5 Takeaways from the 2021 PageFair Adblock Report

By: Marty Krátký-Katz, Co-Founder and CEO of Blockthrough

Last week, Blockthrough released the 2021 PageFair Adblock Report, the seventh edition in this series of reports, which have played a pivotal role in driving media dialogue on and publisher awareness about the consumer adoption of adblocking.

For this year’s report, in addition to reporting on recurring themes such as estimates of adblock adoption on desktop and mobile, region-wise penetration of adblocking, and an analysis of adblock countermeasures employed by top US publishers, we also surveyed 5,423 US Internet users about their general preferences related to privacy and advertising.

In this article, I’ll summarize the key findings from our report, which I believe will be very relevant for publishers who are trying to better understand their audience.

1. Adblocking is growing, both on desktop and mobile

In August 2020, Digiday reported that desktop adblocking was past its peak. The data presented in our previous two reports (2017 and 2020) lined up with that analysis. However, this year, we found that this decline has reversed. Between Q1 and Q4 of 2020, adblocking on desktop increased from 236 million MAUs to 257 million MAUs, i.e., a YoY growth of 8%. Meanwhile, driven by mobile browsers that block ads by default, adblocking on mobile has doubled in the last five years, going from 282 million MAUs in 2016 to 586M MAUs at the end of 2020.

2. 63% of top publishers use adblock countermeasures

As part of the report, we analyzed how the top-100 US Comscore-ranked publishers are responding to adblocking and found that 63% are now using at least one type of adblock monetization (aka “adblock recovery”) strategy, up from 56% last year.

Of this subset, around 65% of publishers rely exclusively on ad recovery via Acceptable Ads—making it the most popular strategy. Adblock circumvention was the least popular adblock monetization strategy according to our analysis, used by only one publisher among the top 100.

3. Adblock users don’t like adblock walls or messaging

Adblock walls and messaging pop-ups are used by some publishers to induce adblock users into taking a desired action, such as whitelisting the site or purchasing an ad removal pass.

When asked what they would do if presented with an adblock wall, 68% of users said that they would exit the website, 22% said that they would comply with the whitelist request, and just under 6% said that they would purchase an ad removal pass.

Ultimately, adblock walls and messaging pop-ups have a high interaction cost for users, and these results demonstrate the distaste that users have for them.

4. Most Internet users don’t hate advertising

The simplest conclusion to draw from the growing popularity of adblockers is that users must hate online advertising.

However, the data disagrees with that conclusion: 74% of the 5,423 US Internet users that we surveyed as part of the report don’t mind being advertised to as long as their privacy is protected and the ads meet certain quality standards. Indeed, even among adblock users, 63% said that they would be willing to accept light, non-intrusive advertising to support web publishers.

The Ads-Privacy Preference Matrix presented in the report shows that most Internet users are much more sensitive about their online privacy and the intrusiveness of advertising than about ads themselves.

5. Acceptable Ads has crossed 200m users

One silver lining for publishers is the growing participation of adblockers in the Acceptable Ads ecosystem. Between 2019 and 2020, the number of users on adblockers supporting Acceptable Ads grew 435% on mobile and 54% overall to reach 218 million users, with opt-in rates of 93%.

The Acceptable Ads ecosystem enables publishers to serve light, non-intrusive advertising to opted-in adblock users and is the most popular and effective method of monetizing adblock users. Since the consent mechanism for Acceptable Ads is built in at the browser-/extension-level, publishers also don’t have to interrupt every single adblock user that visits their website to gain individual site opt-ins.

As most adtech providers do not support Acceptable Ads, most publishers work with a dedicated vendor who specializes in ad recovery via Acceptable Ads

Bonus: The dark matter of adblocking

Another striking finding from our survey is that US users’ self-reported rate of adblock usage (~40%) is significantly greater than the 15-20% that most US publishers record with traditional adblock detection methodologies. Some of that discrepancy can be attributed to survey noise or respondent misconception as to what constitutes an adblocker. However, we believe there is another major factor at play: the rise of the “dark matter of adblocking”; i.e. adblocking tools whose usage is hard to measure using conventional means because they block the very technologies publishers use to measure adblock visits, and they do not rely on the open-source EasyList blocklist. This includes network-level adblockers, those bundled with anti-virus or VPN software, hardware adblockers, as well as especially zealous adblocking browser extensions.

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