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Ad blocking could be detrimental to mobile sites? loading times: report

Although ad blockers may be of interest to impatient consumers, financial services? mobile sites that have enabled ad blocking typically experience slower load times, while retail sites tend to perform slightly better and news and travel sites tend to perform significantly better, according to a report from Catchpoint Systems.

The ?Ad Blocking?s Unexpected Impact on Mobile Web Speed? report suggests that financial services? and banks? mobile sites would be well-suited to avoid enabling ad blockers, especially with consumers? increasing expectations for sites to load within a two-second time frame. Although some individuals may believe that ad blockers increase mobile Web pages? loading times, results vary by industry, with news and travel sites enjoying the biggest performance improvements.

?In some cases, the use of ad blockers on a site does not improve site performance, but actually degrades it,? said Mehdi Daoudi, CEO and co-founder of Catchpoint Systems. ?We used Pi-Hole, a DNS-based ad blocker, so our methodology could have produced different results than AdblockPlus or another popular extension might have generated.

?But the fact remains that a popular tactic used to improve the user experience had the opposite effect in some cases.?

Measuring performance metrics
Catchpoint Systems collected data from 20 top mobile sites in the news, retail, financial services and travel sectors for its study, which was conducted from May 1 to 31 of this year. Samples were taken from mobile sites with ad blocking platforms turned on and off.

Although consumers may believe that employing ad blocking software will speed up mobile sites? loading times and result in a more seamless browsing experience, the opposite appears to be true for sites belonging to marketers in the financial services industry.

For example, Chase?s mobile site saw an average load time of 3.27 seconds with ad blocking disabled. It slowed to 4.53 seconds as soon as ad blockers were turned on.

Additionally, the study identified several outliers. While most travel sites perform significantly better with ad blocking turned on, Southwest Airlines? mobile-optimized site?s loading time slowed from 4.16 seconds to 7.28 seconds once ad blocking was enabled.

With more and more research showing that time-strapped consumers are unlikely to wait long for a mobile site to load on their phones ? especially with so many competitors? sites readily available ? these findings may strike a chord of uneasiness among marketers in heavily-affected industries.

?Ad blockers present a threat, regardless of whether they degrade site performance or not,? Mr. Daoudi said. ?The key is to not give site visitors a reason to turn on ad blockers in the first place. It has been said that people turn on ad blockers for two main reasons ? to get rid of intrusive ads, and improve performance.

?However, studies have shown that users are actually receptive to targeted, relevant ads, so in our view, performance is the main impetus,? he said. ?When implementing advertising strategies, online marketers need to focus on protecting and preserving an exceptional customer experience, first and foremost.

?And marketers that don't really on advertising need to get involved in the ad-blocking conversation because the unintended consequences of this technology can hurt their customer experiences, brands, and revenues.?

Best and worst cases
Financial institutions? mobile sites were shown to fare the worst when it came to enabled ad blockers. Most sites became 12 to 38 percent slower with ad blocking software turned on.

One explanation for this is that ad blocking has less content to block on these types of sites, meaning that the software?s interaction time with the site can eclipse any speed improvements stemming from blocked ads, per the report.

Mobile retail sites fared slightly better with ad blocking turned on, but still saw low performance metrics. Travel sites, on the other hand, saw major improvements when the software was enabled, with many brands seeing a 19 to 51 percent uptick in speed.

Mobile news sites experienced the biggest win, with performance improvements hovering in the 27 to 48 percent range.

?Sometimes it?s not ads, but ad blockers that are actually hurting performance,? Mr. Daoudi said. ?For example, some sites can detect when an ad blocker is on, and serve interstitial messages that slow down the site as much or more than serving ads.

?Or, ad blockers can block content and features that aren?t ads, like sign-in and authentication processes,? he said. ?If a site is not designed to load elements like these asynchronously, this blocking can slow down or disrupt the entire page. Generally, sites that are traditionally ad heavy ? like news and travel ? see the greatest performance improvement when ad blocking is turned on. 

?Sites that are traditionally light on ads often slow down when ad blocking is turned on. However, there is no perfect industry-by-industry formula. We saw several outliers ? in addition to Southwest Airlines, Huffington Post, a news site, was 22 percent slower with ad blocking turned on.?