Sorry to be a pain in the ads...

Sorry to be a pain in the ads…

webuser-adblocker

I present the case for protecting ad-funded websites like FPL from users who choose to block adverts in the latest issue of WebUser Magazine.

I’ve mentioned the amount of grief I get from those who don’t understand how a website can give away money for free so assume it’s a con, but there are also those who don’t understand that a free website needs the advertising revenue in order to survive and continue to be free.

The headline on the front cover of the new issue of WebUser magazine (out last Thursday) reads “Block every web advert”. Whilst the headline made me gasp, the article is clear that users shouldn’t block ads on websites that rely on them for their existence and do not use overly obtrusive adverts (like popups). This is why they invited me to contribute my thoughts on why you should not block every web advert:

I understand that ad-blockers are necessary to guard against some websites’ overly obtrusive adverts and invasive practices. However, FreePostcodeLottery.com and many other well-behaved, user-centered websites rely entirely on the revenue that they bring in to pay for what we do, including, in my case, the daily prize money.

Whenever I’m presented with a new way of monetising my site I have to make a calculation. Will the pain that it causes the users outweigh the added benefit? Getting this wrong is like give them an electric shock whilst exposing them to your brand. Not good. The approach on FreePostcodeLottery.com is to display adverts on the page but not to send unwanted emails, or to collect and sell user data, and most importantly, to stay free.

If my website’s users block adverts they are cutting off my revenue source and, effectively, stealing from myself and the other users of the website. So, I ask users of FreePostcodeLottery.com to add us to their ad-blocker’s white-list. I had actually set up an alert on the site to detect ad-blocking and remind the user to do this but it resulted in my inbox being flooded with questions about how access various ad-blockers’ settings.

Are you “stealing” from FPL & other FPL users?

Ok, it’s a dramatic way of saying that you’re not being fair, but when you think about it, you are taking something for nothing. So, as I mention in the article, if you are using an Ad-blocker please add http://freepostcodelottery.com to the whitelist (websites allowed to show ads). Here are instructions for Ad Blocker Plus (this is the most widely used ad-blocker).

If you are still not seeing Ads it may be that you are using DoNotTrackMe. This is also a browser extension that stops websites tracking your activity so that they can build up data profiles about you. It is perfectly understandable to takes steps to prevent this, however, this also stops the ads appearing on FPL because they are fed in by Google. The ads are only ‘tracking’ you in as far as trying to deliver relevant ads based on what Google does or doesn’t know about you. Whilst I recommend to remain vigilant on unknown websites you can safely whitelist FPL by clicking on the DoNotTrackMe icon (top right in Firefox and Chrome at least) and clicking the switch labelled “Do not track my browsing here” so it changes from a tick to a cross.

Whilst I say that Google is only trying to target relevant ads at you, you may be concerned about what they know. Handily, the WebUser article also points out a page on Google that allows you to see exactly what they know, and even turn off their “tracking”: www.google.com/ads/preferences

I hope you’ve found this useful. Big thanks to the team at WebUser magazine for supporting FPL and giving me a chance to contribute to the debate. As a web developer I had initially turned my nose up at non-technical web magazine but I’ve become quite a fan since I’ve started reading it. Plenty of useful tips and tricks for the tech-newbies and hardcore alike!

Please get in touch if you need help or have any concerns. As always, comments welcome below.

Thanks!

Chris :-)

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  1. Craig says:

    I agree with your cause but by highlighting this I feel you are making people more aware you can get an adblocker.

    • Chris says:

      Well, if the problem worsens I can detect the use of adblockers and remove offenders from the draw. Draconian yes, but an option I can use if I have to.

  2. Rachel says:

    Thanks Chris I have now updated my adblocker for this and a couple more sites. I didn’t know how to do it before.

  3. Richie says:

    Hi Chris. I also agree with your cause and I am happy to keep the ads. But, if you start demanding that people stop blocking ads, you may have to change the name from FREEpostcodelottery. Free does mean something for nothing after all.

    • Chris says:

      Thanks. but actually I don’t agree. “Free” means free you don’t have to pay money. As in “Free newspaper” (which, of course, carry ads)

      I don’t think it would be possible to build, host and run a website using your definition of free. Let alone one that gives away money every day :-)

      • tiggy tiger says:

        totally agree with you Chris, you are far from demanding that people white list you, merely pointing out that if everyone blocks you then you cannot keep fpl running, which would totally bugger my mornings and post kiddy bedtime routine! ha!

        By the way, hows it going with the money raised for charities? I was wondering if there is a option for people to donate the mini draw if they won that?

  4. Richie says:

    I get the wife to cut all the ads out of the free papers before I read them ;)

  5. Gavin Birmingham says:

    Thanks for the information, I have added you to my white list. Keep up the good work

  6. Mark says:

    I think that’s fair enough, apart from pop-ups or unders I don’t see it is a big deal having ads on display.

  7. Pete says:

    It’s a fair point, and I must admit I have used ad blockers in the past. Still do on some browser/computer combinations.

    I’m currently not blocking any ads on your site, partly by choice and partly because I don’t have anything set up to do it on this computer, which is the main one I use to view the draw each day.

    What tends to make me block ads are the sort of ads you never have, or haven’t had so far. e.g.

    Ones that autoplay, nothing worse than suddenly having an ad blaring out over music I am listening to.

    Pop over/under ads or re-direct ads.

    You have a great concept and a great site here, so I will make a point of whitelisting you next time I set up an ad-blocker.

    It matters to be fair, and that counts for pretty much any ad based site, they need some sort of revenue stream if they are giving away content.

  8. Elizabeth Lock says:

    Does anyone else wonder what will happen when advertisers wake up to the fact that people don’t like ads? That they go to elaborate lengths to avoid seeing ads? Don’t get me wrong, it will be bad news for good sites such as FPL, as well as for the economy (what if TV advertisers worked out that they were paying a fortune just so people could take a comfort break during a long show?), but the current situation does seem a bit surreal. I enter into a gentleman’s agreement to allow ads to be visible on ad-supported sites, but that good faith doesn’t, I presume, extend to actually reading them or seriously considering buying the product advertised. Advertising is a by-word for cynical (think How to Get Ahead in Advertising), yet so many people rely on advertiser naivety! I don’t think I’m getting subliminal messages, either, since my shopping habits don’t keep changing without my knowledge :)
    Anyway, I’ll be good, but please don’t start detecting browser extensions–I already have to use Chromium for all the sites that don’t work with NoScript ….

    • Chris says:

      Thanks Elizabeth. The thing is that advertising actually works. Everybody says the same thing “I never pay any attention to advertising” but the fact is that people do. Roughly 1 in 100 visitors FPL click an ad. It doesn’t sound like a lot, but fortunately it is enough to fund FPL (for the moment at least!).

      I’ve got Tivo so mostly watch recordings, but I often just forget to fast-forward the ads. Sometimes our minds become passive and actually do attend to, and even respond to advertising even when we know that we can actively avoid them. If that weren’t the case then we wouldn’t have a massive advertising industry in this country.

      Are advertisers just wasting their money? Well, unlike traditional forms of advertising (eg. TV), online advertisers see an instantly measurable return on their investment. For example, they can bid to pay 20p for a click say, and 1 in 10 clicks might spend £10 on average which would net them an 80p profit on average per click (minus any other costs).

      I used to claim to be “Banner blind” but before Xmas I saw an advert for a brand of ultra-thin wallets. Not only did I click the ad and add it to my Xmas list, but I also posted it to Facebook. When I saw my friend on New Year’s Eve we realised that we both got the same wallet for Xmas. He had seen my FB post and added it to his list as well. Anyway, it goes to show that online adverts do work!

      On FPL I will never use adverts that annoy or obstruct and there is, of course, no obligation to pay any attention to them. But let’s imagine that 25% of users block ads (I hope not!) If you were to win today’s £120 pot that could be 25% higher – £150! Wouldn’t you feel robbed?

  9. Vikki Sanderson says:

    Insightful! I have an adblocker on my laptop and it’s always turned on as i’m not a fan of adverts and am online a lot. It didn’t occur to me the effect it would have on this site, however, so I’ve added you to my “not to block” list!

  10. Alex says:

    I am increasingly irritated with websites who are anti-adblocker or make a fuss about it.
    The simple fact is that untargeted adverts are not only an annoyance, but also cause significant performance issues on lower end machines like laptops, phones, tablets etc, not to mention a waste of bandwidth for those who are on capped internet plans.

    If your entire business model is based around spamming people with adverts, it’s no surprise that you’ll attempt to tarnish such users for attempting to avoid them.
    I have a youtube channel with 3.8 million hits so far this year. Ad revenue comes through clicks on interesting adverts. Rather than annoy the user with general adverts I take the time to select specific ads which are relevant to the content in question, and I certainly don’t throw a wobbly when ad-blockers are in use.

    In a somewhat self defeating manner, all you are doing is drawing ad blockers to the attention of the laymen. I recommend ad blockers to everyone!

    • Chris says:

      Thanks Alex. You take quite an extreme position! My entire business model is based on exposing people to display ads, but I strongly disagree that this is ‘spam’. Yes, the ads are not the reason why people visit the site, but the ads are not the reason people watch Coronation Street. It’s a fair point that the ads take up extra bandwidth but that’s like saying that TV ads use excess electricity. Or, you could say that any website that isn’t 100% relevant to every user is wasting their bandwidth. The point is that the whole idea of FPL is that it is an ad-funded daily draw. Without the ads it is a charity and I would have to close it down because I can’t afford to run a charity without funding.

      You’re right that they are not always relevant, but at least they are optional and unobtrusive. They are “optional” because the user does not have to click and they are “unobtrusive” because they don’t move about and make a noise. They are like the ads in a free newspaper – would you object to them?

      I’m delighted that you have such a popular YouTube channel (please tell us what it is) and it’s fantastic that you can target your ads to make them more relevant to your content. I would love to do this but the users of this site are very ‘generic’ in that they are not part of a particular interest group. Also, because I make a point of not collecting users’ details I cannot find out what people are interested in and target them individually. In fact, I take a pride in the fact that I keep the site as anonymous as possible.

      That being said, I am constantly looking at ways to improve the quality of the adverts. Unfortunately, this is difficult if you’re a relatively small website and particularly if the ad agencies see you as a gambling website (which this is clearly not – I would argue that FPL is the opposite). I’m making some progress though so the ads should improve soon.

      I decided to ignore the ad-blocker issue but have only brought it up again because I wanted to tell the FPL users about my involvement with the WebUser article. I’m not worried about bringing ad-blockers to the attention of the ‘laymen’ because I believe that if they can be bothered to install an adblocker they can also be bothered to whitelist FPL. If I’m wrong and FPL stops making any money then I will have to make a decision. Block the blockers, find alternative revenue (feel free to suggest), or close the site down. I have a feeling that whatever I choose would not meet with your approval ;-)

  11. Colin says:

    Hi Chris,

    I assume you have no control over the ads selected for this page? For a good week now there has been an ad for an extremely dodgy piece of software masquerading as a malware removal tool. It is entirely to avoid dangerous misclicks on adverts of this type that I have an Ad blocker in place.

    Of course I have FPL whitelisted, but it would be nice to feel “safer” around here…

    Cheers, Colin

    • Chris says:

      Hi Colin. Are you sure it’s dodgy? The ads are provided by Google who are quite strict. Can you remember the name of the software?

      • Colin says:

        Hi Chris,

        Sparktrust is the name. Very bad reviews and notoriously difficult to get rid of itself without actually paying for the full version. Definitely a market leader in bad anti-malware software.

  12. Charlotte says:

    I don’t mind the ads at all! As you say, they are completely unobtrusive and you are not forcing anyone to click on them. This is a great website (I check every day) and I understand that you need ads to be able to fund it! Shame not everyone does….
    Anyway, keep up the good work Chris, I think you’re doing a brilliant job!

  13. Gemma says:

    Hi Chris,

    Thanks for reminding me – I have now whitelisted this page on my adblocker :) Now I feel bad for blocking elsewhere since a lot of blogs rely on ad revenue…

  14. sarah says:

    hi, I didnt even realise there were ad blockers, I dont mind the ads(love them on the tv too) at all so wont be using one, however the http://www.google.com/ads/preferences part of your article interested me so i thought id have a peek to see what they knew about me……….im horrified that according to them the sort of websites i visit puts me in an age bracket of 45-54 im going to start looking at younger pages im not even quite 40 yet :-)
    great website chris im sure looking at yours daily hasn’t aged me!!!!!!!

  15. tiggy tiger says:

    I thought if you searched for something on the internet (lets say top soil) then adverrts would automatically be around the subject you searched? I’ve been hunting for cheap top soil, and through an add on here I found it (thanks btw, it saved ne £50!)

    Quite amazed that simple ads seem to be such an issue to some people! Its not like you HAVE to click on them, but you may be pleasently suprised if you do! And at least the ads are not filthy ones :-)

  16. nikkikayj says:

    Ads can be useful too, today for me its showing a banner for the argos clearance which reminded me that i was browsing there last night when i fell asleep at the laptop lol. So I clicked through the link and reserved what i was looking for last night. That ones a win win situation for us – ad revenue for you, kids birthday present reserved for me haha

  17. del says:

    i knew what i was agreeing to when i signed up there are no popups which is what agrivates me most, so i just switch of when i visit the site, and feel this is what everyone should realise they dont have to use the site it still is money for old rope as they used to say and a bit of fun…… :)

  18. Debby says:

    I have been a member of FPL for years now and never had a problem with the ads – they are unobtrusive, optional, not disguised as other things and bring in good revenue for the FPL. We are all happy with the idea of winning free money and as there are many benefits to FPL, such as easy registration, no obligations, no spam e-mails and the security of knowing our few details are safe and not sold on, I don’t think the odd little ad should be a problem for users. By nature I am a suspicious and cynical person, but do trust FPL and site owner Chris, who I have always found polite & helpful when I have had queries etc. I would only ever a click an ad/link if I was interested in it, so trust FPL to make sure ads are viewable but optional to click.

  19. Avril says:

    I use adblocker everywhere except here. It’s very easy to disable adblocker for this one site.
    It’s not as if the ads on here are really a nuisance.
    Come on folks, do it. Consider it an investment! :-)

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