We’ve never claimed that digital advertising is easy, but at least there are plenty of tools out there to help ads provide more bang for your buck.
But, what happens when the very tools meant to help advertisers are being blocked by browsers and users? Let’s talk about one issue in that space: trackers.
Trackers are Present on More than 75 Percent of Websites
In 2017, Ghostery released the findings of a study on the pervasiveness of online trackers, and how that impacts user experience and privacy. The study was international, looked at hundreds of thousands of users across all major browsers and examined nearly 150 million page loads.
Of the tested page loads, 77.4 percent had at least one tracker – a script that hangs out on popular sites, attaches itself to users and follows them around the internet to record their behavior. The resulting data helps advertisers target their ads to users most likely to convert.
Nearly half of the sites contained two to nine trackers, and more than 16 percent had 10 or more.
While trackers provide valid data for statistics and advertising purposes, users (and even the website owners themselves) rarely have any idea who’s monitoring their movements.
Perhaps not surprisingly, the entities most commonly following users around as tracking scripts are Google and Facebook. Of the top 10 most widely used trackers, Google operates five. Facebook operates three of the top 11 trackers. Twitter and comScore each operate an approximately 11 percent share of the top trackers.
Google Analytics, for example, was the most widely used tracker, and found on more than 46 percent of tested pages. Facebook Connect came in second with a presence on almost 22 percent of sites.
The obvious concern for users when it comes to trackers is privacy. According to Ghostery, trackers can follow users to their most intimate of searches, whether we’re talking financial data, health concerns, politics or sexual interests. Further, tracker operators could, theoretically, obtain login information to a user’s bank account.
Of course, for advertisers, trackers support targeting and retargeting, which are integral to the advertising process. At the same time, just as users aren’t generally thrilled about seeing the ads themselves, they’re even less thrilled by feeling stalked around the internet by the ad creators and publishers.
Advertisers must be aware of the ramifications of over-reliance on trackers. Ghostery mentions blocklists, which stop specified trackers from loading along with a web page and thereby reduce load time and data usage.
Because trackers can find ways to bypass blocklists, Ghostery has developed an artificial-intelligence-based anti-tracking that gives trackers random, rather than identifying, information. This will be a much more difficult obstacle for trackers, and chip away at the information advertisers use to target their ads.
Separately, eMarketer reminds us of the wider steps taken against online ads – ad blockers. In fact, eMarketer estimates that the use of ad blockers in 2018 (30 percent) will nearly double the use of them in 2014.
Last summer we provided a heads up about Google’s plans for a new Chrome ad blocking tool, which was expected in 2018. Now, Google has just released a new version of the Chrome browser with its own protections against shady ads, and the more stringent ad blocking is expected to begin mid-February.
Beyond Ad Blockers
It’s not just ad blockers that advertisers should be aware of. Major players are employing tools to go the route of Ghostery, and stop the trackers in their, well, tracks.
Mashable recently reported on the new DuckDuckGo app, which provides protection during both searches and browsing by combining tracker blocking, smart encryption and private search across all major platforms. DuckDuckGo is already known for selling ads based on search terms rather than specific tracking, and this new app lets users see which trackers are getting shut down, and even blocks some display ads.
Apple is also in the anti-tracking game. According to reporting from Digiday, Apple prioritizes customer experience well over ad sales (it makes most of its money on devices, not advertising), so brands that rely on ad targeting are the ones taking the hit.
The thing is, users already have the option to opt out of personalized ads, though they might not be aware of the option. Activating this setting means users can affect the ads within Google’s services and on the millions of websites with which Google partners.
More than ever, advertisers must work hard – not just to get their ads served at the right time to the right people, but to keep them honest, attractive and relevant. If your campaigns aren’t offering enough in the way of information and entertainment (because it’s all about the user experience), you’re only going to contribute to the demand for ad blockers, anti-tracking tools and other obstacles to effective targeting.