On Thursday, Google began blocking certain types of ads on its Chrome browser. Chrome is the most popular web browser on both personal computers and smartphones; it’s used for nearly 60 percent of web page views.
According to a Google representative, the move is designed to create a better user experience by restricting access in Chrome to certain kinds of frustrating and intrusive ads.
“We want the web to be a place where businesses can thrive and make revenue, but also a place where users can have a good experience,” according to Ryan Schoen, a product manager for Google. “We’re hoping this will bring balance back in the web ecosystem.”
Google announced the move last June, noting that while advertising “is a critical component of the web,” the company recognizes that poor advertising experiences have led web users to increase their usage of ad-blocking software.
Google said that, beginning February 15, 2018, the Google Chrome browser would begin removing ads from sites that did not follow the Better Ads Standards, a list of requirements outlined by the Coalition for Better Ads.
What kinds of ads are affected by Google Chrome’s ad filtering?
The kinds of ads that will be blocked by Google Chrome were determined through public consumer research conducted by the Coalition for Better Ads. More than 40,000 North American and European internet users participated in surveys conducted by the coalition. The participants were shown common ad experiences and asked to evaluate how intrusive they felt the ads were.
Types of ads that will now be blocked by Google Chrome include:
- Pop-up ads
- Prestitial ads with a countdown timer
- Auto-play video ads with sound
- Large sticky ads
- Pop-up ads
- Prestitial ads
- Auto-play video ads with sound
- Poststitial ads with countdown timer
- Ads that take up more than 30 percent of the screen
- Flashing animated ads
- Large sticky ads
- Full-screen scroll over ads
Here’s an image of these ad types:
Image Source: The Coalition for Better Ads
How will non-compliant websites be affected by Google Chrome ad filtering?
It appears a number of sites already warned by Google about intrusive ads have fixed their ads to meet Google’s standards. That includes the Los Angeles Times, Forbes, and The Chicago Tribune.
But what will happen to sites that aren’t complying with Chrome’s ad change?
According to a Google representative, Google analyzes sites and warns sites in Chrome that the ads don’t meet the guidelines. If the sites’ owners don’t update their ads to meet the new regulations, Google adds the sites to a blacklist. Google Chrome then blocks all ads on those sites until the ads meet the new regulations.
On the user side, a warning pops up in Chrome indicating that the ads are blocked because the site tends to show intrusive ads. It looks like this:
What Google Chrome’s ad filtering could reveal to attorneys
Google derives a significant amount of its revenue from advertising. So, why is Google making these ad-blocking changes to its Chrome browser?
For Google, it’s a tightrope walk between providing a good user experience and maintaining and growing its ad revenue.
Not only are people becoming “ad-blind” — they are also losing interest in being advertised to. As a result of poor ad experiences, as well as worries about privacy and security, there’s been a significant increase in the use of ad blocking software by web users.
Between 2016 and 2017 alone, use of ad-block software increased globally by 30 percent. Mobile ad-block usage grew by 108 million to reach 380 million devices, and desktop ad-block usage grew by 34 million to reach 236 million devices.
These poor ad experiences, coupled with the increasing use of ad-block software, have created a feedback loop that the consulting firm Deloitte pointed out in a recent study.
The digital advertising feedback loop
Here’s what that feedback loop looks like:
- As traffic volumes increase, revenue per ad impression has decreased, and the number of intermediaries who extract a commission has increased.
- To make up for this problem, web pages have seen an increase in banner and video ads.
- As a response to web pages now cluttered with ads, which lead to a poor user experience, consumers have started using ad-blockers.
- The use of those ad-blockers leads to more advertisements per page for those not blocking ads.
Google’s delicate balance: ad revenue and user experience
Google is best known for its search engine, which has changed the way that we research and discover information about products, services, and people.
The bulk of Google’s revenue comes from Google AdWords. In 2017 alone, Google’s parent company, Alphabet, made more than $70 billion in net digital ad sales.
Online ads have allowed the web to grow by funding sites like Google without forcing people to pay subscription fees. But in recent years, people have begun to realize how annoying many of these ads are, and how it creates a negative user experience.
They’ve turned to ad-blockers to deal with the problem.
When you make a Google search, Google returns results that are highly relevant to your query. (If it couldn’t do that, very few people would use that search engine.) If you’re not using an ad-blocker, you’ll often receive related results in the search engine results pages (SERPs) from an AdWords advertiser. These results are usually seen as the first listings, above the organic listings, marked with the word, “Ad.” (If you’re paying for pay-per-click ads, this is one place where your ads would be seen.)
For those using ad-blockers, those paid listings are eliminated in SERPs. Ad-blockers remove ads in many other places, as well.
The ad-related changes to Google Chrome are likely a response to the feedback loop mentioned above. By moving to rid the web of the most annoying and intrusive ads, Google’s hope may be that it will make web users less likely to install aggressive ad-blockers — those that block all ads and that detract from Google’s main source of revenue.
It’s a delicate balance for Google to strike. Ad revenue supports the creation of good web content, and good content on non-Google sites is an important part of Google’s business. (After all, if Google couldn’t provide good content in search results, people wouldn’t use Google to do research.)
But people have become intolerant of ads in general. Some people actively avoid looking at ads when they see them; others use ad-block software to remove the ads from their online viewing experience.
Will the move to block certain ads keep more people from using aggressive ad-blockers? Maybe. But Google still hasn’t addressed matters of page speed, privacy and security related to ads (and ad trackers). Many people don’t want to see any advertisements at all. For now, that may keep people using aggressive ad-blockers.
Chrome ad-blocking and attorney pay-per-click ads
While a recent study suggests that 77 percent of American adblock users indicated that they’re willing to view some ad formats, that doesn’t necessarily mean that ads are an effective tool to reach people, including your potential clients.
Pay-per-click ads can come with a lot of problems for attorneys. They’re often ineffective. (According to Google, nearly 60 percent of all ad impressions don’t get seen by web users.) Sometimes, the PPC keywords that attorneys bid on aren’t an accurate reflection of the way that potential clients search for attorneys. (A lot of times, potential clients don’t even know they need an attorney yet.)
They can be expensive and provide little reward for the money you’ve spent. Are your potential clients clicking on your ads? Possibly. But clicks are not always equivalent to clients. Regardless of the outcome, you pay for the click — not for the client.
Then there’s the matter of fake Google ad traffic that can cause you to waste money:
- Your competitors can click on your ads.
- Marketers can click on your ads.
- Even your own marketing agency may be clicking on your ads.
In some cases, pay-per-click advertising (PPC) can serve as an interim measure as you build ranking and traffic for your law firm’s website through quality content. However, we don’t recommend that attorneys depend on PPC for some very good reasons.
If you’re doing PPC marketing for your law firm, the recent change to Chrome’s ad policies may or may not directly affect you. But it should be one more indication that web users — and your potential clients — are growing intolerant to advertisements and that attorneys should avoid a PPC-first strategy as a means of reaching quality potential clients over the long term.
Related Blog Posts:
- Is Your Law Firm Hooked On PPC? Here’s Why You May Want To Reconsider
- Webinar: Everything Attorneys Need To Know To Get Started with PPC
- PPC For Lawyers May Have Just Gotten A Whole Lot Tougher