Acceptable Ad Standards: Publishers’ Guide to Compliance

With rising concerns over consumer privacy, the demise of the tracking cookie, and the increase in the popularity of ad blocking technology, the ad industry has focused intently on recovering money due to lost ads while adhering to privacy concerns.

Ad blocking has become a serious problem for publishers, costing them millions of dollars each year in lost revenue. In the US, more than 27% of users block ads on their connected devices, resulting in a revenue loss of between 15% and 30% for digital publishers. These numbers are just estimates, however, as consumers have found other ways to stop online advertising by using VPN or DNS-based ad blockers, which may not get counted. At the same, ad blocking by default is now offered in most browsers.

Internet users mainly use ad block technology to stop irrelevant and intrusive ads to improve the user experience. However, this becomes a hurdle for the publisher’s monetization effort.

That’s where the Acceptable Ad standard comes into play. Acceptable Ad standards help create and show ads that are non-intrusive, relevant, and respectful to the user. By providing a better ad experience, users are more willing to view advertising and make it easier for publishers to generate revenue.

In this article, we’ll explain the criteria and compliance with Acceptable Ads.

FYI, if you’re looking for information on how to recover the revenue that you’re losing due to ad blockers, check out our post How to Recover Lost Revenue Due to Ad Blockers.

What are Acceptable Ads?

Acceptable Ads are online ads that do not disrupt the content people are viewing. Developed by eyeo GMBh, the parent company of Adblock Plus and its community of users, the Acceptable Ads program allows some ads to be shown even when an ad blocker is deployed.

If Adblock users opt-in, ads that meet the Acceptable Ads criteria will still be shown, helping publishers continue to generate revenue to support their efforts.

Acceptable Ads are enabled by default in AdBlock Plus, although users can opt to block them as well.

Acceptable Ads vs Better Ads

The Coalition for Better Ads has also released a similar set of standards in conjunction with the Interactive Advertising Bureau (IAB), Google, and advertisers such as P&G. Better Ad standards are different from Acceptable Ads, providing a set of best practices for online ads. The non-profit Coalition conducted extensive user testing to determine how users interact with ads to develop standards for deploying non-intrusive ad formats.

The Betters Ads Experience Program invites publishers to participate. Many publishers and supply-side demand platforms now require mandatory adherence to these standards. Google, for example, enforces the Better Ads standards.

By comparison, Acceptable Ads was developed by the team behind AdBlock Plus. Advertisers and publishers that fail to meet the standards will have ads blocked.

You can learn more by reading our post, Better Ad Standards: A Primer on the Coalition for Better Ads.

Who Manages the Acceptable Ads Standard?

The Acceptable Ads Committee (AAC) manages the Acceptable Ads standard and determines what qualifies under their requirements. The standard is managed to balance publishers’ ad placements with website user experience, with the goal of promote the best experience for users possible while finding a middle ground to allow advertisers to show ads and publishers to earn money.

The Acceptable Ads standard was first created in 2011 by eeyo for Adblock Plus users but was handed off to AAC, an independent committee in 2017 to manage. The standard has been adopted by most ad blockers in use today.

The AAC itself is split into three parts: For Profit Coalition, User Advocate Coalition, and Expert Coalition.

  • The For Profit Coalition includes advertisers, advertising agencies, publishers, content creators, and ad tech providers. They promote the importance of the ad-supported model and they work alongside the other two coalitions.
  • The User Advocate Coalition is focused on digital rights and Adblock users to make sure that users’ voices are heard and used to create a better user experience.
  • The Expert Coalition includes industry experts in the field of ad blocking and advertising.

Is Acceptable Ads Standard Compliance Required?

While compliance is not required, advertisers and publishers that do not adhere to the Acceptable Ads criteria will have fewer ad impressions shown. Ads that do not meet the criteria will not be displayed by anyone using an ad blocker.

There are millions of good reasons for publishers to comply, however. 200 million of them. That’s how many people have consented to view Acceptable Ads even with an ad blocker — including more than 90% of all Adblock Plus users.

While nine out of ten companies on the Acceptable Ads whitelist do not have to pay to participate in the program, publishers that display more than 10 million Acceptable Ads monthly do have to pay a percentage of revenue.

Detailed Review of Acceptable Ads Criteria

Acceptable Ads criteria are detailed and the burden for compliance falls on the shoulders of publishers. Publishers wanting to comply must adhere to these guidelines or risk being removed from the Acceptable Ads allowlist. Once removed, all ads will be blocked.

There are general ad requirements for all ads and additional criteria for mobile ads.

General Ad Requirements flow

The overall goal of the Acceptable Ads standard is to allow ads that do not disrupt the flow of the page, leading to a poor reader experience.

  • Text ads that use disruptive tactics to gain attention, such as blinking or excessive use of color, are not permitted.
  • Search ads can be larger and use extra screen space than standard search results since they have been initiated by users, searching for specific content.
  • Ads should be placed above the page content, below it, or next to it as long as it does not interfere with the primary content on the webpage.
  • Ads need to stand out from content, and/or be labeled as advertising, to ensure they are easily recognized as ads. They should not be mistaken for the publisher’s content.
  • In-feed ads can be placed between entries and feeds. They should not be larger than anything else shown in the main feed, however.
  • Ads should comply with recognized standardized formats and sizes that are appropriate for the platform being used.
  • Ads that contain animations must offer users an easy way to turn them off.

In short, ads must not annoy the user or disrupt what they’re doing and negatively affect the user experience.

Desktop

In addition to the general standards, there are some additional criteria for online ads for display on the desktop.

  • Ads can’t disrupt the natural flow when it comes to reading.
  • If an individual ad is shown above the main content, the maximum height is 200px.
  • If an individual ad is shown at the side of the main content, the maximum width is 350px.
  • If an individual ad is shown at the bottom of the main content, the maximum height is 400px.

Ads that are placed above the fold cannot take up more than 15% of the visible part of the website. Below the fold, ads should not take up more than 25% of the visible portion.

Mobile

Acceptable Ads criteria for mobile devices were adopted in 2017 and cover placement, size, and animations.

Ad Placements

  • Static ads can be placed anywhere on a mobile device screen.
  • Sticky ads can be used, but only if they’re small in size and placed on the bottom of the screen.
  • Other types of stick ads are not allowed.
  • Large ads can only be shown under the page’s primary content.

Ad Size

  • An ad may not take up more than 50% of the visible portion of a webpage.
  • Sticky ads also have a height restriction of 75px, or 15% of a page.
  • Ads below the primary content can take up 100% of the page.

Animations

Animations must comply with the L.E.A.N. standard L.E.A.N. standard was developed by the IAB and includes such practices as prohibiting preloading of ads before ad units are in view and limiting calls from ads for data that isn’t used for targeting.

Unacceptable Ad Formats

In reading through the criteria, you’ll quickly see that some types of ads will not qualify under the Acceptable Ads program. The AAC has labeled several ad units as too disruptive or intrusive. These include:

  • Pop-up or pop-under ads
  • Oversized image ads
  • Ads with excessive effects that users do not initiate
  • Ads that load new ads without changes to the primary content

There are also some more common ad formats that many publishers use, including:

  • Auto-play video or audio with sound enabled
  • Pre-roll video ads
  • Interstitial page ads
  • Overlay ads
  • Overlay in-video ads
  • Rich media ads

Ad Tracking

One thing Acceptable Ads does allow is tracking. Despite moves by browsers such as Apple Safari and Mozilla Firefox to block tracking cookies by default, Acceptable Ads allows for tracking user behavior for ad targeting.

Conclusion

The goal of the Acceptable Ads standard is to allow users to receive targeted ads that better their online/shopping experience without annoying them. This allows publishers to continue to generate ad revenue from ads that pass ad blockers. While compliance is voluntary, failing to adhere to the criteria can result in being banned from the Acceptable Ads allowlist.

The ad sizes and placements are crucial to meet the standards and to provide a positive user experience. Newor Media supports publishers with their ads, sizing, and placement combining AI algorithms and decades of online advertising experience. Unlike many other ad networks, Newor Media is hands-on to guide publishers and ensure ad units are optimized for maximum earning potential.

If you’d like to see how much your website could earn by partnering with Newor Media, check out our free Website Earnings Calculator.