Ethics of blocking the ad blockers (internet advertising).

This discussion came up on another message board frequented by webmasters.

I just started putting ads on my site. I’ve got a few sites with lots of pages (150+) and while I make enough money from the sites through selling books as an affiliate of, I decided to try using these somewhat unobtrusive little “targetted ad” boxes at the bottom of the page. They aren’t ugly, they “target” the page (match the subject of the ads up with the subject of the page) and aren’t that bad at all. I decided to try them on my own site when I realized that I didn’t mind seeing them on others’ sites and actually found many of the ads interesting enough to click on.

Anyway, the money has been surprisingly good. I don’t have BIG sites, if I did, I’m sure the ad revenue could support me on its own. As it is, it’s looks like it’s going to be like getting an extra paycheck in the mail each month. Not bad.

Anyway, the discussion on this other board was about software to block ads, even the relatively unobtrusive ads I’m talking about. And so the question was, what should we, the webmasters, do about it? One person said, “Block the people with the ad blockers.” Meaning, don’t allow them to visit the site if they have ad blocking on.

I’m of two minds about this. On one hand, sure, if the ads are paying for the upkeep of the sites, then those who don’t want to subject themselves to the ads can just go somewhere else. But on the other hand, it’s driving visitors away. And I do sell a lot of books from my site. (Not as much money as I seem to be making from the ads, but it’s something.) Besides, it’s not all about money. I didn’t create the sites to only to make money. I maintained the sites for a while without making any money and I’d do so again if I absolutely had to. But the money is nice, the web hosting isn’t free, and I worked quite hard on the sites and my time and effort are worth something, I think.

On the other hand, it’s kind of leech-like to expect to go to an ad-supported site and not see the ads, especially if they are not obnoxious or obtrusive. (Bottom of the page, not pop-ups, not ugly and clashing.)

So, what do the rest of you think? What do you webmaster Dopers think? I’m interested in opinions about this.

Let’d draw an analogy with free-to-air television. Would you consider a consumer who watches TV but leaves the room during commercial breaks to be a “leech”? Or someone who uses TiVo or prerecords TV and fastforwards through the ads to be acting immorally?

I argue that providing a resource for free–i.e. charging users no direct cost–but at the same time expecting users to indirectly pay is an inconsistent position. Either charge or do not.

Not necessarily, because they can and they don’t have to go to any great lengths to do so. Just like someone can quickly scroll past the ads on a website (or not even scroll down far enough to see them at the bottom of the page).

The TV ads are there, and the customer often has to see glimpses of them when they fastforward. Also it’s doubtful that they walk out during every commercial break, though probably they aren’t paying attention to the ads. The networks know all of this, but they still figure that they make enough money. But the ad blocking software just makes the ads not exist. No walking out, no “ignoring” them. They just aren’t there. No hope of attracting the attention of someone who might, after all, be interested in what the advertiser is selling.

Also, if there was a technology in place that would put more strict conditions on the consuming or watching of free content, do you think that the owners of that content are obligated to not use it?

Someone who doesn’t watch an advert on television is not directly depriving the TV channel of money. The sponsors have no way of checking you’ve seen the advert and then witholding payment if you walked out or hit fast-forward.

On the internet webmasters get paid by impression, as a rule. If the ad is blocked then there is no impression logged at the advert provider’s site and no payment will be made.

It’s always been an assumption that a significant proportion of people don’t watch television adverts and I’m skeptical as to whether the dreaded TiVo has impacted this significantly. The assumptions on the internet are similar - people can quickly scroll past the adverts - but universal advert blocking changes the dynamic substantially.

Unfortunately so many obnoxious forms of internet advertising have become mainstream (pop-ups, flash animations that obscure the whole page and just will not go away until they’ve finished, huge animated GIFs that take forever to download on dialup etc) that people are blocking all advertising out of self-defence.

I suspect this war between advertiser and consumer will continue to escalate, with more and more people blocking adverts by default. This will likely cause the collapse of more than one ad-supported site but may hopefully bring about a saner system in the end. At the moment people seem content to trust Google’s text ads, so there may be an eventual advance into trusted advert suppliers who won’t serve annoying adverts.

A very thoughtful OP.

First, I’m glad to hear you manage to get a reasonable revenue from your site. I didn’t know that it could still be done in these days after the Internet boom. Your site must be really good. :slight_smile: (Art/photography, right?)

I really hate pop-ups, so I have the pop-up blocker from Opera turned on. Besides that, though, I have no objection to ads at sites, so I don’t quite understand why anyone would feel the need to block them. When reading a magazine or newspaper I also see ads. However, I’m not sure whether I would find ad-blockers unethical per se. If they really do undercut the existence of web sites, I guess I think people should ‘suffer’ being exposted to the ads, as I believe you should help support what you enjoy. So I guess I’m on the fence here.

When on a dialup connection that was stuck at 26k, I used adblocker software whereever possible. This wasn’t because I had some terrible aversion to adverts, but simply because many sites seem to make the advert images the first thing to load. If this takes 10 seconds, and you’re surfing a lot of sites, that’s a lot of minutes wasted. Sure, there’s adverts in my newspaper, but I’m not forced to see them before I get to see the stories.

Unfortunately, more respectable advertising, like that in the OP, gets caught in the crossfire.

At least you did that , pop up blockers are just that , they don’t affect banner ads or the type you are using. Right now advertizing agencies are still in the process of figuring out what works and what does not work.

So your using third party ad revenue to support your own site , rather than selling product or content through your site ?

I am not sure that could even be done , its possible ,that someone could detect my google popup blocker ,but can they also detect my browser doing it automatically , since Konqueror alows me to determine the reponse to this , as well as probably Mozilla , Safari and firefox.

Is this a cookie thing ,that you request that I inadvertanly give you access to an index of my software ? (not you per se), and if I disabled Java support in IE , do webmasters still have access to something that says I run some sort of blocker.

Marketing is a darwin process

Hits to click through , if you check your logs , should show that there is a ratio of eyeballs clicking on your ad’s , which should be a percentage of your total hits.

I dont mind passive ad’s , but I will actively go out of my way to discard active ad’s, be they pop ups , pop unders , media content that comes out of nowhere, at two in the morning , I may not be aware of where my audio settings are , so when some ad company sticks a movie trailor half to three quarters of the way down the page , forcing me to scroll to kill the trailor , irks me somewhat.

NO , because your ascribing your personal morals in placing ad’s , to the rest of the world , who have no such compunctions about placing ad’s , using hostile java code to popup several hundred windows, highjack your browser etc.

If you want to sell content through your site ,then make it subscription based , if you want to have a free site cause its payed through third party ad revenue , thats fine , but realize that one in a hundred people may actually click on your ad link , in a perfect world anyways , rather than all one hundred people.

Welcome to the world of marketing


Armilla, yes, some of the forms of advertising are really getting out of control. Especially the ones that are “time wasters”—making you sit through them and not being able to get rid of them. Obnoxious.

I would never have those kinds of ads on my site. I was pretty resistant to ads at all, because I don’t like the look of them—they ugly up the site and too many of them are obnoxious. (Though I do get used to seeing them on most commercial sites.) But when I discovered an ad program that wasn’t ugly, wasn’t that obnoxious, and that I personally didn’t find objectionable at all on others’ sites, I reconsidered. So far it’s been doing well for me.

Yes, that’s exactly what I hope will continue to happen.

On the other message board where this is being discussed, someone brought up a really good point. The ad-blocking software (I think Norton has it built in to one of their suites of software) is not usually turned on by default. So most people don’t bother. So most ad-supported sites are not affected. However, when there has been an attempt in the past to be more aggressive with ad-blocking (turning it on by default), the “big name” websites (Yahoo, etc.) have made complaints. A lot of webmasters have made complaints. Without ad-support on these free sites, a lot of them will shrivel up and go away. And that doesn’t seem like something that anyone wants.

So, this person on the other message board was saying that webmasters shouldn’t worry too much about this becoming widespread. And he’s probably right.

Tusculan, thanks, yes, my sites are about art and photography! :slight_smile: I’m quite the windbag so I do pontificate quite a big, hence the large amount of pages. :wink:

I’m on the fence too. And actually, while I don’t really appreciate people blocking the ads (obviously ;)) I can understand their reasons for doing so. I was thinking more of the ethics of the blocking of the ad-blockers—in other words, is it ethical to block someone from your site, because they are blocking your ads and in essence refusing to even consider supporting your site?

I’m on the fence on this. It’s something I’m kind of doubting that I’ll do myself, but on the other hand, if a webmaster is really peeved that his visitors are blocking the ads that help pay for the site to keep afloat, then I can understand him thinking, “Fine then. Just stay away. Who needs you, you ungrateful ingrate?” I can definitely understand that when my web hosting bills come due. :wink: (Though I hasten to add, my sites are already paying for themselves through book sales.)

And I think you’re right—the majority of people don’t have a big problem with the static ads, especially the non-ugly, non-obtrusive ones. I certainly never felt any need to block ads in all these years. It never occured to me. But the pop-ups? I definitely wanted to get rid of those.

On preview I see that Declan has joined us:

I do actually sell something on my site, but it’s almost an afterthought; not something I expect everyone to buy. It is kind of like a result of the site, not a reason for it. (Too long to explain.)

I think it’s about 1% hits from all the impressions I get. (I don’t get paid for impressions, only clicks.)

I decided to put ads on my site because I figured, what the hell. I decided that it wasn’t too obnoxious (the type of ads I chose), so I’d do it. These sites are more “personal” sites that have evolved into something bigger. I started them as a labor of love, and as such, I was ambivalent about putting ads on them at all. I’m never going to be a big time webmaster, making Big Bucks off of my sites.

I just was trying to figure out why I should put the ads up at all, and I figured that my time and effort were worth something, so why not. But if push came to shove, the sites could and would become totally ad-free again. But I don’t think I owe it to anybody to keep them ad-free now. (Not that anyone is telling me that I did the wrong thing in putting up the ads.)

I realize that. I already see that only 1% click, and so far I’m not unhappy with that.

Oops, I missed this:

Yes, that is true. I sure don’t want to see that happen.

The “respectable” type advertising (the text-based ads from Google are one example) seem to be taking hold, so perhaps we’ll see more of those and less of the obnoxious types.

The way I see it:

1 - Popups/unders (I know the OP didn’t use them) but you have no right to open a seperate window on my computer and I can use any method including counter denial of service attacks agains you.

2 - ads on you site, I think you answered your own question, It’s market driven. YOU must decide if it is worth it to you to allow ad blockers to view your site.

All my humbel O.

Okay , so to clarify

The ad revenue that you recieve , pays for your hosting/bandwidth , and your own sales are a nice bit of coin on the side

Nice Gig :slight_smile:

You do realize that could happen by accident , while the web has not been around for that long , the day is coming when someone could offer you a nice hunk of coin, to buy your site , because you have an established user base, and advertizing numbers to go with it.

Well to me, thats separate.

IF the ad revenue is only paying for your hosting/bandwidth usage , your artistic/creative side of the ledger is never going to be properly paid for, unless you are getting a paycheck comparable to what you can make on the street.

Whats happening here , if my guess is correct is that you are allowing someone else to pay for your real estate, allowing you to concentrate on your creative side, in other words , a nice gig.

Thats a percentage more than what other sites are getting now , as it is

Good for you


The ads in the OP sound a lot like Google AdSense, and Google pays per click, not per impression.

Text-based ads like Google may have to be the future. Blocking graphical ads is easily done. I have the Firefox extension Adblocker and just put filters to block out anything with “ad” in the name (and some other stuff). Come to a new site, remove everything I don’t like from its layout (for instance, I’ve removed the “STRAIGHT DOPE” header on this page so I have more screenspace for the forums).

However, I usually go out of my way to click on ads on sites I do like. Y’know, before I block them.

I dunno, my sites use subscription plans instead of advertisements. Ads aren’t reliable.

I’d enjoy seeing your site if you can mention it here without getting the mods down on your case. Otherwise, please send me a url. (Email in profile)
As far as the Norton package you were talking about goes, that would be the Internet Security package. I have that on one of my systems and run it in paranoid mode so there are VERY few ads, pop-ups, pop-unders, or anything else. I have been using this package for almost a year but IIRC, the ad-blocker was turned on by default. In any event, when you have to secure a system the tendancy is to turn the ad-blocker on along with all the other software.
Your site does sound interesting though, ads and all.



I would say that if the visitors to your site have not entered into any sort of explicit agreement as to what they will and will not do in exchange for what you will and will not provide, then the actions of blocking banners and denying access to users who are blocking banners are both ethically neutral.

People can have good, legitimate reasons for blocking banners (quite apart from the plain annoyance factor) - for example, I’m currently looking for a way to block banners that make sounds because they impinge upon audio capture processes I may have running in the background.

What it boils down to, I believe, is: Are you harmed by people who block your banners? If you think that denying them access might be beneficial to you as a webmaster (for example by freeing up or conserving bandwidth for other users, or by encouraging people to suspend their banner blocking software), then it might be a good idea to implement the scheme. If it’s just going to shut people out of your site without providing you any benefit at all, what’s the point?

Denial of service attacks? You must be joking.

My rule on ads on sites is this: If you find the ads annoying, don’t go the site. If you disable the ads and still go to the site, you are stealing. Period.

So is FFWDing past TV commercials stealing?

No. The two situations are not directly comparable. Advertisers buy TV commercials knowing that a certain percentage of viewers are not really watching. Web advertisers pay either by each individually counted view or by click or some other measure that doesn’t happen if someone uses software to block the ads. Blocking an ad on a website directly steals from the publisher of a website, while fastforwarding a commercial on TV does not.

You are using resources (bandwidth and copyright for content) and not giving anything back. That’s left, just as sure as if you steal a password to an online service or print up conterfeit tickets for a movie theater.

Ahem. That’s “That’s THEFT” – or it should be anyway.

What? No, really, what the fuck? :confused:

The web publisher is there to upkeep the website. If the webmaster is counting on clicks to an ad-site for income, that’s a risk us Americans take as our given right. It’s not a guarantee that money will be made from it.

Dan, I suppose you’ll accuse me of theft for not knowing a Dodge commercial was shown during yesterday’s NASCAR race? And likewise it was theft to watch the race without actually paying attention to the Olympics commercials NBC kept throwing in? (Especially that “Special Olympic Momemts” shit they thew in while the race was airing?!?

As to the OP, I have no idea what to think unless I see it. I myself always run PopSubtract to decide what I want distracting me from the sites I visit on the high-price cable connection I pay for. The ones that aren’t annoying I’ll sometimes visit if they’re interesting. The ones that have flashing banners, symbols, or say I was the xxxxxxxxx’th visitor are summarily disregarded.

Damnit! I just missed a Tide commercial! Now what the hell am I gonna do when laundry needs to be done? I have no idea what other detergents exist! :smack: