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The effect of ad blocking on website traffic and quality (wiley.com)
36 points by mbroshi 8 months ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 37 comments



Is it wrong that I don't particularly care about supporting the ad-based web? Ads don't interest me, and I don't particularly feel like making space for ads in my daily attention span and thereby degrading the quality of my web-viewing experience so big corporations can profit. The whole reason I switched from watching TV to using the internet as my primary source of entertainment was to escape advertising. I have a website and as long as it's up I am not going to put ads on it. I feel like information just wants to be free. I'd be interested to hear some alternate perspectives on this however.


I've been on the web since BBS's, and continue to be well-satisfied by the web content put up by volunteers ... the voices of real people motivated by interests, hobbies, passions, fandom, technical areas. I care about a diversity of voices and strictly what people -care- enough to share.

Those with some professional or profit-driven or political/ideological motives can well afford to advertise on broadcast media. They may put up expensive websites and dream of wealth - can't stop 'em. I quit TV because of advertising, and so I really don't appreciate them following me around and whining. STFU or GTFO.

P.S. Want some money from me? Support micropayments.


You're not alone --- the sites on which I've found the most useful, informative, and detailed content have also been those with next to no ads (and that's not just because I use an adblocker). Sometimes there's a tiny and relevant banner or a text link in an unobtrusive place, but for the most part, they're text-free. They also tend to be personal sites and (unfortunately) rank very low in searches, so are rather difficult to find; but once you do find one, it's like a breath of fresh air.

Contrast with the masses of vapid ad-filled sites whose pitiful excuses for content only exist to drive traffic towards them, are also highly SEO'd and engineered to grab attention, and thus show up unwantedly in a lot of searches.


I’m with you on this, and even if I weren’t I’m so burned out by years of intrusive ads and auto play sounds, videos, and worse practices that I just don’t care. If I gave everyone competing for my attention and brainspace a slice, there would be none left for rational thought. Mostly though, the content is usually crap! Am I really supposed to care that Buzzfeed might fail?

“This town needs an enema!”


The flip side is that any reasonably popular site on the web is going to cost a not insignificant amount of money to maintain, and the hard reality is that nobody really wants to pay for it out of pocket. They want it for free, paid for with ads that other people see while they block them with their browser plugin.

I've said for a long time that I'd rather see something that functioned much like Facebook does (or did, rather, maybe 10 years ago) but was completely supported by subscription. Let me pay something like $5/month and in return no funny business, no stupid manipulation to get more page views, etc. Just a place I can interact with friends and family.

But nobody would pay for that, even if that's basically what they pay for it indirectly through the products they buy.


On the contrary, it costs almost nil to handle traffic with an HTML/CSS static site, maybe 3x - 10x that with personalization, transactions, social, etc. Most info sites don’t need those.

Define popular? How about a billion hits?

Figure four servers for static HTML/CSS, maybe add CloudFront or similar if heavy on images or progressive download video, and 10 servers for dynamic personalization/transactions, for a billion personalized/e-commerce hits a month.

A billion hits averages to under 400 reqs/second, which you could handle on a single Pentium running Apache on BSD in late 90’s. Make it a bell curve, account for surges, 4 modern boxes is still comfy headroom for static stuff.

If hosting content is prohibitively expensive you could be doing it wrong. Try not firing up script interpreters and ‘frameworks’ per hit, use a static site gen CMS. If dynamic, spend time nailing caching.


It's a pity you're being downvoted - but I realize it's for being off-topic. I feel you make a very important point: we became so dependent on dynamic websites that it stifles growth even if in many (not all!) cases a static version would do just fine - and these can withstand massive amounts of hits.

If you make enemies, though, you're screwed - a good protection against DDoS attacks can be terribly expensive.


I think you interpreted maintain too literally. For most sites you need to paid writers, designers, programmers, etc

Those all cost money.


GP had own site, said ‘information wants to be free’, I was talking about case where that gets popular.

I was not talking about media generated as placeholders for ads (sports, ‘news’, and reality television come to mind, as does click-bait).


Ah, fair enough


Apparently it doesn't cost money to produce content?


People are willing to pay for good content. e.g. Wikipedia receives vast amounts of donations. Not only are people willing to pay money, they are willing to do it if even if the content is otherwise free.

The problem is that most of the time, ad-supported websites become experts in creating clickbait and lose their ability to create content that worth any money. It is the ads that are killing the ad-supported web, it is a race to the bottom.


>The problem is that most of the time, ad-supported websites become experts in creating clickbait and lose their ability to create content that worth any money.

Depends. Some websites have a hybrid model where they have a free tier and a subscription tier that removes ads. I think that works well provided the free tier isn’t too invasive about the advertising.

What the internet really needs is a standardised format for “tipping” for content. I’d be happy to send a little money to a website that I visit without having to subscribe or put payment information in.

Especially true of something like the newspaper. I don’t actually like the NYT or Post as businesses enough to subscribe, but in the rare occasion they actually publish some worthwhile journalism rather than “let’s interview some idiots and see if they still like Trump” then sure I’d pay whatever an ad click is worth for that.


Part of the problem with that is finding the right mix of free content to attract users and still get them to trust that it's worth it.

It's also a challenge because with all of these modular services, it's hard not to start feeling like your bank account is getting the death by a thousand cuts routine.

Sure, it's annoying when I can't read a NYT article because I ran out of my 5 free articles. But is it enough for me to actually pay? No, I'd rather just read the HN comments as those are free and usually better than the actual content in the article.


The flip side is that any reasonably popular site on the web is going to cost a not insignificant amount of money to maintain, and the hard reality is that nobody really wants to pay for it out of pocket. They want it for free, paid for with ads that other people see while they block them with their browser plugin.

People pay reasonable amounts for good service. The NYT’s online subscriptions are booming, Netflix seems to be doing alright, and there are many others. What can’t survive is a model of asking for too much, or drowning out content with ads.


Ads are not the only method for monetizing content, they are merely the laziest.

Content makers have been using the web for over two decades, and figuring out how to do it profitably as well. There are innumerable models for doing it, but it requires putting in the leg work to actually care about how your work is supported. Sure it's seductive to think that someone working in some "noble" pursuit should be able to avoid having to do that, but that's not really true of anyone anywhere, why should it be true of content makers?


So... you'd rather be the customer than the product? I agree!


Believing in something passionately doesn't make it real unfortunately.

I also want to believe in that but all the data seems to show the opposite. As a niche blogger, what I hopefully believe is that there is a reachable sweet spot with less intrusive ads and good content. Good content in the long term can't be free, it's Economy 101, nobody will spend days creating great content for half a dozen pennies no matter how passionate they are about something. People want a reward, no matter if it is more work opportunities (technical blogs) or cash. For me it was a monthly dinner paid by my content. This could keep the "troops morale" high. Does new content is lowering in quantity and quality? Unfortunately yes.

Most fellow HNers are militant against ads (even if many get a sallary from them) and I am too but as an amateur content creator I can recognise the problem. Do I use adblockers? Sure I do but only on annoying sites and not in all of them. By default it's switched off.


> I feel like information just wants to be free.

Even in today's web Information IS largely free and not ad supported. It is entertainment ("content") and communication that costs a lot of money to support and hence either paid or ad supported.

> Is it wrong that I don't particularly care about supporting the ad-based web?

Most people in the world can't pay for entertainment content or even Google search if you charge it's true cost. Most countries have per capita income in the range of a few thousand dollars a year. Even China is sub 10k dollarsa year. Hence ad supported models.


I feel the same. Maybe I'm an asshole but I feel no particular loyalty to any website. If a place I frequent shuts down I move on.


If you're a user reading this kind of article or paper, you should not feel guilty for using an ad-blocker. You are simply protecting yourself. The people who should stand up and take notice are website admins and ad providers.

The web's ad industry is nothing short of amazing. A small number of users started using ad blocking software when ads became obnoxious and intrusive, flashing, spinning, spawning popups and obscuring the content they're supposed to accompany. Did the ad industry take a hint? No, they moved, en masse, to ads that were more obnoxious and intrusive. Then they started exploiting browsers to discover as much personal information as possible about users, which motivated even more people to install ad blockers. Then ads became one of the most significant vectors of malware, so people started adopting script and ad-blockers as standard safe-computing practice.

It's reached the point where I would not allow either my parents or my children to run a browser without an ad-blocker installed. That's how bad it's gotten.

Ad providers have had years to establish ways of delivering safe, privacy-respecting, non-intrusive, content-specific advertising. They haven't, and the rising use of ad blocking is the natural consequence. The demand from people running websites should be there. Maybe space devoted to an ethical ad provider would make less money in the short-term, but anyone can see that ignoring the rise of ad-blocking is going to hurt their bottom line down the road.

Ads just work in print media. They don't jump out of the corner of the page and cover up articles while flashing and making loud noises. They don't invade your privacy. They don't damage your property. Online ads need to advance to this state. The onus is on ad providers and those employing them to accomplish this, not on users to uninstall their ad blockers.


Ok, I'm not going to rent this full article or buy it just so I can comment on it. The abstract is more than enough for that purpose.

> "Ad blocking software allows Internet users to obtain information without generating ad revenue for site owners, potentially undermining investments in content."

Good that it uses the correct words, like "potentially". I wish we could have something that talks about the user experience, by saying something like, "Most of the sites that run ads are usually obnoxious, drain mobile device batteries and data quotas, track and profile users, spread malware, mine cryptocurrency using the user's resources and are potentially a threat to the entire web and humanity as a whole!"

> "We explore the impact of site-level ad blocker usage on website quality, as inferred from traffic. We find that each additional percentage point of site visitors blocking ads reduces its traffic by 0.67% over 35 months. Impacted sites provide less content over time, providing corroboration for the mechanism. Effects on revenue are compounded; ad blocking reduces visits, and remaining visitors blocking ads do not generate revenue."

I'm confident that the reduced visits are only because of ad-block killers on the websites and the generally poor quality of content on the sites (most "news" sites today regurgitate something from another site with little or no value addition to the context). Such sites don't deserve to be supported by users unless they provide a lot more value.

> "We conclude that ad blocking poses a threat to the ad-supported web."

The ad-supported web is a threat to the web itself. So this is actually good in some ways. Yes, we don't have viable, accessible and cheaper mechanisms for people to support all the sites directly (without involving crooked and malicious ad networks). But the publishers who don't care much for their users don't deserve to be supported. Period.


"There is no such thing in America as an independent press. I am paid for keeping honest opinions out of the paper I am connected with. If I should allow honest opinions to be printed in one issue of my paper, before twenty-four hours my occupation, like Othello's, would be gone. The business of a New York journalist is to distort the truth, to lie outright, to pervert, to vilify, to fawn at the foot of Mammon, and to sell his country and his race for his daily bread. We are the tools or vassals of the rich men behind the scenes. Our time, our talents, our lives, our possibilities, are all the property of other men. We are intellectual prostitutes."

An anonymous New York journalist, quoted in Hamilton Holt's Commercialism and Journalism, 1909.

https://archive.org/stream/commercialismjou00holtuoft#page/2...


IRL that would be John Swinton! (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_Swinton_(journalist))


Thank you!

Holt didn't attribute the quote, and I'd not attempted to track it down.


> We find that each additional percentage point of site visitors blocking ads reduces its traffic by 0.67% over 35 months. Impacted sites provide less content over time, providing corroboration for the mechanism.

Unless they provide some mechanism by which adblockers cause people to stop visiting, they've reversed cause and effect. Bad sites get worse and lose users.


You quoted the mechanism. The reduction in ads causes a reduction in content (because one pays for the other.)


Alternatively, it could be that the website owner has "bought" low quality content that can't keep an audience, and is just looking to throw blame


Until people can verify that the adverts I expose my computer to do not contain cryptocoin miners, crapware, or outright malware, and until adverts become less intrusive generally and much faster at loading, I will continue to use an ad-blocker. The advertising industry created this problem, it has the choice of fixing it as well. Through regulation, whitelists, blacklists, etc.

I value the security of my computer and the amount of mental space I have been gifted with too much to clutter them with bit-crap and visual-crap. Besides, advertising has become an adversarial and manipulative industry. The more unwanted influence I can cut out the better.


I have been opposed to ad blocking until recently because I do want to support content creation and ads are the most passive way to do so.

But lately, ads and tracking have become so egregious that the content is often not worth the hassle of awkward, obstructive ads and very creepy tracking.

So, lately I’ve switched my browsing to a mixture of Chrome/Mobile Safari vs. mobile & desktop Brave browser depending on if the account I’m using browses political/monetizable material.

Next I need to investigate Basic Attention Token to see if it actually does present a reasonable alternative to ads that makes content creation viable. Don’t know yet...


The hypothesis is that ad blocking causes less traffic, but their reasoning is fairly tenuous ...

> First, ad blocker usage by a site’s visitors reduces the site’s revenue if at least some of those users would have visited the site in the absence of ad blocking. The relevant mechanism, as in the traditional literature on the relationship between intellectual property revenue appropriation and supply, is that reduced revenue may undermine a site’s ability to invest, which could manifest itself as a diminished site that is less appealing to potential visitors. Web users then visit the degraded site less, reducing the site’s traffic.

> Second, in the presence of ad blocking, a site’s remaining revenue-generating visitors are less ad-intolerant, leading the site to run more ads, increasing the nuisance cost of visiting the site.


"Copyright is brain damage."

"Copyright has become the single most serious impediment to access to knowledge."

"Today we recognize that knowledge is not only a public good but also a global or international public good.We have also come to recognize that knowledge is central to successful development. The international community, through institutions like the World Bank, has a collective responsibility for the creation and dissemination of one global public good—knowledge for development."

"What the academic publishing industry calls 'theft' the world calls 'research'."

It's far beyond time to recognise that 1) Copyright is not the solution, copyright is the problem, and 2) that creators of valuable creative works need to get paid, somehow.

The intersection of these two statements gives a corollary: Payment for access to knowledge is a net harm to society. Which means that we must find an alternative method of finance. Salon's misguided plea here is not that solution. A general tax, proportionate to wealth and/or income, strikes me as about right.

The quotes above, respectively, are from:

Nina Paley, artist and animator https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XO9FKQAxWZc

Pamela Samuelson, copyright legal scholar, UC Berkeley http://sfgate.com/opinion/article/Aaron-Swartz-Opening- access-to-knowledge-4224697.php,

Joseph Stigletz, Nobel laureate economist http://www.oxfordscholarship.com/view/10.1093/0195130529.001...

Edward Morbius, Space Alien Cat https://www.reddit.com/r/dredmorbius/comments/4p2rwk/what_th...


I think that this is more of a case where people will choose to enable ad blocker on a website that they like and choose to support through their ads. People will add exceptions to websites they trust and will leave their blockers on for those who don't. This then leads to a filtering effect where people vote with their ad blocker if they like a website or not and I think that that is fine.


Pay to see effect of ad blocking? No thanks


The google search engine rewards click bait its not smart enough to recognize organic text and organic traffic. It only knows pure clicks and un-ironically has created the very ecosystem it was meant to destroy.


I don't get it! Why do websites think they have a right to use my CPU and bandwidth? This is like saying people locking their doors is preventing thieves from stealing their stuff. Yes, that's the intention.


> We conclude that ad blocking poses a threat to the ad-supported web.

Good.




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