A while back, we covered how the abundance of third party tags can impact site performance and some best practices for managing the third parties on your site for ensuring the best overall end user experience. Having recognized the impact of these third party ads and trackers, Apple is now allowing third party ad-blocking apps on iOS9 to ensure a quality end user web mobile experience.
This comes alongside currently available ad-blocking extensions on working on your desktop browsers. This sounds like it could be a potential catastrophe for companies’ business analytics and for their revenue streams that are driven by advertising. Is this how Apple is going after Google, trying to hit them where it will hurt the most since they control the end user ecosystem?
Since these popular ad-blockers can have a big impact on your business, we decided to look at whether or not ad-blocking tools improve site performance, or if they just provide a psychological speed boost.
In order to understand how people with ad-blocking technology installed are experiencing your site compared to those who don’t have it installed, we monitored major sites across four verticals – Banking, eCommerce, News and Travel – with and without ad-blocking enabled. To do this, we used two Catchpoint last mile devices in Los Angeles that are connected to Time Warner Cable. One node uses the Time Warner DNS servers, and the other uses a raspberry-pi based DNS server with Pi-Hole installed. Pi-Hole claims to block 900,000 Domains, and since it is acting as a DNS resolver, it will return an empty html/img for any domain that is on the blacklist. (Other hardware-based ad-blocking systems like AdTrap are also available now, and deploying one of these solutions on your home network ensures that any device will not resolve correctly ad domains.)
The end user experience is best measured by when a person feels the site is responding (render start time) and fully interactive (webpage load time, or when the onLoad event fires). We can easily chart these two metrics with and without ad-blocking tools enabled using Catchpoint synthetic monitoring data collection and analysis. Here’s what we found across the top sites of major verticals using a full Chrome browser:
The impact of turning on ad-blocking technology is summarized here in this table:
Overall the data shows that enabling ad-blocking decreases the webpage load time by magnitudes of seconds, while the render start time is largely unaffected. We can see that for all the verticals, the total number of downloaded bytes is decreased, demonstrating that the ad-blocking is indeed restricting content. In particular, the webpage load time for news sites is dramatically decreased, which is in line with our previous studies showing that news sites continuously have poor control of third parties on their sites.
Users with ad-blocking enabled are having a more streamlined experience. This higher quality user experience has been shown to increase conversion rates and revenue.
The solution to solve that tricky situation? Make sure people can’t perceive the difference with/without the third parties on your site. Follow the third parties best practices, get the third parties under control, optimize for ad-blocking technology and monitor with/without ad-blocking enabled to ensure that third parties and ad-blocking aren’t having a negative performance impact.
The ad industry has failed to auto-regulate itself and forgot to consider the end user experience. The rise of ad-blocking is a response and a consequence of that negligence. Between slow end user experience and malware delivered via flash ads, people are naturally voicing their displeasure en masse against ad serving practices because they are tired of the hassle.
Looking at old media like TV and newspapers, there is only one ad being displayed – not 200 redirects, 200 domains to be looked up, and kilobytes of cookies being exchanged. The Interactive Advertising Bureau (IAB) should take a leadership position; back when I worked at DoubleClick, the ad-serving giant owned by Google, I remember various IAB meetings where I argued about speed and about not alienating the users. No one cared.
We all want a free internet, and we all want relevant ads and messaging, but I feel that we might have reached a point of no return. Apple is the first; is Microsoft next?