Ad blockers could be hurting your SEO strategy

///Ad blockers could be hurting your SEO strategy
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We all hate ads don’t we? Especially the annoying ones that auto play and scare the hell out of you when you are browsing a site in the middle of the night with the lights off. One things you might not realize, is some ad blockers are actually blocking your Google Analytics from loading. This can be especially troublesome for SEO and measuring traffic with content marketing campaigns. Let me be clear from the start, this is not an article about getting around ad blockers for the purpose of displaying ads. This article is about tracking with analytics.

What do 27.3% of our visitors have in common?

27.3% of our visitors block the Google Analytics JavaScript files in one way or another. They also have another thing in common as well. They don’t block Piwik stats when it is used from PHP. That is how we have come up with these numbers, we measured our Piwik stats against our Google Analytics stats. We saw a huge discrepancy. So we modified our Google Analytics to have a fall back PHP method for tracking stats. We then saw almost identical stats as Piwik was reporting, within .2% difference. I found this pretty interesting. Over 1/4th of our visitors were not being reported. This makes it extremely difficult to develop a good content strategy.

What is even more interesting is how once I dug into the analytics how it all panned out. Since we are a tech company, most of our visitors are techy in nature to an extent. I found by going through our analytics and comparing Piwik to Google Analytics, the more techy the referring url the more likely they were blocking Google Analytics. One of the biggest was Hacker News, almost 40% of referrals from HN blocked Google Analytics. Reddit was close behind them, with around 35% of users.

What this means to me as a content writer, is that my content was performing better than I thought it was. A lot better in some cases. I was starting to get the feeling that the more in depth techy articles I have been writing were either off the mark, or not performing. But the case was different. They were performing better, just more of the viewers were block Google Analytics than the viewers to the less techy articles.

Adblockers that block Google Analytics

Below is a far from complete chart of ad blockers and how they handle Google Analytics by default. These numbers were taken from looking at the different extension stores that publish the download data.

ad block chart

How does this hurt SEO?

While having users visit your site with ad block does not affect your position in SERP’s, there are other effects on SEO. The main one is the reduction of returns. Consider this scenario:

Say you currently rank 11th for the term “blue widget” and get about 1000 visitors a month for the term. But in doing keyword research you can see that the term gets 100,000 searches a month. So you focus part of your SEO budget on raising the rank of the page that is targeted to “blue widget”. After 6 months you get to the top result, yay! But then you look at the actual traffic that is being brought in and see that you are at 20,000 visitors. Studies have shown that the top result for any given search have about a 33% click through rate, so where is all your traffic?

As someone in the SEO / marketing field, this is when I would start tweaking the click through factors. Namely the meta description and the meta title. Its widely known that the meta description holds no SEO weight, but the meta title still seems to hold some, not a large amount, but some. So we spend time tweaking these factors and we get no gain. Then we decide to try to send even more rich data over to Google to make our listing look even better and more enticing to click. We alter our shop to send reviews for the “blue widget”, pricing, maybe an image. These things can potentially start affecting your rankings. But at the same time, the lowered traffic can make you start re-thinking your keyword strategy as well.

What we recommend

If possible I recommend using a PHP fall back method for Google Analytics. Basically wait until the DOM is ready on your page, then check if Google Analytics is loaded. If it is not, use a PHP script to send the data over to Google. Google has some documentation here. If you cannot do that, I would recommend installing Piwik, then setting it up to use the proxying script, or the PHP tracking script. Either of those methods will get around ad blockers.

thirty bees has this covered

If you are currently using thirty bees, an update was released this morning for Google Analytics version 3.2.0. That version has included a PHP (or other web language) fall back that will track users who have installed an extension such as uBlock Origin which blocks Google Analytics. All you have to do is update the module and it will work, no configuring is required.

2017-09-05T23:59:05+00:00 September 5th, 2017|

About the Author:

Lesley is one of the co-founders of thirty bees. He also is the owner of a PrestaShop support, development, and SEO agency called dh42. He has been active in the ecommerce community for almost a decade providing help and support services.