Participating in the Acceptable Ads Initiative - Ad Blocking

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The Acceptable Ads initiative is a program initiated by Eyeo GmbH, the company behind the AdBlock Plus ad blocker. The initiative provides a mechanism by which web publishers are able to apply to Eyeo to have ad elements that meet specified criteria whitelisted so that they appear even when a site visitor has AdBlock Plus installed and enabled.

This chapter will introduce the Acceptable Ads initiative (including the controversy surrounding it) and outline the requirements and steps that can be taken to participate in this program. The next chapter, entitled Running Acceptable Ads with PageFair, will introduce an alternative approach to using acceptable ads.




The Acceptable Ads Initiative

The Acceptable Ads initiative was started in 2011 ostensibly to provide a way for web publishers to generate advertising revenue by running ads that comply with specific criteria in terms of content and positioning. Such ad elements, once approved by Eyeo, are added to the Acceptable Ads list.

When a user installs AdBlock Plus, an option in the filter lists settings page labelled Allow some non-intrusive advertising (highlighted in Figure 14-1) is enabled by default:


Enabling acceptable ads in AdBlock Plus

Figure 14-1


Unless the user disables this option, AdBlock Plus will not block those ads on your website that have been approved as meeting the Acceptable Ads criteria.

The Acceptable Ads Controversy – A Publisher’s Friend or Foe?

Before discussing whether web publishers should make efforts to comply with the Acceptable Ads initiative, it is worthwhile taking time to cover some of the controversy surrounding the initiative.

If you are a small to medium-sized web publisher then it costs nothing to participate in the program. Large publishers, however, are required to pay to run Acceptable Ads. If participating in the program will result in your site receiving more than 10 million additional ad impressions per month your site is considered a large entity and must pay 30% of any additional revenue generated as a result of using Acceptable Ads (Google reportedly paid $25 million to participate). This makes the initiative unpopular with several groups. The advertising industry claims that this is a form of extortion targeting large publishers and only serves to fund the creation of more advanced ad blocking technology. Large publishers, of course, resent having to pay for the privilege of displaying ads on their own sites. Finally, the developers of competing ad blocking solutions consider the displaying of Acceptable Ads to be betrayal of the goal of eliminating all advertising from every website on the internet.


Are Acceptable Ads an Acceptable Option?

For small and medium-sized web publishers the decision as to whether or not to participate in the Acceptable Ads program is easier. The advantages are that the program is free to join and, once accepted, your web site will begin to generate revenue from ads that would previously have been blocked. Since no payment is required to participate at this level the ethical dilemma of funding ad blocking technology is not of concern.

It is important to be aware that this strategy, though worthwhile considering, does not resolve all of the problems associated with ad blocking. Even if implemented, some issues will remain outstanding:

  • Only AdBlock Plus makes use of the Acceptable Ads list. All other ad blocking solutions will continue to block the ads.
  • Users of AdBlock Plus have the option to turn off the Acceptable Ads option, causing the ads to be blocked.
  • The initiative is essentially designed to display ads, albeit less intrusive ones, to visitors who dislike ads so much they have installed an ad blocker. While less of a problem for CPM based ads, it is likely that the click-through rates for CPC based ads will be lower for these ads.

Shortcomings aside, it is important to keep in mind that AdBlock Plus is among the most popular ad blocking solutions on the market today. This combined with the fact that Acceptable Ads are enabled by default within AdBlock Plus means that many users will leave the option enabled out of inertia.

Unless you can find a more profitable way to make use of otherwise blocked ad space, the Acceptable Ads program, despite some negative publicity, is probably worth trying. You can, after all, stop participating at any time.

Acceptable Ads

The criteria used to decide whether an ad is eligible for inclusion as an Acceptable Ad can be divided into three groups, each of which is summarized below. Since these criteria may be subject to change, it is worth checking on the latest requirements at:

https://adblockplus.org/en/acceptable-ads#criteria

Placement Criteria

An Acceptable Ad must be positioned at the top, side or bottom of the main content of the web page, should clearly be an advertisement and must be labelled with text that makes clear it is an ad (for example the word “advertisement” placed above the ad would adequately meet this requirement).

Size Criteria

An ad placed above the content must not exceed 200px in height. Ads positioned to the side of the main content are restricted to a maximum width of 350px. Ads placed below the main content cannot exceed 400px in height.

Ads appearing above the fold must not occupy more than 15% of the visible area of the web page. When appearing below the fold, the ad must not exceed 25% of the visible area.

Content Criteria

The content of the ad should ideally be text-based (Google AdSense ads configured as text only, for example, will generally meet this requirement). In addition, text ads must not make excessive use of distracting colors. Image ads must be static and unobtrusive (no animation is permitted) and will be considered for inclusion on a case-by-case basis.

Ads Not Considered to be Eligible

The following lists verbatim the types of ads that are not considered to be eligible for the inclusion in the program:

  • Ads that visibly load new ads if the Primary Content does not change
  • Ads with excessive or non user-initiated hover effects
  • Animated ads
  • Autoplay-sound or video ads
  • Expanding ads
  • Generally oversized image ads
  • Interstitial page ads
  • Overlay ads
  • Overlay in-video ads
  • Pop-ups
  • Pop-unders
  • Pre-roll video ads
  • Rich media ads (e.g. Flash ads, Shockwave ads, etc.)

Getting your Ads Approved

Once you believe you have compliant ads running on your site, begin by completing and submitting the following application form:

https://eyeo.com/acceptable-ads-application.html

Enter the URL for a page on your site where the acceptable ads are active. Two additional URLs may be entered if you have pages with different layouts that also contain acceptable ads. Enter any comments that you feel are necessary (such as explaining the locations where the ads appear and the ad networks through which the ads are being served).

Once the application form has been submitted, Eyeo will contact you at some point in the future to verify the ads for which you are seeking approval and outline changes that may be required before approval is granted. When the ads meet the criteria you will be required to enter into an agreement with Eyeo, after which the whitelisting of your ads will be posted the AdBlock Plus Acceptable Ads proposal forum at:

https://adblockplus.org/forum/viewforum.php?f=12

At the same time that the proposal is posted to the forum your ads will be whitelisted within the Acceptable Ads list. According to Eyeo, it can take up to 10 days from the point that your ads are deemed to be acceptable before the whitelisting is implemented.

Keeping Track of the Results

Assuming you reach the point where your website is participating in the Acceptable Ads initiative, it will be important to keep track of the effectiveness of this strategy. Consider using ad blocker detection and ad reinsertion to run different ad units depending on whether an ad blocker is enabled. This will allow you to monitor the amount of revenue that is coming directly from ads that would otherwise have been blocked.

Also consider adjusting the detection code to track the percentage of visitors with ad blocking enabled for which the ad is hidden. This will provide an indication of the number of visitors who have turned off Acceptable Ads in AdBlock Plus, or are using an ad blocker that does not support the Acceptable Ads initiative.

Low revenue and a high percentage of blocking may be an indication that better use can be made of the ad space.

Summary

The acceptable ads initiative is a program introduced by the company responsible for the AdBlock Plus ad blocker. The program defines criteria for the content, size and positioning of ads on a web page that are deemed to be acceptable for display even when the AdBlock Plus ad blocker is enabled. Once the ads on a website have been submitted and approved by the program, those ads will appear to visitors using AdBlock Plus. The displaying of acceptable ads, however, is only supported by AdBlock Plus, and may be turned off by users that do not wish to see any advertising.

Although subject to some controversy from the advertising industry and large web publishers, there is little downside for small and medium sized publishers (aside from the time and effort involved in seeking ad approval) to trying out the acceptable ads program.