In September, Apple dropped a bomb on marketers when it unveiled a new feature with the iOS 9 operating system: content blockers.
True, ad blocking software is nothing new. Apps designed to keep paid ads out of sight on Android devices and Windows PCs have been around for awhile.
So why is it such a big deal now? This is the first time they’ve been introduced to Apple’s more than 700 million iPhone users. With more than half of all mobile online activity occurring in Safari, there are a whole lot of ads that may never be seen by intended audiences.
The news isn't all bad—especially for marketers who also emphasize unpaid strategies.
If you’re still confused about the impacts of iOS 9 ad blockers, here’s what you need to know to keep your marketing on track.
Why are so many people downloading Apple ad blockers?
A day after iOS 9's release, the most downloaded Apple app was an ad blocker.
Despite what you may be hearing, those users aren’t truly looking to block ads. What people really want is to simply lengthen the lives of their mobile batteries and get websites to load faster on their phones, and blockers do just that.
One recent audit found that half of all data downloaded from several major news sites comes from ads. One content hub took 30.8 seconds just to load ads—nearly four times the 8.1 seconds it took to download editorial content.
So when the developer of a popular iOS 9 ad blocker shows how it can load pages nearly four times faster and reduce bandwidth consumption by 53%, users take notice.
What are the downsides of ad blockers?
There are some technical disadvantages to ad blockers in general, even for users. The apps can cause websites to load erratically and leave pages looking “empty” when missing ads aren’t replaced with other content. They can even cause some ad-heavy sites to crash altogether.
The big concern for marketers is that it’s not just ads that are being blocked with iOS 9 apps, but also other content like Google Analytics tracking. And if Apple ad blockers are anything like their Android counterparts, they may also block things (like call-to-action buttons) that are critical to the success of marketing campaigns.
This means that as adoption increases, so does the likelihood of customers disappearing from your analytics and lead generation efforts.
What’s a marketer to do?
It’s time to get comfortable with a world filled with ad blockers. Their adoption will only increase as more iPhone users upgrade to the newest model.
This means you’ll need to be even smarter about maximizing every marketing dollar spent. Here are my top three recommendations:
#1. Analyze Your Audience
How many people in your target niche are actually blocking ads? If the answer is “not many,” you may not need to make any big changes for now.
While it’s too early to see demographics for iOS 9, you can get a general sense of which age groups and genders are using ad blockers from other data reports (like this one). You can also compare iOS and Android devices in Google Analytics. If you see a noticeable drop in iOS visits, it could mean you’re losing leads to Apple ad blockers.
#2. Evaluate Your Ads
How much return on your investment are you getting with your ads? If you can’t attribute your paid campaigns to conversions, or if your goal conversion rate isn’t being met, it may be time to re-evaluate your paid campaigns anyway.
Consider alternatives to traditional banner ads and retargeting. For example, native advertising can get a sponsored message in front of your target audience with helpful content that’s not blocked. Affiliate marketing is another good venue because it turns loyal customers into brand advocates.
#3. Focus on Being Helpful
Remember: Users block ads because they don’t want interruptions or bloated devices. Create helpful, disruption-free content experiences to give them just that. Targeted email campaigns and social media marketing are both good options. If you’re already doing content marketing, consider devoting more of your budget to those efforts as well. Every new blog post and landing page you publish is another indexed webpage for people to find in search engines.
Over time, ad blockers may evolve to crawl ads so they can differentiate quality ad copy from spam and give users the enhanced mobile experience they seek. As we wait for that day to come, marketers should always be looking for new and creative ways to reach target audiences with high-caliber, high-value content.
Chris Lucas is the vice president of marketing for Formstack. He is passionate about setting the vision for Formstack’s marketing department, as well as discovering new ways to drive web traffic and leads. Follow Chris on Twitter.