September saw the release of Apple's new iOS 9 operating system for its' mobile device line-up. While its new feature-set may not have wowed and excited casual users or the stock market, there were certainly a few key features which were worth taking note of.
Content blocking was briefly mentioned at the WWDC announcement earlier in the year. The ability to install 3rd party applications which, when turned on in the device settings, can run in the background of Safari (Apple's own web-browser) and block content (read: ads) - both on iOS 9, and the subsequently released desktop OS X 10.11 (El Capitan).
This wasn't done to intentionally put a dent in Google's ad revenue - although I'm sure it would have been mentioned at feature meetings in Cupertino and raised a few smiles - but, as with most things Apple implements in to its OS's, it's to enhance the user experience. And enhance it does.
Generally, ad blocking is on the increase. One of the most popular ad-blockers on the web is AdBlock Plus. it's actively being used by about 144 million users worldwide (about 5% of all web users), and is used by 28% of the internet population of the US. And its usage is growing, with it seeing +70% growth between June 2013 and June 2014 (source: PageFair & Adobe AdBlock Report.
The approach to online advertising has been lazy, with advertisers not picking up the slack of the declining print media industry and tv advertising continuing to be an almost scatter-gun approach as advertisers only have general demographic information on who is really watching what and when. Website the world over (that rely on ad revenue) have decried and denounced this new feature - but it's here and it's here to stay. So now it's time for those sites and their ad agencies to up their games.
When done well, online ads can and do work. But far too many - the majority - are not done well. And it's this continued laziness and disdain to end-users that is now pushing users to actively block pop-ups, local ads and ad-serving networks via content blocking extensions, add-ons and applications. Without a good content blocker, web-browsing on a mobile device is almost a chore - for me at least. Pop-ups, pop-unders, banner ads that fill the screen, overlays with crosses you can't really press with your fingers - it's no surprise that enough has become enough.
I'm a near-perfect example of how and why online ads do not work most of the time. I buy a lot of apps, programs, accessories, devices etc. I spend money every single month on tech of some kind. I grew up with the internet and have seen the rise of intrusive online ads and have learnt to ignore them, like so many other people have. But where this has happened, the online ads have become larger, more prominent, more in-your-face. Content and targeting is also an issue. From memory, not once have I ever purchased something I've seen via an online ad served to me (targeted or not). Whereas, curated ads on podcasts, shows and sites that interest me, and where the product or service is specifically linked to my interests - well, I daren't even imagine how many things I've purchased and the amounts of money spent over the last few years. Employing an ad-blocker also enhances my browsing experience - no ads in my way or taking up screen real-estate, significantly faster page load speeds, less data usage and the knowledge that if I happen to look at wetsuits on Amazon (for whatever reason), I won't then forever see ads for wetsuits and other such products everywhere I go.
So how will content blocking in iOS 9 and OS X 10.11 impact advertising and analytics? Well, potentially, quite a lot. Since iOS 9 was released, content blockers have sat upon the top of the App Store charts. And as iOS 9 has an adoption rate of 50% after just 3 weeks from release, that's a significant number of people who could install a content blocker.
Peace, from Marco Arment, almost immediately hit the top spot in about 20 countries before being pulled by Marco himself after just 72 hours. Peace utilised the back-end data of Ghostery, a popular browser extension which blocks trackers, ads etc, and as part of the blocking list used, an ad-serving service called The Deck was blocked - the same Deck that Marco himself employs on his own site, along with other notable tech sites and commentators. Since then, Crystal has sat atop most of the worldwide paid app charts.
So where does this leave us?
Sites employing anti-adblocking tactics, such as changing the fonts to comic sans if they detect an ad-blocker such as How-To Geek, or, at worse, blocking users from accessing a site altogether.
Sites moving to a paid subscription and paywall models, such as Ben Thompson's Stratechery. Great for niche and specialist sites with great content, but not so much for most other sites.
From an analytics perspective, numbers you see in your analytics tool of choice will be impacted. By default, most content blockers will also block analytics tracking. If you see a decline in the number of visits and page views from iOS devices (and OS X 10.11 devices from September 30th onwards) this is likely to be a key factor. This is unlikely to be an immediate thing, but as the adoption rate of the new OS's increases and users are exposed to ad-blocking apps online and within the App Store, their usage will slowly increase.
From an advertising perspective, it means a lot more in two areas - to me, at least.
1. Advertisers need to up their game and spend more time researching their audiences and demographics and targeting more specifically. If people see ads that are of genuine interest and use, they're less likely to want to block them. Those involved - advertisers, agencies, buyers, marketplaces and publishers - need to come up with, create and implement more acceptable ad formats and tracking practices.
2. Websites (in conjunction with ad networks and agencies) need to look at a number of things - mainly the placement and size of their ads, and the products they offer. Some sites, including the aforementioned iMore, use ad-serving services, so the ads, in theory, could be anything - relevant, non-relevant, easy to ignore, or completely in your face.
Now is the time to insist on well researched and targeted ads, along with ads for services and products that have been curated and actually have some meaningful appeal to your visitors and users.