Content Blocking killed the ad supported business model and even though it gets some companies in trouble. It will spur innovation and business model reinvention for content publishers. If your visitors can block whatever they want (or better phrased: whatever they don’t want), what is the thing you have to offer that is worth their time and money. Hint: it is not just better content.
Content Blocking was released in iOS9 and was presented by Apple as the following:
Use the Content Blocking extension point to give Safari a block list describing the content that you want to block while your users are browsing the web.
Which means that you can install an application on your iOS device which will block certain content in any webpage in Safari. Content only will be blocked in Safari not in other web windows that appear in other apps.
To make things clear before moving ahead:
What Content Blocking is Not
Content blocking is not new. There was a long list of ad blocking extensions available which let you block ads in your browser on your desktop. There are extensions such as Ghostery that allow you to be very specific in what you or what you don’t block. Also you could install a specific profile on your iOS device or setup a specific DNS or VPN connection to filter out content from sources you don’t like. It always has been there, the big change is that it moved out the nerd section (profiles, DNS, VPN, proxies or extensions) and got easy with just installing an app.
Second of all content blocking is not stealing. It is not taking money away from people whose content you read. It is deciding not to download certain elements on pages of publishers on your device. Office proxy servers often block already such elements (ads, tracking or platforms as a whole such as Facebook). The publisher is free to force you to have everything downloaded before reading, though you are free to not do so (and also to not consume the content).
Why this is what the Internet needed
Content blocking is what the Internet needed first of all since page size is increasing each year in almost exponential fashion. At the same time traffic is moving more and more to mobile and even though our bandwidth in general increases, it doesn’t always catch up and therefore load times increase. Big pages consume more battery on your mobile device, big pages cannot be loaded in some cases and if you are on a bandwidth limited mobile plan you burn through your data quickly.
A content blocker makes sure that the page is being downloaded significantly faster on your mobile device. which is the key feature for me. It is not about blocking content per se, it is about speeding up the loading times and making sure content gets there faster. In this lengthy review of Ben Brooks you can see that pages are being loaded up to almost 62% faster. In this review about Crystal (one of the content blockers for iOS) on betanews it shows that bandwidth savings can be over 50% depending on the websites you are visiting. Also some of the blockers just keep you sane and block everything about the Kardashians.
Publishers should leverage Content Blockers
These numbers are not just in the interest of the user. It should be in the interest of the publisher as well. Page abandonment increase linearily in the first 4 seconds of a page visit. Which means that the longer somebody has to wait the more likely he or she drops of. After 4 seconds of waiting 25% of the people left. When shopping 40% of the people leave a website that takes more than 3 seconds to load. Why as a publisher wouldn’t you be supporting content blockers at all since it could increase your direct conversion.
If people prefer to use a content blocker to speed things up or to block ads you could say they are wrong. However if many people are telling you they have a problem that your platform is to slow and solved the poor experience by content blocking and you decide to ignore this, you are either stubborn or visionary. I would say most likely the first though the long term will learn me if it is the second.
Your issue is distribution, not destination
During one of the many meetings with smart people I had last year one of them drafted the issue most organisations have to be one of distribution not destination around content. Content Blocking provides a solution for distribution (getting things faster on your own terms). There are several ways to tackle this issue, especially going outside the bounds of your original destination. For example companies such as the Washington Post are using Facebook Instant articles and Wired chooses to have some exclusivity with Apple News. The companies are publishing on a platform they don’t own, but deliver maximal distribution and a very smooth and integrated content delivery integrated in the platforms.
If in the end it is wise to publish on platforms you don’t own is a whole other question. Though mixing the content across platform could be a very effective way of getting your content in front of the right audiences without having to worry about Content Blockers. Since those won’t work in Facebook’s native application or in the Apple News app. However which content is served (such as ads or trackers) next to the content of the article is not the ultimate decision of the publisher, it is done by the platform owner.
Solve distribution, don’t block the blockers
Content blocking is something that is still relatively small now, though it is a clear signal from users that there is a demand. If users have an easy way to turn of ads and trackers and speed up the page they will do it and in some cases they are even willing to pay for an app that help them to do so. Even if they don’t pay, they are willing to go to the process of downloading an additional app to improve their overall experience. For publishers this is an important lesson to learn: it is not just about creating high quality content that people are willing to consume and / or pay for. It is about the whole experience around the content as well. If users are now optimising their own experience, it means that as a publisher you are not trying hard enough for your users.
On the long run, good content won’t be enough. A seamless, fast and non intrusive content experience will become the norm either facilitated by third party solution such as content blockers, third party platforms such as Facebook Instant Articles and Apple News or by publishers themselves after they have cleaned up their platforms and make things less bloated and privacy invasive. The content experience will improve nevertheless since the bar has been raised and content blockers have shown how great the experience can be, it is up to the publishers to accept this new reality and either be actively part of it to make the change happen or to see how they are being changed from the outside (or bypassed…).