Mozilla hurting Google by recommending Adblock Plus? · 2007-02-01 15:12 by Wladimir Palant
Quite a few blogs picked up the idea that there is something strange about Mozilla recommending Adblock Plus. They quote Mozilla’s financial statement saying that Mozilla earned $50 million in 2005 from search engine cooperation (mostly Google though at least Yahoo contributed as well) which is indirectly income from advertisements.
First, lets clearly state that Mozilla’s behavior here is neither absurd nor hypocritical. Regardless of whether Firefox generates revenue or not, the reason why Mozilla builds it is not money — that clearly separates them from Microsoft or Opera or Apple. Firefox is a browser built for the users, and the user always comes first. Despite some conspiracy theorists thinking that Mozilla has been bought out by Google, Mozilla’s goal has always been to do what is best for their users — and not what is best for Google. If allowing to block ads will help users (which is clearly the case at the moment), Mozilla should allow it. If Google decides to withdraw their support because of some decision Mozilla made, Mozilla will be able to continue without them.
It is the comments that got me pretty angry.
Users are using my website which I pay to have developed and run. It’s totally my right to have ads on it if I like and not the users right to block them.
That’s exactly the unbalanced situation I wrote about before — this guy thinks that he as the website owner has every right in the world and the visitors that pay him indirectly don’t have any rights at all. He would probably prefer if ad blockers were forbidden by law. And the hosts file. And the remote control because it allows you to zap away to another TV channel when the advertisements come. Actually, I don’t think you have the right to turn away from your TV when the advertisements come — you watched the show so now you have to pay.
Wake up, guys! It is this attitude that brought us where we are now. Why does everybody who puts up a site on the Internet assume that making users watch as many ads as possible is the best business strategy? It isn’t Mozilla who is pushing Adblock Plus into mainstream — you are. And don’t come wining when your bad business strategy fails. It is up to you to make sure that your income source doesn’t dry out. And yes, it means more effort, but after all — you want us to give you our money (directly or not).
As I wrote down earlier, there is only one reliable way to make sure your ads aren’t blocked — make sure the users don’t want to block them. Don’t forget about the users, use ads in a way that doesn’t degrade their experience. There is still lots of people out there saying: “I don’t use Adblock because I don’t mind the ads. They are even useful at times”. Don’t make them change their opinion.
To come back to Google now: Google does it right with his ads, at least the part that is under his control. Google ads are mostly on-topic and often prove useful to users. They are also meant to be non-distractive, plain text ads as they should be. That’s why I personally don’t block Google ads, and I know many do the same. So Google is the one who is least likely to suffer from Adblock Plus, it might rather get a competitive advantage out of it. That’s because they made an effort to improve the user experience and I think they deserve it.
Not all is good however. There is lots of things out of Google’s control, like how websites place the ads. For example one of the blogs I linked to above displays four blocks of Google ads that are almost indistinguishable from the page’s content. It even made it quite hard for me to find the “Post Comment” link. Yes, the AdSense FAQ tells you that ads near the primary content of the page are most likely to be clicked. But it also tells you to ask yourself:
- How can I integrate ads into this area without getting in the users’ way?
- How can I keep the page looking clean, uncluttered and inviting?
Unfortunately not too many follow this recommendation. My opinion is that you should not have more than one block of ads. You should also make sure to clearly separate it from the page’s main content. If you make users read the ads simply because they can’t distinguish it from the main content, you might get more clicks at first. But it will annoy the users and they will leave.
Finally there is one important point I didn’t see addressed in the AdSense FAQ: you should always try to serve all content from your own server, including ads. Even if you are a member of an advertising network, you should download and cache ads on the server side so that the user doesn’t have to do it. For the user it has the advantage that it speeds up page load times considerably, having to contact several servers (and especially do multiple DNS lookups) might be a major reason your site is perceived as slow. That’s also the reason why I tend to block all external visitor counters — they are a waste of my time, and webmasters who can’t analyze their own web server logs probably don’t really need the data anyway. I should also note that everything your site loads from external sources (especially scripts) is a privacy concern, something you eliminate as well by serving ads from your server. And there is one advantage for you: ads from your server have a different address so that they are not automatically blocked by general rules. That won’t stop users from blocking them if they turn out to be annoying but you get your chance.
Of course you don’t have to do what I wrote above. You have some alternatives:
- Ignore the problem, simply continue as before. Just don’t complain when you notice that everybody using your site has Adblock because all other users simply left.
- Detect ad blocking software (it really isn’t that complicated) and lock out users who don’t see your ads. You can even boycott Firefox if you think it will help. Just don’t expect anybody to turn off Adblock, it is far easier to leave. As you might know, satisfied users on average will only tell four other people about your service, dissatisfied users however will tell seven people. For you that means that you will loose more than just the Adblock users, probably much more. But I guess you can live with that.
Personally, I don’t mind if a few sites choosing the alternatives above will die. New sites will come to replace them, and those won’t forget who their money comes from.
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