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Google’s Attack on So-Called Aggressive Ads

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Last week all through the industry there were raised eyebrows, concerns and a sense of panic. At least those parts of the industry that offers its services and products online. Cause for concern is Google’s new policy concerning »abusive ad experiences« or »aggressive ads«. 

Since February 15 Google’s Chrome browser has started to block so-called aggressive ads, many times code for lucrative ads for adult related content and services. But the new policy does affect mainstream marketing campaigns as well, especially through live cam and promotions based on iframes with audio as well as pop-under ads.

And while the new policy was widely known beforehand and free testing tools were provided many marking operators had to find out that their campaigns didn’t work on the latest version of Chrome.

The move against aggressive ads is mainly an act of self-defense. Google and many of its advertisement clients are increasingly worried about the growing use of ad-blockers among internet users around the globe. If these ad blockers reach a tipping point they might become a problem for everybody trying to earn a living with online marketing and that includes Google.

The search giant is therefore protecting its core interests and tries to ban the worst offenders hoping that consumers then refrain from ad blockers. Google tries to differentiate between »good ads« and »bad ads«. The good news for adult companies is that the way Google is now rating ads is not based on content but on the way they are displayed. If they comply with standards defined by the Coalition for Better Ads they should work on the new Chrome browser as well.

While in the weeks before the new guidelines were implemented fearful marketers called the February 15 deadline »Adageddon« and the »Ad-pocalypse«. But industry magazine XBIZ started a fast survey among key players in the industry, companies like ExoClick, JuicyAds, and TrafficStars to find out what they think about the new rules and how they react to them.

Remi St-Maur is a partner at TrafficStars and he basically wants everyone to keep calm. In his view, Google’s so-called attack on aggressive ads is in everyone’s interest as if everything goes according to Google’s plan this will mainly affect misleading ads that are hurting everyone’s business.

He said: »Ad blockers are becoming an increasing issue for all of us in the industry, with the technology becoming more advanced and the number of users downloading [ad blockers] increasing daily. Google is trying to stabilize this shift in the marketplace by accepting that there is mistrust that is causing users to download such software. As such they are trying to create a fair, level playing field, with clear guidelines on how we can all work towards regaining this trust, industrywide.«

St-Maur added: »Whether we want to or not, advertisers and publishers both have to adapt. Our focus is and always has been on quality, and although we understand the new changes are frustrating for some, we are working closely with our advertisers and publishers to make the transition to the new standards as easy and pain-free as possible.«

He is confident that his own company is prepared to handle the new policy and can provide support to its clients. He said: »TrafficStars is in a very powerful position to do this, as we have a lot of insight into how to interpret the new standards by working closely with our partner, xHamster.com which has been verified as fully compliant. This allows us to test and learn about how the standards are being implemented and enable us to continuously adapt our internal compliance regulations. We are also offering new, safe and compliant ad formats, which are the perfect solution for publishers and advertisers to monetize their traffic while adhering to Google’s new standards.«

TrafficStar’s Managing Director, Peter Rabenseifner said that many clients will soon see effects and that the company will be close by and offer help to those affected. »Publishers have already begun to receive notifications from Google notifying of failures to comply with the new guidelines, we are working closely with publishers and advertisers, using our Compliance Flagging Tool to help make sure all our clients and partners remain compliant. For advertisers, we are aware that there may be some fluctuations in performance with their campaigns, which is why we’re encouraging all advertisers to also use our fully compliant alternatives.«

TrafficStars is heavily banking on native ads, pre-roll ads, and postitial ads. Rabenseifner said: »[‘Native ads’] are ads that are delivered in a way that is consistent with the form, style, and voice of the site they appear on. Therefore, they are less disruptive to users and in line with the industry-wide shift towards less misleading advertising and the Better Ads Experience Program. [‘Video pre-roll ads’ deliver] a video that plays before the content and allows the user to skip the ad after a number of seconds. This perfectly fits in line with Google’s ad formats on YouTube and therefore is considered to be non-intrusive and user-friendly.«

He added: »The postitial ad format is a full-screen ad (a 900×600 banner on desktop or a 300×250 banner on mobile), which will be served between two pages of content, so it will appear after the click on a link and before the desired page loads. This ad format is also fully compliant with the new ad standards.«

Their colleague at ExoClick, Ada Llorca, seems to have a similarly pragmatic approach to the new guidelines by Google. »At the end of the day, the initiative is to ensure that users have an excellent browsing experience on Chrome. This is a positive aspect for advertisers to really get creative and explore other ad formats in order to convert users to their offers.«

Llorca also is advising the use of native ads and pre-roll in-stream video. »Publishers can monetize our pre-roll in-stream video via CPC or CPV (cost per view). A view is considered to be achieved after a user has watched 10 seconds of the video ad before skipping. Our native ad widget allows publishers to insert this format into their ad zones in a variety of different formats with options to ensure that the native ad appears exactly like the content of a publisher’s site. Native ads can be monetized as CPC or CPM.«

She added: »In our admin panel under ‘Sites & Zones > Ad Blocking,’ publishers can enable ‘Google Ad Compliance,’ which blocks all banners and pop-unders that contain blinking elements, auto-sound and misleading elements, making their site 100 percent compliant with Google. Misleading elements cover ads that imitate Antivirus Alerts, Browser/System Alerts, Close or Cancel Options, Download or Play Buttons, Site Pagination, Video Players, Chat Boxes and Chat Notifications. The purpose of this gives publishers the flexibility to apply this function to specific geos or devices, or across all of their sites. Additionally, thanks to our platform API, our ‘Google Ad Compliance’ enabling can also be automated, which is particularly useful to publishers who have a large network of sites.«

JuicyAds’ founder Juicy Jay is joining the chorus of his competitors and boils it down to »The reality of it is that nobody likes pops.« He is highly critical of Google though: »We do not agree with the decision and believe that publishers hold the right to make their own choices regarding what experience they want to provide their visitors. Google as an advertising company has such obvious conflicts of interest and should not be removing the basic functionality of selected websites just because of their choice of advertising type.«

Juicy Jay blaming some of the more excessive advertisers for Google’s move to restrict the way people can advertise now. »Greed, abuse and malicious advertisers (with lack of quality and safety standards) are what has led not just to this blow to the adult industry, but to the advertising industry as a whole. JuicyAds has strived to be a clean network with a high standard of quality especially for pops, and we will be releasing new solutions in line with our strategy, to the benefit of our publishers.«

Luke Hazlewood, CEO of Grandslam Media, is not worried about the future of high quality contents. He said: »Good companies will adapt and find ways to earn while not crossing Google’s line. To be honest, it’s quite exciting because it forces legitimacy within the traffic environment and will lead to publishers, advertisers and networks working closer together to innovate and drive ROI.«

Hazlewood mainly sees the opportunity for innovative ideas and collaborations throughout the industry. »It’s interesting as well to see what creative ideas will come from this. Here we have another example of what will lead to more market consolidation and the legitimacy of the players involved.«

xHamster’s omnipresent Vice President Alex Hawkins thinks: »While it’s more work in the short-term, we think this pushes the industry forward. We want the experience for our users to be as seamless as possible, and if that means developing technology and ways of communicating that are more effective and less intrusive, we’re going for it. We’ve always thought that good quality content, and a technically adept website, are a more important way of getting viewers. We want xHamster to be a media company for the 21st century.«

Graham Collie of TrafficJunky is also among the pragmatic voices: »Google is simply trying to counter the growth of ad block by removing the types of ads which are most likely to lead to users installing ad block — ads with misleading elements, rapidly flashing colors, etc. We’d all prefer reduced ad block growth, so we’ll keep a close eye on whether this achieves the desired result.«

Collie is undecided if Google will directly achieve its goal to reduce misleading ads. In all likelihood, people with business models relying on these kinds of tactics and practices will try to find new ways to mislead. They might try to find new yet un-blocked or unknown ways to aggressively market their products and services. For TrafficJunky though non-compliance with Google’s new rules is not an option. »If a particular advertiser wishes to circumvent these rules, the implications will affect every ad on a publisher’s site. Chrome is disincentivizing the continuation of these practices and outsourcing the enforcement of compliance to the publisher. Advertisers will have to adapt because publishers simply won’t want to take the risk.«

Gian Carlo, founder of BitterStrawberry and PornDoe is entirely optimistic about Google’s new restrictions as he is convinced that any bad experience by users are harmful for everyone trying to earn money with marketing campaigns.

He said: »Google’s initiative for a better web experience has huge benefits for both users and publishers. By not losing ads in this process, publishers will be able to continue using their marketing strategies, even if they might lose some short-term income in the process. 50 percent of users that have been surveyed said that they would not return to a page that had an abusive ad. Consequently, the only way publishers will be able to keep their audience on their website is to support valuable content that addresses the consumer’s expectation.«

He added: »Your user experience can be considered good only if people aren’t installing AdBlock to be able to go through your website without annoyances. This is why we will adjust our messages accordingly, making them: alluring, fast and relevant. By removing the negative ad experience from the site, by making the native ads blend with the content, which is still king, by speeding up their loading time and by designing and delivering messages based on the user’s interests, we prove that we respect the time and the experience of the users and this way we’ll have more chances to engage them in the future.«

Axel Vézina, Chief Strategy Officer at CrakRevenue said: »I’m not going to lie: this might hurt our Media Buy operations in the short-term because there are numerous spots that are probably going to be blocked by Chrome.«

He seems convinced though that the advantages will overweigh any short-term problems: »But overall, I really see this as an awesome opportunity to innovate furthermore with the help of quality content and new advertising technologies. To tell you the truth, I think it’s the part I love most about my job — finding new ways to adapt and succeed each time new rules are introduced to the web advertising playing field. And in our case, the writing’s always been on our office wall — literally. We actually have a poster in one of our conference rooms that reads, ‘When the wind of change blows, some build walls, others build windmills.’ And you know what? I love building windmills!«

So if the key players don’t seem all too worried no one offering a real product or legitimate service should be all too worried about the new Google restrictions. Maybe it does indeed keep people from installing adblockers and therefore keep the business alive.

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