Three Ways to Block Ad Blockers

Hide in plain sight and make your advertising messaging look like regular content to block ad blockers

Ad-blocking software has been around almost as long as people have had personal computers in their homes, so they’ve always existed at the same time that you’ve been depending on ad sales. But only last month did publishers begin fretting, with the rumor that Apple’s new iOS would ship with an adblocker installed.

That wasn’t exactly true, but what is true is that within 48 hours, ad-blocking apps like Peace, Purify and Crystal ranked at the top downloads in Apple’s App Store.

But there’s been backlash, and suprisingly, not from the publishers who feared ad-blockers, but the customers who support them and know that content is only free when it’s ad supported. In fact, the top ranking ad-blocking app was removed by its maker. He said, in a post titled It Just Doesn’t Feel Good, that “Ad blockers come with an important asterisk: while they do benefit a ton of people in major ways, they also hurt some, including many who don’t deserve the hit.”

Well, we don’t know who he thinks “deserves the hit”, but we know many people who make their living managing, writing for or supporting ad-supported web sites – especially publishers.

As paywalls continue to grow in popularity, we’re sure to hear naysayers. And when we do, someone should tell them, “Don’t want paywalls? Quit advocating for ad-blockers.” Nobody works for free.


How ad-blockers work

The ad-blocking community actually supports advertising, in a way. Adblock Plus, a hugely popular open-source software for ad-blocking, came around in 2009 and worked with their community to come up with an outline of what a good ad is, and a bad ad is. By doing this, they could better learn how to filter out ads that were irrelevant to users, and ones that are relevant.

But AdBlock Plus isn’t super smart, and neither are other ad-blocking technologies. In fact, it’s a fairly simple technology, starting with blocking the domains of popular ad servers, and then relying on data from the community. The same data that all other ad blockers use.

Most ad blockers, including AdBlock Plus, leverage the data from an online community called EasyList, who maintains a list of the most common codes that trigger an ad. It’s more than identifying the ad server domains and blocking them, though, the list encompasses everything the community has said will trigger an ad. If you’re serving native ads on Taboola or Outbrain, those can be blocked too.

The list includes ad server domains to block, specific ad codes for specific ad servers, but that’s not the end of it. For example, here are some pretty generic-looking codes that an ad blocker would identify and block:

  • &show_ad_
  • &showad=
  • &ad_box_
  • &adserver=
  • .biz/ads/
  • /ad-leaderboard.
  • /bodyads/*

Additionally there are specific sites, and specific ads, which are listed on block lists. Trulia, New York Times, People, Reuters and LA Times were all specifically called out on the block list I combed through. Bottom ads, top ads, banner ads were all called out specifically on each of these sites with different codes.

AdBlocker has a way to whitelist yourself, though. Create ads according to their rulessubmit your site for review, and if you’re approved, your ads won’t be blocked. If your ads are not animated, are text-based, don’t obscure site content, and are clearly marked, then you may even be approved.

However, that’s just one (albeit hugely popular) ad-blocker. We find that creating inline text ads, embedded ads and native ads allows you to create ethical ads users want, and still leaves you in the good graces of ad-blockers.

How to block ad blockers at their own game

Here’s the thing. Since the very beginning we’ve talked about integrating ads into your editorial. When you’re contextually promoting your products, not only is it user-friendly, but it’s not susceptible to ad-blocking because you’re not relying on ad-servers to serve up the ads.

Text ads

Although a text ad could refer to any ad consisting of text, we’re currently referring to those that are part of your conversion architecture. These ads are placed a few paragraphs into your articles and invite your website visitors to download a free product that will get them on your email list.

All Mequoda Systems incorporate inline text ads in their posts, which point readers to a free downloadable product that is aligned with the topic of the post. It looks like this:


You’re reading an article about how to optimize your subscription website to combat ad blockers, and I’ve just offered you an ad for our Subscription Website Handbook because it’s hugely comprehensive and I think if you’re reading this article, that it might be relevant to you. That’s how text ads work.

Embedded ads

We create embedded ads every day without even thinking of it, but now these inline hyperlinks, where we’re usually writing a call to action at the end of an article and telling them to subscribe or buy a product, is one of the best ways to advertise without getting blocked.

Embedded ads should always be focused on something that can produce an outcome—a conversion—whether it be a new email subscriber or a lead. Your most important internal link is the link to your free downloadable products or other type of freemium rapid conversion landing page (RCLP) that leads to an email collection or lead.

If you attend our Digital Publishing & Marketing Intensive next month, then you’ll be learning a ton more about text ads, embedded ads, and native ads very soon (native ads coming up next.)

See? That was a fairly simple way to integrate an embedded ad for our Intensive.

Native ads

Native advertising is the creation and publication of editorially-based ads that align with a webpage’s content. They can be articles, snippets or simply links that are assimilated into the design and flow with the platform functionality, so viewers feel the ads belong on the page. The best native advertising examples offer fantastic editorial content that doesn’t turn off the reader as being too promotional or non-contextual.

Most often, the content for a Native ad, is a long or short article, that may be produced by the advertiser, or it may be created by an inhouse marketing team of the publisher. Conde Naste is one such publisher that has created an entire native advertising team called 23 Stories by Conde Nast, to accommodate advertiser demand. Sometimes publishers also write native ads for their own products.

Native ads are closely monitored by the FTC and the primary gauge the FTC uses to determine whether an ad meets their standards is the immediate “net impression” on consumers. Though its formula is known only to the agency’s attorneys, we can come up with an approximation: If a reader looks at an ad on a magazine’s portal and initially believes it to be independent editorial content without a commercial agenda, you are inching closer to what the FTC terms a “masquer-ad” … and, in turn, potentially approaching illegality.

Native ads are a wonderful way to avoid ad-blockers, as long as content is labeled as sponsored very clearly, but we don’t need to go around putting ad codes on it that scream “block me!” to ad servers.

Great advertising can be even more effective as words, anyway. Recently the U.K.’s Internet Advertising Bureau declared that banner ads were dead and ineffective. “We put banners like outdoor posters onto a medium which is totally interactive. We’re learning now that it doesn’t work,” said Clare O’Brien, senior industry programs manager at the IAB.

Are you currently using any of these techniques to block ad blockers?  What do you think of our approach? Let us know in the comments.


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