When it comes to online content consumption, digital advertising plays a crucial role in sustaining many websites and services. However, the intrusive nature of certain ads has led to the rise of ad-blocking tools, causing concerns among advertisers and publishers. To address this issue, the concept of “Acceptable Ads” has emerged as a middle ground, aiming to balance user experience with the needs of the advertising industry. The concept of Acceptable Ads represents a collaborative effort between users, publishers, and advertisers to create a more harmonious online environment.
What are Acceptable Ads?
The Acceptable Ads program was created with the intention of establishing a healthy middle ground between the legitimate needs of users who want to block annoying, irrelevant, and intrusive advertising and publishers who depend on ad revenue to stay profitable. Instead of blocking all ads for all users, which is detrimental to the open web, the standard allows publishers to serve ads that meet a predefined criteria to a segment of opted-in users who don’t mind advertising that is respectful, non-intrusive, and relevant.
Over the years, publishers have experimented with various ways of monetizing their adblocked traffic, including adblock circumvention, pivoting to paid subscription models, selling “ad free” passes, and requesting users to whitelist their website. The downside of such messaging-based strategies is that they disrupt the natural flow of users and therefore witness high opt-out/bounce rates due to their interruptive UX. Acceptable Ads allow publishers to monetize without disrupting UX or forcing additional choices on users.
The Acceptable Ads Committee
The standards for authorized advertising are governed by the Acceptable Ads Committee (AAC). AAC creates nonintrusive advertising standards that prioritize user experience and benefit content producers and advertisers. AAC works with prominent brands, technology companies, and publishers to develop criteria for non-intrusive and user-friendly ad formats. The objective is to build a peaceful digital advertising ecosystem in which consumers and advertisers coexist for mutual benefit, securing publishers’ long-term ad revenue. The AAC is divided into three coalitions:
- For-profit coalition: Consisting of advertisers, ad tech providers, advertising agencies, publishers, and content creators, this coalition advocates for the importance of the ad-supported model of the web and works with other coalitions to set the Acceptable Ads standard.
- User advocate coalition: This coalition consists of digital rights organizations and actual adblock users. It exists to make sure users’ voice is represented in the committee and that the Acceptable Ads standards are delivering on their core promise of better user experience.
- Expert coalition: Consisting of user agents, creative agents, and researchers, the expert coalition brings industry experts in advertising and ad blocking to the table.
The reason for having a formal structure with three distinct coalitions is to make sure that the standards created by the AAC have been vetted by all the different interest groups.
Need of Acceptable Ads
The genesis of Acceptable Ads can be traced to the rising tide of ad-blocker usage, spurred by users’ exasperation with intrusive and disruptive ad experiences. Acknowledging the impact on revenue streams and user trust, the industry sought a middle ground that respects user preferences while maintaining the economic viability of digital advertising.
Benefits of Acceptable Ads
The adoption and implementation of Acceptable Ads offer a multitude of benefits for users, publishers, and the advertising industry. These benefits contribute to fostering a more harmonious and sustainable online ecosystem.
1. Improved user experience
The crux of Acceptable Ads lies in enhancing the overall user experience. By adhering to stringent standards, publishers contribute to a more enjoyable and engaging browsing environment, fostering positive sentiments among users.
2. Increased revenue
Non-intrusive ad formats, such as static banners, text ads, and native ads, tend to have higher viewability and click-through rates (CTR). Improved ad performance and relevance can attract quality advertisers interested in displaying their ads in user-friendly environments. Most publishers have an adblock rate of anywhere between 10-40%, depending on website niche, traffic source, and device split. By monetizing with Acceptable Ads, publishers stand to start recovering the revenue that they are currently losing due to ad blockers, most importantly – without making any changes to their site or disrupting UX.
3. Sustainable monetization
Acceptable Ads offer publishers a sustainable path to monetize their platforms beyond traditional models. This diversification in revenue streams is critical for the long-term viability of online services, providing a robust foundation for continued growth.
4. Preservation of free content
Acceptable Ads play a pivotal role in preserving the availability of free content on the internet. As users become more accustomed to non-intrusive advertising, there’s a greater likelihood of them supporting ad-supported platforms, ensuring the continued availability of valuable information and entertainment without a direct financial burden on users.
Principles of Acceptable Ads
The principles of Acceptable Ads are rooted in creating a balance between user experience and the economic needs of publishers and advertisers. These principles guide the development and implementation of online advertisements to ensure they are non-intrusive, respectful of user privacy, and relevant.
Transparency serves as the foundational pillar of Acceptable Ads. Users are entitled to know when they are engaging with advertising content, and publishers must be forthcoming about their advertising practices. Clear disclosure builds trust and fosters a more open relationship between users and content providers.
Acceptable Ads prioritize a non-intrusive approach. They must seamlessly integrate into the user experience, avoiding disruptions to the natural flow of content consumption. Users should have the autonomy to dismiss or interact with ads without feeling coerced into viewing them.
Relevance is a linchpin for Acceptable Ads. Advertisements must be tailored to users’ interests and preferences, necessitating advanced targeting techniques. The goal is to minimize annoyance by presenting users with content that aligns with their expectations.
4. Respect for user privacy
User privacy is sacrosanct in the realm of Acceptable Ads. Advertisers must prioritize obtaining user consent and ensure that data collection adheres to stringent privacy standards. Upholding privacy is vital for sustaining a positive relationship among advertisers, publishers, and users.
Criteria for Acceptable Ads
All Acceptable Ads must meet the criteria for (1) placement, (2) distinction, and (3) size. This means that ads should not disrupt the natural reading flow and should be placed either above, below, or beside the primary content. Next, all ads must be clearly distinguishable from other content and marked with the word “advertisement” or its equivalent. And finally, there are strict size restrictions for individual ads, as well as the total screen space occupied by ads, that must be adhered to. Publishers have to adhere to the following rules to guarantee that their ads fulfil user-friendly criteria:
- Ad formats: Utilize acceptable ad formats like static banners, text ads, and native ads, while avoiding intrusive formats such as pop-ups and auto-play videos.
- Ad placement: Follow best practices for ad placement to maintain a positive user experience. Ad density and spacing recommendations should be considered to prevent ad fatigue.
- Ad behavior: Avoid auto-play audio and video ads, as they can negatively impact user experience. Encourage the use of muted videos or user-initiated play to improve ad engagement.
- Text ads designed with excessive use of colors and/or other elements to grab attention are not permitted.
- Static image ads may qualify as acceptable, according to an evaluation of their unobtrusiveness based on their integration on the webpage.
- In-feed ads are permitted in between entries and feeds and are allowed to take up more space, as long as they are not substantially larger than other elements in the list or feed.
- Search ads – ads displayed following a user-initiated search query – are allowed and permitted to be larger and take up additional screen space.
- On pages with no primary content, only text ads are allowed.
Criteria for mobile ads
- Placement requirements
- Static ad types are allowed to be placed anywhere on the mobile page.
- Small ads are allowed to be placed as a sticky ad on the bottom of the screen. Other formats are not allowed to be sticky.
- Large ad types (e.g. native tile ads) are only allowed to be placed under primary content.
- Size requirements
- Ads implemented on a webpage must not occupy in total more than 50 percent of the visible portion of the webpage.
- Ads implemented as a ‘sticky ad’ have a maximum height restriction of 75px (or 15%).
- Below the Primary Content, ads may occupy up to 100% of the screen space.
- Animations are allowed for the 6×1 ad type when placed as a ‘sticky’ ad on the bottom of the screen. Animations have to comply with the LEAN standard for animations, and a close button or some other closing mechanism must be included.
Implementating Acceptable Ads
Implementing Acceptable Ads involves a combination of adherence to industry standards, collaboration with key stakeholders, and a commitment to user feedback and continuous improvement.
1. Industry standards
Several organizations, such as the Coalition for Better Ads, have laid down comprehensive industry standards for Acceptable Ads. These standards encompass guidelines on ad formats, placement strategies, and behavioral norms that collectively contribute to a positive and unobtrusive user experience.
2. Ad blocker partnerships
In a proactive approach, publishers can establish collaborations with ad-blocker developers. Participating in programs that allow Acceptable Ads to bypass ad-blocking filters requires a commitment to maintaining specific ad quality standards, fostering a cooperative relationship between publishers and developers.
3. User feedback
Constant refinement is inherent to the Acceptable Ads framework. Publishers should implement robust user feedback mechanisms, allowing them to glean insights into user preferences and concerns. This iterative process enables publishers to adapt their advertising strategies in real-time, ensuring a user-centric approach.
What is not considered an Acceptable Ad?
Certain types of ads or advertising experienced have been found too intrusive or disrupted to be a part of the standard, here are some of them:
- Ads that visibly load new ads if the primary content does not change.
- Ads with excessive or non-user-initiated hover effects.
- Animated ads.
- Autoplay-sound or video ads.
- Expanding ads.
- Generally oversized image ads.
- Interstitial page ads.
- Overlay ads.
- Overlay in-video ads.
- Pre-roll video ads.
- Rich media ads (e.g. flash ads, shockwave ads, etc.).
To gauge the impact of Acceptable Ads on user engagement and ad revenue, publishers can track key performance indicators (KPIs) such as ad viewability, CTR, and user feedback. Analyzing this data will enable publishers to make informed decisions and optimize their ad strategies for better results.
Challenges and criticisms of Acceptable Ads
While the concept of Acceptable Ads aims to strike a balance between user experience and advertising needs, it is not without its challenges and criticisms. Addressing these concerns is crucial for the continued development and acceptance of this approach.
1. Striking the delicate balance
Achieving equilibrium between user experience and advertising revenue remains an ongoing challenge. Publishers find themselves navigating a delicate tightrope, striving to meet financial goals without compromising the integrity of the user experience.
2. Definition variability
The subjective nature of user preferences introduces variability in the definition of “acceptable.” What one user finds unintrusive, another may perceive as disruptive. Striking a universally agreed-upon standard that accommodates this variability is a formidable task.
3. Evolving technological landscape
The rapid evolution of technology introduces new avenues for ad delivery. Advertisers and publishers must adapt to emerging technologies while upholding the principles of Acceptable Ads, ensuring that advancements do not compromise the user experience.
Acceptable Ads is a win-win solution for publishers looking to strike the appropriate balance between user experience and ad income. By adhering to principles of transparency, non-intrusiveness, relevance, and privacy, the industry seeks to forge a path that harmonizes user experience with the economic imperatives of digital advertising. The ongoing commitment to refining and implementing Acceptable Ads standards will be pivotal as the digital landscape continues to evolve, ensuring a sustainable and user-centric future for online content consumption.