Ad blocking browser plug-ins

Online ads are pretty much a way of life. They're annoying, they've been shown to drain battery life on mobile devices and, sure, they increase network traffic and bandwidth usage. All of this aside, online ads DO serve a very real purpose: ads and ad networks help keep the content we consume on the Internet completely free of charge.

However, even the usefulness of online ads hasn't kept people from seeking ways of at least minimizing their intrusion into our consumption of web content. Whether you're using an ad blocker because ads intrude upon your enjoyment of what you read on the web, or whether you use them because they speed up your browsing experience, it sure looks like ad blockers are here to stay. (And that's not necessarily a bad thing.)

But apart from network traffic, browsing speed and battery life issues, there is another potential pitfall to ad blockers: they can significantly degrade your ability to know who is visiting your website. For ecommerce websites or for businesses who use their websites as their primary means for engaging customers, THIS fact may be the most devastating problem of all.

How Ad Blockers Block Traffic Stats

To be fair, it depends on how aggressive you want your ad-blocking extension to be. Some, like uBlock Origin DO block things like Google Tag Manager and Google Analytics by default, while others, like AdBlockPlus, offer lists that you need to subscribe to in order to get this functionality. So while one would require you to OPT OUT of that block, the other requires you to OPT IN to it. However, other ad blocking extensions don't offer any customization or opt in/opt out tools at all.

Then there is the latest trend: actual browsers that automatically block ads and tracking code. Look at something like the Brave browser, which was developed by Brendan Eich, the inventor of javascript and a co-founder of Mozilla. Brave touts itself as "faster than your browser" due to its automated blocks. Not surprisingly, Brave is getting a lot of publicity not only due to its unique approach to browsing, but also because it has publishers up in arms.

Regardless of which trend you follow, as more people move to limiting their exposure to online ads, tracking of browsing behavior and limiting javascript in general, the impact to your website statistics is very real.

What Can You Do?

As a website owner, not much, because the blocking of ads is purely on the browser side. There ARE workarounds, sure:

  • You can host your Google Analytics files locally and reference local paths for use of the .js files. However, even Google recommends you NOT do that because you could miss important updates to those files.
  • You can use server-side commands to reference a local file that, in truth, simply mimics your .js analytics file hosted by Google.

So your choices are to either do something Google recommends against or "faking out" Google so that you can use their tracking codeā€¦.Who has time for that? Even if you COULD figure out how to create the code necessary to host your own files and keep them up to date, don't you have better things to do? If you can't figure it out, you have to pay someone to do it for you...and that's not always the best solution either.

Web Log Analytics is a Simpler Solution

Use of a web log analytics suite is a very simple, and very effective, alternative. Browser plug-ins that block javascript analytics code are immune from limiting the information that is stored in a web server's logs. In addition, there is MORE information in your web logs than what you can get using javascript-based tracking codes, including:

  • Server-side information (500 errors, time taken, etc.)
  • Resource counts (image files, external files, etc.)
  • Resource downloads
  • Bandwidth information
  • Bot traffic that could indicate hacking attempts
  • Spider and bot traffic from search engines

And Let's Not Forget...

Ad blocking is becoming even more popular for mobile clients. If you can't track your mobile users you're severely limiting a very large — and quickly growing — segment of your visitor traffic. In addition, more and more desktop security and antivirus applications are being created, or even updated, to help block javascript code and help keep ads from displaying on the sites you visit. So, ads are now being circumvented and blocked from many different angles, not just via browser extensions.

Of course, there could come a time when advertisers realize a better, less intrusive way to get their message in front of potential customers. In a perfect world, advertisers would integrate their message into content without brazen pop-outs that interrupt the user experience. Until that time, we have ads to deal with, and deal with them we are. Just realize that, while there are ways to deal with online ads and tracking code, there are also ways to do so without jeopardizing your ability to track visitor stats and traffic to your website. Now is the time to add a website log analytics to your stable of marketing and business intelligence tools.