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December 11, 2017 10:00 AM, EST

Google Targets Annoying Ads

How Chrome’s Ad Blocker Will Regulate Your Web Advertising

In a move to stop the online advertising market from imploding, Google will roll out its own ad blocker in early 2018, designed to neutralize annoying, intrusive advertising on the web. Affecting every website on the internet, the new Google strategy will significantly impact any business that advertises online. In a phrase: Unless you play nice with your web advertising, Google is going to shut you down, beginning early next year.

Joe Dysart

“Google drives the internet,” said Fred Thayer, director of corporate communications at Werner Enterprises Inc.. “Their policies, practices and algorithms are used as the baseline when creating digital advertising strategies. Ignoring this can make or break a campaign’s effectiveness.”

Ultimately, the ad blocker could produce a better online experience.

“I agree with the mindset to make the browsing experience as positive as possible so users can easily find the information that is most relevant to what they are looking for,” said Megan Donahuse, online marketing specialist at NFI Industries.

Essentially, the Google Chrome browser — which is used by a majority of web surfers — will block the display of any ad Google deems to be “in the face” of internet users.

Those include the annoying pop-up ads we all detest, the loud video ads that play automatically and uninvited when you visit a website and the giant ads that hang in front of web content, demanding to be viewed before content can be accessed.

“These practices are especially cumbersome when viewing on any type of mobile device,” Werner’s Thayer said. “The amount of space they take up, the interruptions they cause and the difficulty of closing them out or getting around them cause a breakdown in what the viewer is trying to achieve.”

Sridhar Ramaswamy, Google’s senior vice president for ads and commerce, said it’s “far too common that people encounter annoying, intrusive ads on the web — like the kind that blare music unexpectedly or force you to wait 10 seconds before you can see the content on the page.”

As most web surfers and advertisers know, Ramaswamy’s words carry gargantuan weight.

Google Chrome is by far the most popular browser on the web, used by 59% of desktop PC web surfers and 57% of tablet/mobile users, according to NetMarketShare.

So when Google says things are going to change — well, they’re going to change.

“I agree with what they are doing,” said David Turner, senior marketing manager at USA Truck. “It can be annoying and distracting searching a subject only to be bombarded with too many ads.”

Chad Reiling, social media manager at Trans-System, said, “Digital marketers have gotten more and more creative in their efforts to break through the noise online — but in so doing, they have made the internet a much ‘noisier’ place and have made it harder for users to accomplish their objectives online.”

Google’s hard line makes complete sense when you consider that the company is dependent on web advertising for the lion’s share of its revenue stream — advertising that is increasingly being blocked by third-party ad blockers.

Such add-ons, which plug into popular web browsers, were mostly a geeks-only tool just a few years ago.

But these days, 40% of U.S. web surfers are using ad blockers, according to a 2017 survey by AdBlock Plus and Global Web Index.

It’s the kind of statistic that triggers a collective “gulp” at companies such as Google, as well as other online advertising giants across the web.

A few years ago, seeing the writing on the wall, many of those ad goliaths banded together to form the Coalition for Better Ads, an organization whose sole mission is finding a solution to the growing ad-blocking problem.

Google’s ad blocker, which censors some ads but allows other ads to display, is a direct outgrowth of that movement.

Members of the coalition include the Direct Marketing Association, NewsMedia Alliance, Reuters and Microsoft.

“At Microsoft, we believe in supporting and collaborating with the online advertising industry to develop standards that make the digital ecosystem function better for consumers,” said Rik van der Kooi, corporate vice president of Microsoft Search Advertising.

Eager to bring out a tool that looks like it’s designed by consensus rather than driven by proprietary interests, Google is using the ad standards developed by the coalition to decide which ads get a thumbs up or a thumbs down by its ad blocker.

Fortunately, those standards can be accessed by anyone interested in getting into compliance quickly.

If you do any advertising on the web, you’re going to want to study Google’s best practices guide to ensure your business avoids the company’s crosshairs beginning in early 2018.

As you might suspect, the standards simply promote common-sense insights about what ads consumers generally find offensive on the web.

While many businesses unaware of the coming change are in for a rude awakening with Google’s ad blocker in 2018, Google is quick to add that legitimate, well-designed ads will not be blocked by its tool.

“Chrome’s ad filter is designed to work as a business-friendly alternative, letting reasonable ads through but blocking the worst offenders,” Ramaswamy says.

Plus, businesses that start seeing their ads disappearing in the Chrome browser will be able to consult an ad experience report from Google, which will give them advice on how to turn around the ads that Google is blocking.

Unlike many add-ons to Google Chrome, the new ad blocker will be automatically activated as soon as Chrome is installed or updated beginning in early 2018 — another indication of just how serious Google is about ridding the web of the scourge of offensive advertising.

Plus, the ad blocker is also designed to automatically activate early next year on all the major types of devices that use Google Chrome, including desktops, laptops, tablets and smartphones. Users will need to turn off the ad blocker in Chrome if they want to surf without the defense.

Of course, while many businesses welcome the concept of Google’s ad blocker, some are a bit uncomfortable that Google essentially has established itself as the web’s cop on the beat.

“As an advertiser — and a customer of Google — it is indeed frustrating that Google will be limiting the services available to us,” Trans-System’s Reiling said. “The decision to limit what kinds of ads are shown in new versions of the Chrome browser is contrary to free-market methodology.”

Ideally, Reiling said, the move to implement digital marketing strategies should remain the advertiser’s decision — based on a cost/benefit analysis of the potential for the ads’ success, balanced with the risks for negative brand perception associated with running undesirable ad types.

“We are also cautious about Google seizing control — from advertisers, publishers and users — and establishing themselves as the sole definer of what is or is not acceptable,” Reiling added. “Be that as it may, this initiative is the right thing to do to preserve the public good.”

Meanwhile, many also worry that Google’s ad blocking algorithm could be easily tweaked to favor Google ad properties over those of Google’s competitors.

But with so many U.S. web surfers completely blocking ads while cruising websites right now, most of those same businesses most likely would agree something had to be done.

“I don’t anticipate Google’s changes to negatively impact our marketing efforts,” said Lucas Heart, marketing and communications manager at Roehl Transport. “We use native advertising through Google’s platforms, so there should be no impact there. And we use Facebook’s native-ad platform. So again, shouldn’t be an issue. Frankly, I support better advertising experiences for consumers, and these changes should help.”

Randall Rothenberg, CEO of the Interactive Advertising Bureau, said, “We hope these initial standards will be a wake-up call to brands, retailers, agencies, publishers and their technology suppliers, and that they will retire the ad formats that research proves annoy and abuse consumers.”

“If they don’t, ad blocking will rise, advertising will decline, and the marketplace of ideas and information that supports open societies and liberal economies will slide into oblivion.”

Bob Liodice, CEO of the Association of National Advertisers, commented on the coalition’s study.

“Tens of thousands of consumers have made their opinions clear through this robust research,” he said. “All online ad industry constituents should take a hard look at the findings.”

Joe Dysart is an internet speaker and business consultant based in Manhattan. Voice: (646) 233-4089. E-mail: joe@joedysart.com. Web: www.joedysart.com.