Hard-hit publishers brace for Google’s ad blocking browser’s launch

Google’s ad-blocking version of Chrome is going live next month, whether publishers are ready for it or not.

Publishers initially expressed fear when news of Chrome’s ad blocker broke last April. Premium publishers now publicly embrace the initiative because they think it will pressure competitors with a bad user experience to clean up their sites. But privately, it’s a different story.

“We still have anxiety with it,” said an executive at a legacy news publisher, speaking anonymously. “People got used to the model of loading the site with ads and driving pageviews, but Google is telling us we need to prioritize digital experience now. It is distressing, but they are Goliath, and I don’t feel like throwing stones at them.”

Google created an Ad Experience Report to help publishers see if their sites would fail its forthcoming standards. One issue is that warnings for having bad ads can linger in Google’s tool even after a publisher fixes the problem. One of the sites this exec oversees got flagged for having sticky video ads run in the upper right corner of the screen. The site removed the ads, but the warning label persisted in Google’s publicly available tool for several months.

A Google spokesperson said warning labels aren’t automatically removed. A publisher has to request another review of its site before its status is changed in the Google ad experience API. Typically, a publisher’s status is altered within two days of its request for another site review, the spokesperson said.

Publishers typically don’t have a lot of direct contact with Google’s Chrome division, said Zack Sullivan, director of operations and marketing at tech site TechRadar. Google reps have been explaining the upcoming changes to publishers and why they are happening, which has assuaged publishers’ fears, he said.

Given Google’s immense ad business and the fact that it pays the popular ad blocker Adblock Plus to ensure its own ads aren’t blocked, Chrome’s move smacks of hypocrisy to some. But others appreciate that Google is one of a few organizations powerful enough to force the ad-supply chain to clean itself up. Chrome’s ad blocker is just Google’s way of forcing positive change in digital publishing, said Nick Flood, product and commercial ops director at Dennis Publishing.

Advertisers similarly embraced Google’s power over the ad industry when the search giant pressured companies into adopting the Interactive Advertising Bureau-backed ads.txt, which is meant to curb the ills of domain spoofing and unauthorized reselling.

Matt Minoff, chief digital officer at Meredith Corp., acknowledged it would be better for publishers if these moves were driven by trade groups that represent advertisers and publishers, like the IAB or Digital Content Next. It’s easier for a browser to enforce change across the open web rather than coordinating across a large group of disparate companies, he said.

Said a programmatic vet at an entertainment publisher, requesting anonymity: “While we don’t love Google being the ones to mandate this, ultimately it’s a good thing.”


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