Ad blockers are going mainstream, meaning marketers must adapt or fail

As ad blockers pop up on the latest versions of the world's most popular browsers, Butterfly CEO Liz Mclean considers what the future of digital advertising holds for marketers.

Earlier this year, Google announced it would penalise websites where content is not ‘easily accessible to a user on the transition from the mobile search results.’ This isn’t the first time Google has announced changes that would affect search rankings. In 2015, Google boosted results for sites that were mobile-friendly, forcing many companies to play catch-up as they optimised their desktop experience for mobile.

With this latest announcement, Google is taking aim at pop-ups that ‘can frustrate users because they are unable to easily access the content that they were expecting.’ Google used this opportunity to announce a new, in-built ad-blocker for its Chrome browser, slated for release next year, that will act like a filter for ads that are deemed intrusive. Apple has also followed suit, integrating a similar tool that stops videos from auto-playing on its Safari browser for Mac OS.

Google’s Senior vice president, Sridhar Ramaswamy commented: “It’s far too common that people encounter annoying, intrusive ads on the web—like the kind that blare music unexpectedly, or force you to wait 10 seconds before you can see the content on the page.” While users may rejoice at the prospect of an ad-free browsing experience, marketers have been left scratching their heads.

Marketers have long relied on pop-ups as a tool to drive engagement, with the most effective pop-ups converting up to 9.3% more than traditional web forms. Google’s reform will penalise sites using pop-ups by negatively affecting their search ranking. Considering first page websites account for 92% of Google traffic, marketers cannot afford to have their ranking impacted.

Embracing new methods

Savvy marketers will look to innovate and think outside the box. Start with thinking about your customers, their experience and what they would expect and enjoy. Engaging your customers without being intrusive is key. Consequently, ‘frictionless,’ functional and easy to use website design will go a long way to improving their experience.

Amazon’s website is a great example of a frictionless design and its entry into the Australian market has forced many companies to rethink their website design in order to provide a functional and tailored user experience. The goal is to form a customer journey that is so enjoyable, customers don’t realise how far down the journey they’ve come until they click ‘pay’.

Native advertising

With pop-ups likely to take more of a back seat in marketing plans moving forward, native adverting is a tactic worth exploring for a few reasons.

Firstly, its customer centric design is far less intrusive than other forms of advertising and can blend in seamlessly with existing content, even enhancing it. Secondly, if the advertising is appropriate for the audience, users will start liking and sharing content, increasing the chances of your content going viral.

Lastly, it works. Consider this famous piece from the New York Times. This 1,500 word, in-depth analysis of women inmates leveraged dynamic content, infographics and videos to engage the user, whilst promoting the latest season of Orange Is The New Black. The results were staggering, with the NY Times launching a larger native ad campaign that has increased click through six fold and impressions four fold.

New York Times / Otto Steininer


It’s important to note that while certain tactics will be tried and tested with case study proof, marketers cannot afford to move forward with certain tactics purely in the efforts to mimic the success of a peer or competing brand. Each tactic needs to relate back to the golden rule of having the customers’ needs dictate whether and how that tactic is leveraged to drive customer engagement.

For example, while native advertising has proven valuable for many brands, it is not without its drawbacks, the biggest of which is it blurs the line between advertising and content. This has become a hotly debated ethical issue and one that marketers should be keenly in tune with to ensure they do not mislead and lose the trust of their customers.

To build trust, content marketing is an effective method to establish your company as a thought leader by offering relevant, high-quality pieces like e-books, whitepapers or slideshows.

Google, like many advertising platforms including Facebook and Instagram, will continually update its ranking algorithms, making it untenable for marketers to stand still.

Mark Patterson, Fordham legal scholar and internet commentator, noted that Google is ‘dictating what sort of ads will be permitted if you use Chrome and given Chrome’s popularity, those rules are likely to become de facto standards across the web.’ The most successful marketers will be proactive in looking for new ways to engage their customers, starting with an audit of their target market and website.

Liz Mclean is CEO of digital agency Butterfly.


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