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Ad blockers & PPC – Turning a threat into an opportunity

It is estimated that 22% of over 18s currently use ad blocking software and a recent report by eMarketer suggests that this is a figure which will continue to rise, predicting almost a third of British web users will have installed ad blocking software by the end of 2017

It is statistics such as these that have resulted in the vast amount of ‘we’re doomed’ articles that can be found all over the internet with regards to paid search (PPC). Some of the more extreme commentators on the subject could leave you thinking we’d all better get down to the job centre first thing in the morning. But is it all doom and gloom?

What do they actually do?

Firstly in order to understand the issue let’s take a look at what ad blockers do when they are enabled and how this actually affects the work we do with regards to PPC. I’m sure it won’t come as a surprise to anyone that the purpose of an ad blocker is to block ads. As can be seen in the example below, all the blood, sweat and tears (hopefully not literally) put in to make a PPC campaign successful are wasted in relation to the 22% of web users with an ad blocker enabled, some of whom could be the exact people that you are trying to target.

buy grey suit no ad blocker

Google results without ad blocker

buy grey suit with ad blocker

Google results with ad blocker

Why do people block ads?

Next it’s important to understand the reasons behind the rising number of users who are deciding to use ad blocking software in order to give us an idea of where we can go from here. According to a recent KPMG report, over 40% of people that plan on using an ad blocker in the future cited a lack of ad relevancy as a key reason and almost half the respondents alluded to the intrusiveness of ads in relation to the sheer amount of space that they take up.

telegraph with banner ad

Ads dominate this Telegraph web page

So are we doomed?

Although the statistics paint a pretty dismal picture, this should really be seen as an opportunity for evolution and a chance to stand out within the industry; as those that move away from the intrusive and irrelevant advertising techniques of old, pioneer new methods which will separate the wheat from the chaff. Those that try to empathise with the alienated ad block users are in a much better position to create solutions and strategies which can begin to turn the tide.

Some suggest that those that have already installed ad blocking software are somewhat of a lost cause however more than half respondents to the above survey said they could be persuaded to turn off the software. Furthermore, the number of internet users is growing, if ads are more relevant and less intrusive these new users (who could also potentially be more likely to click an ad than a long term internet users/those who user ad blockers) could provide a chance for advertisers to continue to tap into the market whilst ensuring these new users are less likely to consider ad blocking.

Those that try to empathise with the alienated ad block users are in a much better position to create solutions and strategies which can begin to turn the tide

The threat of ad blockers is forcing advertisers to consider the longer term effects of their paid search campaigns. Just as customers would likely not appreciate being hounded by a salesperson on entrance to a high street store (and then followed around by said salesperson even after they’ve left the store) they are unlikely to react kindly to similar behaviours on the internet. Although these tactics may bring ‘wins’ through clicks and conversions in the short term, those advertisers that consider how these behaviours are likely to affect things such as brand image in the long term will be those that users are much happier to engage with.

One way in which the industry has already begun to evolve is the shift towards advertising targeted at mobile devices, which have a much lower proportion of ad block users. The same eMarketer report mentioned earlier estimates that fewer than 9% of smartphone users will have installed ad blocking software by the end of next year. As a result, advertisers almost have a clean slate with regards to mobile advertising and those that adapt their mobile targeted paid search campaigns using the lessons learnt from the desktop ad blocking ‘epidemic’ have a real opportunity to create more meaningful connections with their audiences.

Nike social ad

Nike’s engaging social media ad

Lessons learnt from the desktop ad blocking ‘epidemic’ offer a real opportunity to create more meaningful connections with your audience

The topic of ad blockers seems to have almost become the elephant in the room in some circles within digital marketing; born from a reluctance to accept the need for change. But in such a fast changing industry, it is those who truly understand the threat posed that will be able to actualise the opportunities presented.

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