Last year, $20 billion worth of ads were blocked, the result of the 350 million ad-blocking apps downloaded globally. This is a loss for everyone involved: Advertisers don't get their views, publishers can't fund their work, and people, over time, lose out on quality content.
This moment in time is an opportunity to renegotiate the relationship between all three -- media, advertisers, and readers -- and cultivate one that's ultimately more profitable. But to do that, you have to understand to whom you're talking.
So why is ad-blocking use growing? People want access to great content and articles, and they've largely become accustomed to not paying for it. Faced with this challenge, it's easy to get frustrated and engage in punitive activities -- like blocking users with ad blockers active entirely.
Hit the pause button on that feeling. Why would people block ads when it's essentially what grants them access?
Do you remember when the internet was flooded with pop-ups that had nothing to do with you or your life? We've evolved a lot since the '90s, but not by much; ads are smarter and more targeted today, but for the most part remain intrusive. The advances in programmatic advertising don't necessarily work in individuals' best interests -- it enables advertisers to target them more cleverly, and essentially fills any available space with even more advertising.
Today, it's almost a social project to get access to content with all these ads around! With a general feeling that ads are intrusive, who will still buy content?
Here's where things get interesting: A study from the American Press Institute finds that 53 percent of Millennials regularly use paid news content -- in print, digital, or combined formats. 40 percent of them pay for that content out of their own pockets.
In a space where people are flooded with content -- most of which they can get for free, by means either nefarious or legitimate -- paying becomes a lot more meaningful. It becomes a gesture of support, allegiance, or even an act of gratitude.
Faced with these two facts, how do you entice readers into accepting either: advertising or buying a paid subscription?
Implement an ad-blocking detection solution
Use an ad-block detection solution to understand how often your ads get blocked. Be sure to do your homework -- many existing services can be blocked by ad blockers. Some are undetectable to ad blockers because they live in the caching layer of your website.
The biggest advantage to using such a solution is that you can use what you learn to make diverse decisions that may be more attractive to users, based on their behavior.
Ask users to subscribe
Sometimes the best approach is the most direct one. Once ad blockers are identified, most systems give you the option to appeal to users with a message, which they can see before the page loads: Acknowledge their ad blocker, and offer them a discount for subscribing.
Ask users to whitelist your site, and offer a "lite" version of your advertising.
A lot of brands have gotten cute about "asking" users to switch off ad blockers by explaining they need advertising to sustain their content, then sweetening the deal by offering a refined version of their ad-supported sites (no pop-ups or bright colors!). This is often just enough to drive a user to switch ad blockers off… but the moment they see a disruptive ad, you'll never get them to do that again. So ensure the experience they encounter is a pleasant, less intrusive, and relevant one.
If you maintain that experience every time they come back, then you don't have to worry -- once whitelisted, publications tend to stay whitelisted until the next time an ad irritates somebody.
Offer a trial version of your paid service
A great way to encourage users to put you on their ad-block whitelist is to offer a trial period of your paid service. This serves two goals: To get them to switch ad blockers off, and also encourage them to subscribe, which will provide more behavioral data.
Once their trial periods expire, sweeten the deal with a follow-up and a friendly reduction on your subscription.
Offer a constrained version of your website
If a user won't switch ad blockers off, and you don't feel comfortable driving them into a subscription, another option is compromise: Load a limited version of the content that they can access while ad blockers are activated. This is certainly less satisfying for the user, but it's also fair.
Initiate a happy hour
Create different access rules based on different periods -- maybe you want to offer more free content on a Sunday? Or better yet, host a "happy hour" during low-traffic periods, like 3-5 p.m. on weekdays. "Happy hour" has positive, joyful associations, and freeing paid content during special times is a great way to give users a taste of what you can offer when they subscribe, in a way that isn't forced or punitive.
This is one of my favorites; few people know that it's possible to set rules based on different devices or situations, and this yields really creative solutions.
Play around with your number of free articles
Get creative with your content metering -- maybe offer 10 free articles on laptops, but just five on a smartphone. If you give away 20 free articles, maybe individuals using ad blockers only get five. (But if this is the case, we strongly suggest softening the blow with a reward for switching ad blockers off, or subscribing.)
You can even inject personality into your article count -- on a rainy day, offer five more free articles than usual. Thoughtful gestures like this remind readers that your company is comprised of people... who are thinking about them. From this emotional connection, you can initiate a subscription conversion down the line.
These are just a few ways to encourage ad blocking users to convert into either paid or ad-friendly customers, and the possibilities are limited only by your imagination. But remember that not all readers are the same, and what works for some may not work for others. Play around with your options. Get to know whom your ad blockers are, and why they're doing it; they are really worth the effort.