Wait! Google Is Blocking Ads from Its Own Browser?
As of February 15th 2017, Google, a company that depends on advertising for most of its profits has blocked “non-compliant” ads from appearing on its popular Chrome browser. This development is being heralded as an end to annoying ads that start that start the moment you land on a website. Imagine a new world free from non-complaint ads.
But, what is deemed a non-compliant ad? Full-page interstitials, ads that automatically play sound, display countdown times, flashing ads and so-called “sticky ads” are now banned. According to Rahul Roy-Chowdhury, vice president for Chrome, “These ads are designed to be disruptive and often stand in the way of people using their browsers for their intended purpose – connecting them to content and information. It’s clear that annoying ads degrade what we all love about the web.” Chowdhury also explains, “By focusing on filtering out disruptive ad experiences, we can help keep the entire ecosystem of the web healthy and give people a significantly better user experience than they have today.” A breakdown of the new, blocked ads is below:
It is worth mentioning that twice as many ad-blocking features within Chrome will be utilized on smartphones over other devices – including flashing ads and pages with an ad density greater than 30%. Smartphones are becoming the primary internet devices in almost every market and mobile ads are critical to future growth. It’s no coincidence Google leads the world in mobile advertising revenue and wants to protect that revenue moving forward by encouraging smartphone users to bypass ads altogether.
These new standards are the product of the Coalition for Better Ads (CBA), which Google joined last year. The Coalition’s research identifies the ad experiences that rank lowest across a range of user experience factors and are most highly correlated with an increased propensity for consumers to adopt ad blockers.
How long will it be before advertisers find ways to bypass these restrictions? Does Google, by adopting the standards of the CBA – the same internet advertising standards adopted by Microsoft, Facebook, Proctor & Gamble among others risk getting involved in a game of cat-and-mouse with advertisers who want their ads to be seen and noticed? Will new attention-seeking (read: annoying) methods of communication be blocked by the CBA and Google once they become popular or wide-spread?
According to Farhad Manjoo of the New York Times, Google wants to “maintain a balance, because if left unchecked, disruptive ads have the potential to derail the entire system.” In this case, it is crucial for Google to “maintain balance” as it must continue to show ads – after all, Google rakes in 33 percent of the world’s $223.7 billion in digital ad revenue. It can’t afford to drop advertising as a license to print money nor can it afford to encourage people to adopt ad blockers – preventing consumers from seeing the ads and cutting off the main source of Google’s revenue.
How will this new process work? According to John E. Dunn of nakedsecurity.com, when a user navigates to a page that violates Google and the CBA’s policies, the user will be shown a message telling them that an ad has been blocked with the option to “allow ads on this site”. However, if a site persists in serving such ads for 30 days, Chrome will start blocking them.2
Does this mean that a majority of websites will now have ads blocked? Not exactly. According to WIRED, “Despite the advance hype, the number of sites Chrome will actually block ads on turns out to be quite small…fewer than one percent violate the guidelines Google uses to decide whether to filter ads on a site.”
But how does Google determine which pages to block ads from? It is important to note Google will blocking ads based on Better Ads standards, not their own. Google will use its bots and spiders to evaluate a sample on a site-by-site basis to judge whether the site meets Google’s newly adopted standards. An examined webpage will then be given a pass, fail or warning reflecting how their ads compare to the standards set forth by Google and the CBA.
All of this sounds well and good – fewer annoying ads? A better web-browsing experience? Fantastic! However, looking beyond the statements Ray-Chowdhury presented, should we believe this latest move by Google is purely altruistic? Of course not. While it is true Google is trying to make exploring for goods and services on the web easier – to assume that Google isn’t trying to block ads that don’t provide revenue is missing the point.
Another way of looking at the latest tweaks to Chrome is Google is clamping down on website owners, essentially “forcing” them to pay and play by their rules in AdWords. The search engine is being cunning by blaming the sites themselves. Chris Bentzel, Chrome engineering manager says, “The majority of problematic ad experiences are controlled by the site owner”. By presenting these changes as being in the best interests of the consumer and by wrapping them in the codified standards of the CBA, not strictly their own, as alluded to earlier, Google hopes to prevent web users from installing ad-blocking software which would essentially cut the search engine’s legs off at the knees. So, another way of looking at this maneuvering by Google is to ensure those using Chrome don’t install an ad blocker.
After all, Google is on record as saying previously, “ad blockers hurt publishers that create free web content and threaten ‘the sustainability of the web ecosystem’.” In other words, if the internet cannot be monetized, then those who produce free web content will not have an incentive to create and provide, evolve and advance that which makes today possible.
So what we have is Google trying to have its cake and eat it, too. By using the standards set forth by the CBA, Google is giving users a reason not to download ad-blocking software. By promising users of Chrome a better, annoying-ad free experience, it hopes to retain and expand its market share, making the keywords used to connect buyer to seller more valuable and therefore, more profitable in the long-term.