banner advertising and brand partnerships, very worrying. The internet as we know it, filled to the brim with free content, faces a serious threat if people reject the advertising that keeps it running.
Many websites now ask ad-blocker users to turn the software off in order to support them, while others even make their content inaccessible if the blockers are running. Guy Phillipson, UK chief executive of the IAB, is quoted in the article saying –
“Part of the solution to tackle ad-blocking lies in making consumers more aware of the consequences, which seems like it’s starting to filter through. If they realise it means they can’t access content or that to do so requires paying for it, then they might stop using ad-blockers. It requires reinforcing this ‘trade-off’ message – ads help to fund the content they enjoy for free.”
This is certainly a factor – consumers will have to compromise if they want to enjoy free content – but unfortunately it also misses a major point. The reality behind 22% of British internet users seeking out and downloading an ad blocker (in other words, going to a significant amount of trouble) is that a huge amounts of websites have annoyed them enough to do so.
Websites that are heavy with advertising loading slowly, pages that make it near-impossible not to click on an ad whether your want to or not, automated videos that blast out unexpectedly, they all make for a bad user experience. I’ve seen high-end news sites that make it impossible to read their articles because an ad positions itself over the content and follows you as you scroll down the page. Another example is video streaming sites that start to glitch and have loading problems as soon as the adverts start. And, unfortunately, internet users are unforgiving with the things that frustrate them.
Advertising like this is bad practise, and it works out for no one. People clicking on these ads simply to make them go away are costing companies money, sending the wrong audience to their site and increasing their bounce rate, while putting people off the websites they were trying to read in the first place.
If we are going to tempt people away from their ad-blockers, it has to be by achieving a balance. Too many pop ups and obtrusive, aggressive advertising does more harm than good, so websites need to be sensitive and creative in their use of them. While internet users will need to understand that they either accept a certain amount of advertising or pay for their content, the people who own these websites will need to make this process as easy as possible.
Putting internet users in situation where they are given a high-handed ultimatum (“look at our ads or get off our website”) will only result in more frustration and annoyance. Given the numbers of people who are using ad-blockers, it could even lose websites significant amounts of their readership. In convincing people not to use ad blockers, keeping everyone happy will involve careful compromise.
After some initial testing, Google have now rolled out their new search layout, removing the paid text ads that we’ve been accustomed to viewing at the side of the SERP’s – and it’s a fairly significant shake up!
Removing up to 10 ads from the side of the results page essentially leaves less “real estate” for businesses to promote themselves. It’s early stages, but we may see a generic increase in Cost Per Click rates as businesses vie for first page positions.
Google have also included an additional paid listing at the top of the page from three, to four ads.
In response to the changes, Google have stated:
“We’ve been testing this layout for a long time, so some people might see it on a very small number of commercial queries. We’ll continue to make tweaks, but this is designed for highly commercial queries where the layout is able to provide more relevant results for people searching and better performance for advertisers. ”
So basically you’re more likely to see this new layout for very popular queries where there’s an intention to buy a product or service. It’s less effective for a user to be presented with four paid ads if they’re in the research phase, or simply using Google to find our how long sheep spend chewing grass.
For brand searches a user will typically see the knowledge graph….
….and for products, PLA’s (Product Listing Ads) will appear.
With fewer choices for a user to click on, advertisers on the first page may see an increase in their Click Through Rates, but it may come at the expense of having to ramp up the maximum Cost Per Click you’re willing to spend.
What all of this ultimately means for SEO, is that for some of the more popular queries, the old “first position” in organic search will now move down a place. Long tail search queries appear to be unaffected so depending on your strategy, it could be business as usual or you may see a slight decrease in organic traffic. It’s time to take a close look at Analytics over the coming weeks.
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