Building an ethical advertising platform in the shadow of ad blockers

It’s no secret that the world of online advertising has devolved into a means of using any and every accessible data point to convince consumers to purchase products. But it wasn’t always that way. There was a time when online advertising was far more simple and less invasive. And it still worked. But it was difficult. Portland startup Read the Docs has spent time building an ad platform that provides simple, ethical advertising. But in a world of ad blockers, that can be more difficult that one would think.

When we started building our ethical advertising model, we didn’t know how it would work out. We didn’t know much about the ad industry, and we were doing things different than everyone else.

Initially, the effort worked well. Really, really well. And enabled Read the Docs to build a seemingly sustainable revenue model to fund the business and the ongoing development of its offerings. But now, with the growing prevalence of ad blockers, that once sustainable revenue has hit a few bumps.

Last time, we shared how ethical advertising works to keep Read the Docs sustainable without creepy ad targeting. This time, we will share about one of our biggest challenges with advertising. At the beginning of April, Read the Docs was added to one of the most popular ad block lists: the Easylist.

Getting added to the EasyList had a significant and immediate impact on the bottom line at Read the Docs. Right around April 1, 32% of our ad views simply vanished. At first, we thought we had done something horribly wrong but then we discovered that this was due entirely to ad blocking. Our actual traffic wasn’t down at all.

And like many developers, they saw this problem as a challenge and an opportunity.

We are launching a new initiative to whitelist advertising that benefits open source software. We encourage you to subscribe to the this list and support open source. If you run an open source project affected by ad blockers, we would love to help you too.

For more insights from Read the Docs, please read Ethical Advertising Works and Ads and Ad blockers. For more on their motivations, read Read the Docs: Ethical Ads.

[Full disclosure: Read the Docs is a PIE alum. I am the cofounder and general manager of PIE.]