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We have all experienced poor online advertising. Whether it be an annoying pop-up before the site loads or that irritating ‘X’ that gets missed and redirects due to an accidental click, it’s not hard to see why internet users are turning to ad blocking in their droves. Yet ad blocking inadvertently damages the ‘free’ online content we enjoy, with figures suggesting UK publishers are losing up to £3bn in revenue a year.

Another sign that online news publishers are struggling to make their revenue numbers add up came at the end of last year when BuzzFeed made more than 20 UK staff redundant. So why are quality publishers finding it hard to make money from their content?

Firstly, we need to understand why digital publishers host ads on their site. In some way or another, we pay for the content we consume. For example, paying your TV license in effect pays for the journalists that work for the BBC – widely regarded as a trusted and premium service when it comes to news. With the steady decline of newspaper sales in the UK, and with more people consuming news online than ever before, publishers need to find a way to monetise their sites in order to keep supplying the same level of content users enjoy.

Yet there are still players out there that are bombarding us with irrelevant ads, hoping that one will draw us in and allow them to cash in on our click. And it is these bad ads that often drive users towards ad blocking, impacting those independent quality content creators who actually put the user first.

How to appease consumers?

With technology rapidly evolving, there are ways to reach a happy medium, such as working with partners that supply non-intrusive, contextual, and engaging ads, which enhance the user experience rather than hinder it.

For the time being, data allows advertisers to tailor ads throughout the user journey. From different websites, platforms, such as in-app or web browsers, and across multiple devices, users are being shown brand messaging they are actually engaged with. But it gets savvier than this – messaging can be altered depending on the time of day, user location, and even the weather, which avoids the same ad being served to the same consumer twice in one day.

With less than 100 days till the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), there is some concern that if users don’t ‘opt-in’ to sharing their data with advertisers, there will be less relevant ads being served, potentially leading to an increase of irritated users.

Other measures are being put in place to keep consumers happy, such as the recent addition of Google Chrome’s ad blocker. A slightly misleading name as it works more as an ‘ad filter’, blocking those highly intrusive and irrelevant ­bad ads, while the creative, contextual and tailored ads filter through.

What’s the alternative?

Reducing the number of ads per page is one approach publishers could take. Rather than bombarding users, provide them with a small number of hyper-relevant ads to reduce page latency, and by using a creative that is engaging, the user is less likely to become frustrated and adopt ad blocking.

Of course, there are other ways to monetise. The Association for Online Publishing (AOP) recently revealed that although digital advertising still plays an important part in generating revenue, publishers are also exploring alternative revenue streams such as subscriptions and online video. Paid-for services seem to work in other mediums such as TV with Netflix, so in theory, there’s no reason why this can’t transpire to online media too. However, this will only work so long as publishers continue to provide high-quality and original content that consumers want to engage with.

Zoe Baptie By Zoe Baptie, Senior Account Manager