Google has been busy so far in 2018 when it comes to changing the advertising landscape to improve users’ relationships with the ads they see.
Shortly after Valentine’s Day, the Coalition for Better Ads—an industry group formed with the help of Google that has identified 12 “web experiences” that advertisers and publishers alike should avoid—scored a big win when Google announced that it would enforce the group’s standards and block ads on sites that continue to use those ad formats on the Chrome browser, a decision that has been in the works since last June.
This came after a late January change in which the advertising giant announced additions to its Mute This Ad tool designed to give users more power to escape unwanted retargeting ads.
Both of these developments—one macro, one micro—are worth keeping an eye on, so let’s look at how they are different and how they will affect advertisers.
The macro: Coalition for Better Ads standards come to Chrome
The Coalition for Better Ads has drawn significant press for its focus on eliminating disruptive advertising experiences like pop-ups and auto-play video ads with sound. Sites are evaluated for the percentage of their pageviews containing ads that fall into these categories and are notified if they are in danger of failing to meet the threshold, set at 7.5 percent of page views in the program’s first two months and 2.5 percent after six months. If a site fails to fix its non-compliant ad experiences in 30 days, Chrome will begin to block all ads on that site unless users opt in to allow ads anyway.
Part of Google’s likely aim here is to limit the extent to which intrusive ad formats cause Chrome users to install ad blockers that would prevent ads on all sites—not just the ones with sub-optimal experiences—which eliminates a key revenue stream for publishers and Google alike. The popularity of ad blocking tools has risen steadily over the last five years, reaching a projected 30.1 percent of all US internet users in 2018 according to eMarketer and surging as high as 54 percent for the 18-24 age group.
While the notification that a site is warned or failing goes only to that publisher, advertisers will be able to use Google’s Ad Experience Report API to pull a list of the sites that are in violation. As of March 1, over 1,300 sites were listed, though nearly all were fringe sites that are unlikely to have a significant impact on ad delivery. That said, when the threshold for non-compliant page views drops to 2.5 percent in July, it will be worth revisiting to see if any top websites run afoul of the standards, as that could hurt advertisers’ ability to reach users on quality inventory.
The micro: Mute This Ad gets an upgrade
Compared to blocking ads on non-compliant sites across Chrome, Google’s strengthening of its ad muting features saw relatively little fanfare, but these changes shouldn’t be ignored. In late January, a blog post from product manager Jon Krafcik announced that users would be able to mute “reminder ads”—also known as product retargeting—from specific advertisers for a 90-day period through their Ads Settings dashboard.
Additionally, the Mute This Ad tool, which allows users to dismiss a piece of ad creative that they deem inappropriate, repetitive, or irrelevant, will recognize users’ feedback on any device that is signed into the corresponding Google Account. If you mute an ad from a shoe company on your laptop, that ad will also be muted on your phone and tablet. For comparison, Facebook allows similar power to users who hide ads on its platform, preventing them from seeing that specific ad ever again and hiding all ads from the advertiser for 30 days.
The power of Mute This Ad varies significantly by ad type, though. Video and lightbox ads cannot be muted for now, and muting display ads served on the Google Display Network, DoubleClick Bid Manager inventory, or on YouTube will block only that specific creative until a user deletes their cookies. Meanwhile, muting paid search or Gmail ads blocks the specific advertiser indefinitely, and users can mute up to 500 advertisers in this fashion.
Advertisers will not have the ability to keep track of the number of times their ads are muted, but Google has suggested to Merkle that mutes will not affect quality scores for search. This is notably different from Facebook’s policy on hiding ads, which counts as negative feedback that can influence an ad’s relevance score and affect delivery.
Since muting ads is an action that must be taken by specific users, the impact on delivery is likely to be relatively small. But it does serve as a reminder of the importance of designing ad creative that is engaging without being intrusive and keeping tabs on frequency to ensure that your campaigns achieve success without becoming “creepy.”
Additionally, it may also save advertisers money in some cases by limiting ad impressions for people that don’t want to see them.
To recap, Google has rolled out two significant changes this year that signal a desire to improve users’ ad experiences. One is a sweeping industry change aimed at penalizing publishers that allow intrusive ad experiences on their sites, while the other is a series of adjustments to an existing tool designed specifically to give users control over the ads they see.
Time will determine the impact of these measures, but it’s likely that the primary impact will come in the form of decreased future adoption of ad-blocking software. At least, that’s what Google is hoping for.