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7 Ways Publishers Can Battle Ad Blockers

New IAB report outlines various tactics

Media companies are tackling ad blocking in various ways. Getty Images

The Interactive Advertising Bureau has been particularly vocal about the ongoing battle for publishers and advertisers with ad blockers, which it estimates costs the industry $781 million a year out of the $1.1 billion lost from malicious software.

Today, the IAB unveiled seven ways publishers can fight ad blockers. (The first one is fully endorsed by the trade organization, while the other six are more ideas than official recommendations.)

1. A little bit of code and a straightforward plea
The IAB is rolling out an "ad blocking detection script," which is essentially a piece of code that publishers plug into their websites to see how much traffic is coming from visitors with ad blockers turned on. The code is similar to approaches publishers like Forbes and the Washington Post have used on landing pages that encourage consumers to turn off their ad blockers. 

Publishers can use page headers, overlays or landing pages that "present a message to the site visitor."

These prompts serve to educate consumers about why they should turn off their blockers or ask them to make a donation or payment.

2. Cut them off entirely
Both the report and the piece of code are part of the IAB's "D.E.A.L." program, which is geared toward publishers. The acronym stands for detecting ad blocking, explaining the value exchange of advertising to readers, asking consumers to change their behavior and lifting restrictions.

"We believe that a combination of tools and the D.E.A.L. approach to communication with consumers will allow publishers big and small the chance to cut through the blockade, ensuring the strength of the open, ad-supported Internet," said Scott Cunningham, general manager of the IAB Tech Lab and the IAB's svp of technology and ad operations, in a statement.

On the opposite side of the spectrum, publishers like Forbes and the New York Times are experimenting with cutting off all access to readers with ad blockers turned on.

The IAB notes that strategy may alienate readers and "can be a drastic move, especially when transitioning to such a policy."

The upside: Readers will get the message. In January, Forbes' chief products officer Lewis DVorkin claimed that 42.3 percent of visitors turned off their ad blockers when asked to do so.

3. Pay the blockers
It's perhaps the most controversial approach to ad blocking, but some ad blockers like Adblock Plus employ "whitelisting," asking publishers to pay for ads to show up on their sites.

The IAB has blasted the approach in recent months, calling AdBlock Plus "an unethical, immoral, mendacious coven of techie wannabes."

Per the report, publishers that chose to pay ad blockers contribute to the "continued development of ad blocking software." The tactic also has "potentially short lived gains."

4. Create a subscription-like plan
For publishers that want to be a bit less forceful about ad blocking, there are tiered subscriptions that allow ad blockers to view only a portion of content.

For example, a reader with an ad blocker turned on may be capped at three free stories per month, while nonblocked visitors can read up to 10.

5. Pay the publisher
Publishers like Wired are experimenting with a model that charges readers $1 to access ad-free content. Other publishers like Wikipedia are notorious for occasionally asking readers for donations.

While subscribers and loyal readers build a "long-term secured revenue source," there are also drawbacks, particularly with donations, notes the IAB.

"Optional payment systems, like donations, reduce the pool of visitors that are generating revenue for the publisher, having implications directly on revenue," the organization says.

6. Pay the reader
Publishers and advertisers can also reward visitors and users for interacting with ads, including sponsored data and credits for mobile games.

But the risk with incentive-based ads is that they're susceptible to fraud, and they often require consumers to fork over personal information which may scare off some readers.

7. Rework the ads
Ad blocking is a game of cat and mouse for publishers, with media companies constantly changing and tweaking the code for ads to work around ad blockers.

The IAB calls the process ad reinsertion, calling it the "most basic of implementations." While this tactic gives publishers control of ad inventory and allows them to experiment with different types of ads, it also requires publishers to work with (or at least acknowledge) ad blockers.

Plus, if consumers get annoyed with being shown lots of new types of ads, "there is a risk to attract attention from anti-advertising activists looking for targets," says the IAB.

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