“Chrome will expand its user protections and stop showing all ads on sites in any country that repeatedly display disruptive ads.”
That’s what one of Google Chrome’s senior product directors stated on their blog entitled “Building a Better World Wide Web” at the start of this year. A date has now emerged and on Tuesday July 9th, Chrome will implement changes that will hide all disruptive ads.
Google has long associated itself with creating the best possible browsing experience for its users, protecting them from malicious intent in the process. This change will seek to improve the overall user experience for website visitors, at the expense of publishers and marketing managers (the advertisers).
In this post, we look at what's at stake when this change is introduced for those involved in life sciences digital advertising. But first, to another advertising dilemma: the ad blocker and how the ad blocker came about.
A BRIEF DIGITAL ADVERTISING TIMELINE
1978: First email marketing spam is sent.
1984: Online service provider, Prodigy, offers one of the first online advertising services via non-clickable static banners.
1994: First official banner ad was sold and appeared on HotWired, the first commercial web magazine.
1996: Yahoo! publish the very first search ads in their search engine.
1997: Pop-ups begin to appear on websites.
2000: Google launches AdWords for targeted advertising based on search keywords.
2002: Firefox, Netscape and Opera block pop-ups on their browsers.
2004: Facebook launches and introduces social media advertising.
2006: Ad Block Plus is released.
2007: Behavioural retargeting is born through Facebook, and remarketing begins as publishers and advertisers begin tracking website visitors.
2007: Google Chrome browser is released.
2009: Google launches DoubleClick and DoubleClick for Publishers to serve ads.
2010: Twitter, and other new social media sites, begin serving ads.
2012: Native advertising is introduced as another form of digital advertising.
2016: Facebook and Ad Block Plus engage in a long ad blocking dispute.
2019: Google announces changes to Chrome that will also break content-blocking extensions with full roll-out to happen in July.
THE RISE OF THE AD BLOCKER
Ad blocking has long been the Achilles' heel for the advertising industry, automatically blocking adverts on all websites and limiting a publisher's ad revenue as the potential views or CPM impressions decrease.
In a study, eMarketer found that 25% (approximately 70 million people) of its US respondents said that ads were so much of a problem that they had to use an ad blocker, citing intrusive placements, annoying formats and simply too many messages as the main reasons.
UK publisher, The Drum, state that this percentage is higher in the UK at 39% and UK publishers collectively lost nearly £3 billion in advertising revenue in 2017 because of ad blocking.
Well before Google's recent announcement, publishers were tackling a growing problem threatening their very existence. Google is also aware of the problem ad blocker brings to the table, as it blocks all ads, not just intrusive ones.
GOOGLE CHROME USAGE
Back to Google. With Google Chrome's integration and extension options, security features and suite of mobile apps, it's not difficult to see why it is the best browser for internet users. Chrome also wins in the interface department with its aesthetically pleasing tabs and icons that are simple to use and understand.
The proposed update is a significant one for publishers due to Chrome's ever-growing market share, vastly outweighing its competitors with a 70% global usage according to Statista. If your website displays what Google deems as "intrusive" and "annoying" ads, on average, 70% of those ads won't show to your website visitors. Ad blocker or no ad blocker.
In other words, if you are a publisher, you might lose a considerable amount of the revenue you currently receive from digital ads after July 9th.
WHAT ARE "INTRUSIVE" PLACEMENTS AND "ANNOYING" AD FORMATS?
The Better Ads Standards conducted a user experience study and confirmed the ad formats that hinders experiences.
Google is taking the results of this research onboard and will look to encourage publishers to use less annoying ads, present more engaging ads instead, and limit the use of third-party ad blockers. (Google loses revenue because of third-party ad blocking.)
The forbidden ad formats, 12 in total, are summarised below for both desktop and mobile.
Pop-ups and ads that appear and block the content on a page, as well as autoplay videos, that has the ability to stop a user reading, watching or scrolling the website, will not be displayed.
Other forms of ads that cover content on pages will also not show to website visitors, particularly "sticky" ads that cannot be closed and forced prestitial (a full-page ad displaying before the web page is opened) and postitial (a full-page ad displaying during the website experience) ads that only close after a defined time period.
Google previously clamped down on mobile experiences in 2018 with their mobile-first indexing algorithm resulting in Google predominantly using a website's mobile version of the content for indexing and ranking.
Now, any mobile website with pop-ups, prestitial, postitial countdown, video or sticky ads will also not display, and the website's search visibility will also drop. Best practice is to avoid any advertising on mobile websites.
Key takeaway: Any advertising that disrupts a website visitor's experience will be blocked by Google Chrome, with the site potentially penalised on Google Search.
WHAT CAN MARKETERS AND ADVERTISERS DO NEXT?
Marketing managers are fully aware of digital trends and the alternative methods of marketing that are available to them, but the traditional nature of the life sciences sectors nudges them towards advertising via third-parties. Chrome's update is a sign of things to come, as the industry will need to become more digitally savvy.
Here are a few considerations for marketers:
REVIEW YOUR INVENTORY ASAP
You might have pre-booked all of your bookings with publishers before Google's announcement in January. If so, then look at all of your bookings with every publisher and cross-reference for any of the ad formats mentioned above running after the July deadline. You might want to speak to the publisher to arrange alternative means of advertising, as you may not get the impressions you have paid for if the placements will run during a specified time period.
DEVELOP A NEW PLAN
Without question, if your marketing and media plan includes any of the ad placements Chrome will block, then you will need to purchase new advertising space or develop your own marketing campaigns for the latter half of the year or you will risk reduced exposure. Our Creative Pharmaceutical Marketing Ideas post will give you some ideas of where to start.
GEAR UP YOUR CONTENT
For years, content marketing has been countering digital advertising as a long-term and sustainable method of increasing exposure and leads. This change will make content more relevant than ever. Relevant content in this industry will sit with the lab team and product managers. As a marketing manager your role will be to extract this information and expertise and present the content in a manner that addresses your audiences at particular stages of their buying journeys. See our post on different types of content for science organisations.
INBOUND MARKETING HAS NEVER BEEN MORE RELEVANT
Inbound marketing is a different strategic mindset to traditional marketing methods because it’s a more economically efficient way to create the experience that people are looking for instead of paying to potentially interrupt one. It is the polar opposite of disruption, and with its close ties to content, is highly recommended for life science organisations. Find out more about the essentials of inbound marketing.
EXPLORE GOOGLE'S DISPLAY NETWORK
Google will likely allow the display of its own user-friendly ad formats. Of course, this may present some limitations to the nature of the ads that you might display, but it does mean that you can still advertise on websites - publishers can also consider Google's Display Network as a revenue stream. This may also, in the long run, lead to fewer people using ad blockers, increasing the number of "genuine" ads displaying.
WHAT CAN PUBLISHERS DO NEXT?
Many will feel that the proposed changes to Google Chrome are positive, as website experiences are likely to become enhanced. Some will feel different. The obvious problem is for publications, media outlets and journalists whose work is funded by advertising. Google knows this, and will not stop advertising in its entirety.
Here are a few considerations for publishers:
KEEP ADVERTISING BUT MAKE SURE ADS DO NOT AFFECT READABILITY
Providing ads do not block content, and are not forced upon the visitor, they are acceptable. There are numerous ways of generating clicks and impressions for those who advertise with you without having to disrupt your site visitors, with many advertising formats acceptable:
Prestitial ads for desktop (without a countdown)
Sidebar, header and footer ads (non-sticky)
Announcement bars (non pop-ups)
(We shall expand on this list once the updates become clearer...)
PRESTITIAL ADS (WITHOUT A COUNTDOWN) ARE ACCEPTABLE FOR DESKTOP SO USE THEM
Almost surprisingly, prestitial ads (before you access the website or content on the website) are fine to use, presumably as they do not cover any content, and therefore, disrupt. This is the case at least for the time being for desktop. Expect to see more of this sort of advertising within the coming months, and certainly consider it for your desktop site. This sort of ad, however, will be blocked by ad blockers outside of Google Chrome.
FOCUS ON THE USER EXPERIENCE
Sites that have been traditionally focused, adopting direct and now "intrusive" ads methods, have rarely focused on creating a user-friendly experience. Our friends at Texere Publishing are a great example of a publisher doing things right across its titles, with great design and effective content presentations with minimal display advertising. Look within your analytics for high bounce rates, conversion rates and time on page data to understand if visitors enjoy being on your site or not - it may be time for a redesign.
CONSIDER FREEWALLS, LOG-INS AND SUBSCRIPTIONS
As digital ads models will soon change, the publisher's digital business model will also need to. Therefore, other methods of monetising content and websites will emerge and take centre stage. If you are not doing so already, consider locking down your content in return for subscriptions, memberships and freewalls, if it suits your business and the way in which your website drives visitor acquisition.
HOW WILL YOUR WEBSITE BE AFFECTED?
In light of Google Chrome's new update, if you haven't already, you need to review your media plan - specifically what digital placements you have booked. Similarly, teams within publications should discuss alternative revenue models to remain competitive. But in the science sectors, despite key challenges, there will always be a demand for advertising.
If you do insist on digital ads, do not disrupt. Not only will Google appreciate the fact that you're limiting adverts on your website, but your readers and subscribers will too.
Find out how Google currently sees your website by using its Ad Experience Report, specifically the "Abusive Experiences" tool, which will provide an abusive experience status and examples of issues that need fixing. For more on the specific ad formats which will be blocked, see the Better Ads Standards website.