How Google’s Chrome Filtering will operate and how publishers can avoid its adblocking hatchet

Google will grant publishers a '30 day grace period' to amend their errant ways / Google

Google’s Chrome filter is set to be introduced tomorrow February 15 with many claiming the development will only tighten the online giant’s vice-like grip on the ad-supported internet. However, Google claims this is a misnomer, The Drum listens to its case.

According to W3Counter, Google’s web browser Chrome commands a 58.4% market share as of January 2018, a statistic underlining just how impactful the upcoming filter can actually be.

And with the impending February introduction of “Chrome filtering” – aka the much dreaded adblocking feature – as per the terms of the Coalition For Better Ads (CFBA); a move that could significantly reduce the number of ads served by publishers via the world’s most popular web browser.

First announced in June of 2017, and speculated upon for many months prior to that, the findings of a survey of 40,000 internet users in both Europe and North America, now dictates the kind of ads publishers are allowed to serve to Chrome users (see video).

Kelsey LeBeau, is a Google product manager that has helped formulate the online behemoth’s response to the recent uptick in anti-advertising sentiment among web users, research indicates that growth rates in the installation of adblocking software hit double-figures circa 2014.

The actual number of users has been estimated and revised many times since press coverage of the matter hit near fever-pitch since 2014, but as of 12 months ago (almost to the day) eMarketer puts the number of US adblocker users at 75.1 million.

LeBeau says Google's policies are geared towards improving user experiences with ads, reducing the need for universal adblockers. She notes that installation rates haven’t got any better with numbers hovering in and around the 20% rate, and as high as 50% among premium audience such as 18-to-34 year olds.

“It hasn’t gotten any better and it’s still starting to climb, but the problem is they don’t know what they’re missing in a way and if it isn’t addressed it could continue to chip away and the revenue that publishers can expect,” she adds.

In a recently published blog post by Chris Bentzel, a Google partnerships manager, he describes many of the offending ad formats that are helping to spur this trend, such as high ad density, full-page prestitial ad formats that block editorial content, or indeed flashing animated ads (see image).

Such units will be prohibited from being served to Chrome browser users, per the new policies, albeit To help aid transparency, The Ad Experience Report in Google’s Search Console does offer publishers instructions on how they can prevent themselves from falling foul of the update, according to LeBeau.

“So a lot of the publishers are able to know whether or not they are at risk. There’s also a 30 day grace period to get them to change their experiences,” she says, adding that more than 99% of publishers have little to fear.

“It’s like if we see one ad [that runs counter to its upcoming policies] that you’re going to lose all your inventory,” she assures publishers.

However, she does concede that if a publisher does not react to Google’s recommendations within the 30 day period, then ultimately it will have all of its ads filtered out. “We’re being very careful to ensure that we’re only identifying the sites that have these bad ads and that have chosen not to fix them,” adds LeBeau.

Although this is not a critique that is without its critics, there are those whose assertions would be in direct contrast to this critique. There are those observers that have been quick to label Google’s efforts in the space as an additional “adtech tax”, especially reports on the emergence of the Better Ad Experience Program have claimed this could certification could come with a cost of $5,000 per year.

According to LeBeau, it is crucial that publishers are aware of their status according to the Ad Experience Report criteria. “It’s important that they have accessed the report to see if they have been reviewed and if there were any violations that have been identified,” she adds.

“If there are violations, it’s important to know that it’s still not too late [even a day before the introduction of the filter],” she adds. “In most of the conversations I’ve had, there’s still time. For instance, for publishers with pop-ups, those campaigns can be switched off.”

Although, publishers are then left with the dilemma of finding an alternative way to monetize their inventory, and LeBeau acknowledges that finding such alternative could prove a problematic, and costly, headache.

However, she does go on to offer some insight into publisher strategies away from the pop-up that she has witnessed in recent week, adding that “larger canvas in-line ads that users have the ability to scroll through” have proven popular, she reports.

Although, Google’s upcoming move is in-part the result of cross-industry cooperation – buy-side trade bodies such as the Association of National Advertisers (ANA) plus American Association of Advertising Agencies (4A’s) have participated, – but there is still a need for education from this end of the business.

“From some of the publishers I’ve spoken to [that have ads in contravention of its policies] they say the only reason they have them is because that’s what advertisers want,” reports LeBeau.

“It’s a much broader ecosystem problem, I don’t think it’s in the advertisers’ interests to have ads that get in the way,” she adds.

“I think part of the reason for them [despite being widely reviled] is the high viewability, and perceived engagement, and viewability numbers,” she says.

For LeBeau, adtech vendors need to develop new experiences, and buyers plus publishers need to buy into experiences which offer the user value as well.

“There are still some metrics that need to be evaluated, but I think there are some advertisers out there that don’t fully appreciate how these experience affect their brand equity as well,” according to LeBeau.

Despite the assurances of LeBeau, etc, publishers and adtech players alike will be nervous over the update, especially when it is considered in tandem with the roll out of Apple's iOS11, which likewise implements anti-tracking software into the Safari web browser (the second most popular browser on the market).

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