LEAN Ads: The IAB’s Best Practices for Digital Advertisers and Publishers

To adblock or not to adblock? More and more internet users are answering this question with a resounding “yes.” Of course, you know that adblocking can threaten your revenue and prevent you from providing quality content free of charge. Unfortunately, your readers are more concerned with slow websites, malware, and intrusive ads.
In the fall of 2016, Anatomy Media released a study that stated 2/3 of young millennials (age 18-24) use adblockers on at least one device. 43% of these said they did so to avoid intrusive ads, and a whopping 63% confirmed that video ads that play automatically were their main reason for using ad blockers. It suggests that negative user experience is a driving factor in pushing users to pick up ad blockers. Anatomy Media puts is, “User experience is God.”
These findings are consistent with those of the Interactive Advertising Bureau (IAB), which released an adblocking study in July 2016. The study states that 26% of users surveyed use ad blockers on at least one device. But, more alarming for publishers is the 17% that claimed they were on the verge of using ad blockers. The IAB gives us hope: 2/3 of those surveyed were open to stop adblocking. To that, the IAB puts forth suggestions for companies to encourage them to do so.
Enter the IAB and LEAN ads. The IAB recognizes that ad blockers cost companies serious revenue. However, they also acknowledge the very real gripes that users have about ads on websites. The IAB’s LEAN specs involve scaling back and modifying ads to improve user experience while maintaining the ad revenue necessary to keep content free.


Ads are often the first to be blamed for a website’s slow load time. To address that, the IAB states the importance of keeping ads light. Companies can keep their ads light by limiting the files sizes and adhering to strict data call guidelines. By keeping ads light, companies can improve the load speed of their website and thus the experience of their visitors.


The IAB LEAN specs also stress the importance of preventing malware from infecting ads. This is easier said than done, as “malvertisers” often run clean ads on various sites to gain trust before starting to run infected ads.
Companies can prevent infected ads from displaying on their site by ensuring both their website and ad server support HTTPS. HTTPS is an SSL-encrypted data transfer protocol between a website and a browser. Implementing HTTPS on your site and ad server protects you and your readers.

AdChoices Supported

AdChoices is an initiative that seeks to give users more privacy by allowing them to opt out of targeted ads. This is another common reason people decide to block ads — they don’t like being tracked. Ads can tailor themselves to readers based on browsing history and behavior. AdChoices places an icon on each ad that, when clicked, turns off targeted advertising. Learn more about AdChoices and sign up through Quantcast.


Invasive ads get between a reader and the content they came to see. They include ads that obscure content, videos that expand and play automatically, and copious amounts of ads peppering an article and interrupting the flow. The IAB asks companies to use common sense when deciding how ads will present themselves. Annoying ads drive readers away and increase the likelihood that they come back armed with an adblocker. IAB LEAN ads that occupy the banner and sides of your website without getting between readers and their content are ideal.

The solution is better ads

The IAB has found that users are less likely to use adblockers or whitelist websites when their experience is not interrupted. Users want to be able to access sites and enjoy content without feeling slowed down or bombarded by advertisements. LEAN ads are one of the tools available for publishers to serve ads without interrupting the user experience.
Both the IAB and publishers recognize that adblock users do have legitimate gripes. Ad blocking itself is a symptom of a larger problem. Ads have gotten out of hand, and consumers have reacted accordingly.
It’s not impossible for publishers to thrive — it only takes an awareness of the problem, and actions to address it. Publishers can get their ads back under control by adhering to the IAB’s LEAN specs, and show their users that they do care about the user’s experience.
With that in mind, the future for online advertisements and the revenue they will create looks bright.

Is Adblock bad? What Adblocking Means For Digital Publishers

Readers may not need a subscription to access the content on your website, but that doesn’t mean the content is free. You rely on ads to generate the revenue necessary to keep your website going. However, more and more internet users are using adblockers, without much thought to whether it hurts businesses. This is driving some to wonder: Is Adblock bad?

If you haven’t taken measures to prevent adblocking software from affecting your site, it’s time to start. Unfortunately, not all strategies for adblock prevention are effective, and implementing the wrong one can mean lost time and revenue.

What they do and why people use adblock

Adblockers do exactly what their name suggests: they block website ads from appearing on a web browser. In their simplest form, they detect calls to load images, videos, audio, and flash from known ad servers and prevent those files from loading. However, more sophisticated adblockers use filters to determine what does and doesn’t load on a website.

There are several reasons people decide to block ads. Some readers dislike ads they consider intrusive, finding them distracting and annoying. Others use adblockers because they want to speed up their browsing experience. A third camp fear that ads could increase their risk for malware. And lastly, there are those who use adblockers because they’re uncomfortable with the idea of being constantly tracked online, with the purpose of being advertised to.

With the number of adblock users on the rise, it’s becoming increasingly important to talk about adblockers and how they affect websites.

Is adblock bad for websites?

Adblockers are becoming a significant threat to online businesses. According to a 2016 report by eMarketer, the number of adblock users has reached an all-time high across devices with as many as 63 million people in the United States alone using them on desktop computers.

The same report projects that adblock usage would likely jump to almost 80 million in 2017, with as many as 30 million people using adblockers on their smartphones. Consider the fact that adblocking use grew 41% worldwide between 2015 and 2016, and that that number is only projected to grow in the coming years.

This growing increase in adblockers hurts online business. Running ads doesn’t just earn a site money when readers click, but rather just for showing up in a reader’s browser. This is called serving an impression, and it’s an important part of your website’s revenue. Juniper Research last year estimated that adblocking software cost web publishers more than $27 billion worldwide in lost ad revenue, making adblocking anything but a victimless crime.

Some homegrown attempts to turn the tide

Businesses have tried to recover lost ad revenue by engaging users and counteracting adblockers. Usually, this involves transparent discussions about the value of free content or technological solutions to deliver an ad-supported or ad-light experience. However, adblockers evolve their circumvention techniques, developing workarounds to undercut publisher efforts.


Forbes was one of the earliest publishers to engage its adblocking users.  What started as periodic, experimental tests that allowed users to proceed with adblockers active, eventually grew to a homegrown solution that required users to deactivate their adblockers in exchange for consuming Forbes content.  Early results were promising, but adblockers have created filters to circumvent the Forbes solution and Forbes doesn’t have the team or time to respond to every circumvention.


Even Facebook’s massive team of engineers loses millions in revenue to adblockers. In 2016, they started re-inserting ads when adblockers were active. However, Facebook’s success was short lived. Within days, Adblock Plus, one of the most popular adblocking services, released a workaround and Facebook was back to square one.

Of course, the social media giant didn’t take this lying down and quickly released a workaround to AdBlock Plus’ workaround, using code to hide its ads from adblockers even more effectively. Regardless, AdBlock plus responded the next day with another circumvention and Facebook countered later that same day with a third adjustment of their own.

Although these results are encouraging, most publishers don’t have developers they can devote to the adblock problem like Facebook. The best results come from third-party providers of anti-adblock solutions that specialize in 24/7 adblock monitoring and recovery solutions.

New Hope on the Horizon

Despite the struggle between adblockers and publishers, the game is far from over. There are companies and services that help prevent adblockers from stealing your revenue.

Anti-adblock companies help websites understand the impact adblockers have on their bottom line and apply engagement and technical solutions to recover revenue for website owners. Some anti-adblock services, like Admiral, even provide a suite of solutions from free measurement, to engagement, recovery and microtransactions; allowing publishers to tailor a solution that is best for their community.

Whether publishers attempt to tame the adblock beast with homegrown solutions or they partner with anti-adblock experts, their very survival is at stake.  Adblocking is projected to grow for years to come, but that growth can slow or reverse as more publishers size and solve their adblock losses.