What Publishers Often Forget: Testing Their Sites With Ad Blockers Enabled

5 min read
  • Even if your websites don’t contain any ads, test every page of your sites with the most common ad blockers enabled.
  • Ad blockers can intercept elements apart from ads, such as pop-ups, cookie banners, and newsletters.
  • Make sure that every element that is valuable to your users remains visible and accessible with ad blockers enabled.

If you don’t use an ad blocker on your computer, tablet, and smartphone—stop reading and install one. It’s easy and keeps you safe.1 But the purpose of this essay is not to give you this piece of advice. It’s about reminding you that whenever you launch a new website or modify an existing one, test it with ad blockers enabled. This applies even if your website doesn’t feature any ads at all.

Ad blockers are simple add-ons to your browser. They check the elements of the websites you visit against a list of rules and known offenders. Aside from ads, they’ll often try to remove other nuisances, too, such as pop-ups, dialogues, social media widgets, or even newsletters. They’re not only integral in keeping users safe, they also save you a lot of bandwidth, headache, and time.

What could possibly go wrong?

Their versatility, however, makes them prone to malfunctioning. You can’t use an ad blocker and expect every website to function as expected. That’s why it’s vital for publishers to thoroughly and regularly test their websites with ad blockers enabled.

Here’s a selection of problems that could occur on your website if a visitor uses content blockers:

  • Pop-ups and cookie consent dialogues can be blocked but not entirely, often leaving a dimly translucent modal window hovering over the rest of your content, making it impossible to read or interact with.
  • Newsletters and social media elements might be blocked so your users can’t notice them anymore.
  • Other elements that might not even annoy your users could accidentally be targeted by ad blockers as well. Ad blockers operate not only on pre-defined lists but also on rules—and rules can misfire if they’re too broad.

Solving ad blocker problems on your website

The solution to some of these problems is to get rid of the affected elements altogether. Often, there’s no reason your users need them. You don’t need cookie consents if your website doesn’t use cookies (there are ways to analyze website traffic without requiring cookies). And you should under no circumstances exasperate your users with pop-ups. They’re unnecessary but still a common annoyance on the web.

Other elements that serve a purpose—such as newsletters—can be saved from ad blockers by just renaming their CSS classes and IDs. It can be as easy as not calling them newsletter but nltr instead. In the corresponding text that is displayed on the website, however, you can still use the word “newsletter.” Ad blockers rarely target words written on the page because otherwise they’d risk hiding entire articles or paragraphs containing these words for journalistic purposes. (Keep in mind that if you advertise your newsletter through pop-ups, ad blockers will and should prevent them from being displayed.)

Ad blockers will get more sophisticated as publishers become savvier in evading them. It can pay off to regularly check your websites with the most common ad blockers enabled (though not at the same time because they can interfere with each other).

Making sure that all of your websites perform despite ad blockers is extra work. But remember that you’re doing that not only for yourself but also for all those who’re protecting themselves and their families from the grave dangers of the internet. That’s a cause worth fighting for.2

  1. Ad blockers will help keep you safe from malware, speed up your browsing, and improve your reading experience. If you don’t know where to start, try uBlock Origin by Gorhill for Chrome and Firefox (make sure it’s this one, not any of the counterfeit blockers), and 1Blocker for Safari (works on macOS, iOS, and iPadOS). You’ll never surf the internet without an ad blocker again. Jump back.︎
  2. Is it selfish to use ad blockers knowing that some publishers, journalists, editors, and others involved in media publishing rely on ads to make a living? There are a hundred ways to frame this problem. But regardless of the many valid reasons to use ad blockers (safety, speed, bandwidth, peace of mind), every user has to decide for themselves whether they want to look at ads. Just as nobody can force you not to ignore billboards or flip over pages in a magazine or change the tv channel, nobody can and should force you to endure ads on a website if you can avoid it. For some readers, ads are a mere annoyance; for others, they might trigger trauma or even cause a seizure if animated. Some publishers want you to think that ads are the only way to sustain their businesses; they’re not. They’re just a simple way to make money. However, nobody is entitled to an easy way to make money, or to make money from what they offer at all. And relying on the goodwill of readers is a strategy doomed to fail. Eventually, ads will mostly disappear from the Internet. But even today, websites like The Information or Stratechery show that journalism can be very profitable without ads, whether you have a full-fledged staff or work alone. Jump back.︎