3 Best Anti-Adblock Methods: Ad Blocker Cat & Mouse Killer


Adblocker software is designed to remove advertisements when browsing the web. At the end of 2020, the number of adblock users worldwide stood at 763 million. Adblock usage has continued to increase since then, so what options do websites have to meet their monetization goals given the increase in adblocking?

The best anti-adblock methods are generally script-based redirects or content overlays added to web pages. Users are becoming more privacy-aware, finding annoying ads easily blocked by web browsers or browser extensions. It is better to provide visitors choice rather than relying only on ad revenue.

And so the conflict is as such: websites want users to see their ads, while at the same time, those users attempt to avoid viewing those advertisements. This is especially true if the ads are irrelevant or intrusive. Fortunately, there are better ways to get revenue than forcing intrusive ads on your users.

Woman with glasses wagging her finger at adblockers while holding her cell phone.

Current Anti-Adblock Techniques

If a website is determined to have its ads seen, the website owners can use anti-adblock tools to show ads even if a user has an adblock enabled.

In 2017, 38.2 percent of the top 1,000 websites (sites based on Alexa rankings) used some kind of ad blocking detection scripts and software. With the ever-changing landscape, companies are increasingly looking to counter the growing number of adblock users.

Here are some ways this is accomplished:

JavaScript Techniques

Have you ever been browsing a website and then received a message overlay saying something like, “We noticed you’re blocking ads.”? You might also be asked to disable your adblocker or consider donating to support the website. A company can tell if you’re using an adblocker by testing whether particular elements of their webpage source code have been displayed.

All websites are made from some combination of HTML, CSS, and JavaScript. Adblock detectors take advantage of this by inserting a tiny piece of code into the webpage as “bait” that the best ad blockers will perceive as an ad. By triggering the adblocker with the bait, websites can tell whether ads are being blocked or not.

Man laying on sofa logging into wordpress on his laptop.

WordPress Plugins

43% of the web is built on WordPress, the world’s most popular website builder. Many well-known companies, like The New York Times, Forbes, UPS, eBay, Sony, and Microsoft, use WordPress to publish on the web. The service offers great flexibility in website customization with the use of plugins.

A plugin is software that you can download to provide new functionality to your WordPress site, just like how you might download a mobile app. There are many anti-adblock plugins for WordPress, and the plugin does all the work of detecting adblockers for you.

One example of an anti-adblock WordPress plugin is Simple Adblock Notice. It shows a popup to whitelist your website if the Adblock Plus browser extension blocks your advertisements. This leads us to our third anti-adblock technique:

Becoming Whitelisted As Acceptable Ads

Another anti-adblock solution is for websites to apply to be whitelisted. This is also known as getting your ads allowlisted. The claim is that advertisers must abide by certain standards to be placed on an allowlist; once set, this ensures that their ads will be seen by the viewer.

But what are these standards, and exactly which adblockers allow these lists?

A list of “acceptable ads” is a very controversial stance and has drawn much criticism (which I’ll cover below). Only certain adblockers provide this whitelist feature, but these adblockers are very widely used. These popular browser extensions include:

None of the above adblockers are recommended.

Suppose you actually look at the standards for acceptable ads. In that case, you’ll notice that they say nothing about the content of the ads or the companies that are allowed to advertise. Instead, they focus exclusively on the format and placement of the ads. There are zero restrictions on who can be added to the whitelist or what type of content they’re allowed to show you. Here’s what the official page states is not considered an acceptable ad:

  • Ads that visibly load new ads if the Primary Content does not change
  • Ads with excessive or non-user-initiated hover effects
  • Animated ads2
  • Autoplay-sound or video ads
  • Expanding ads
  • Generally oversized image ads
  • Interstitial page ads
  • Overlay ads
  • Overlay in-video ads
  • Popups
  • Pop-unders
  • Pre-roll video ads
  • Rich media ads (e.g., Flash ads, Shockwave ads, etc.)

In other words, only the most annoying, invasive, virus-resembling ads are explicitly discouraged. Everything else is fair game. But a convenient footnote at the bottom states, “The types of ads listed above can be included on the allowlist if the user intentionally interacts with the ad (e.g., clicks on the ad to see a video ad playing).”

This goes entirely against the intention and purpose of using an adblocker. People download adblockers for what they promise to do: block ads.

But not all adblockers do what they claim, and those adblockers make revenue by advertisers paying them to be whitelisted:

“Companies like Google, Microsoft, and Amazon are already paying huge sums of money to Eyeo [the company that owns Adblock Plus]. The CEO of IAB once called the Adblock Plus an extortion based business. In another instance, the Acceptable Ads Manifesto has been called a ransom note. There have been many allegations and responses on the topic of Acceptable Ad Standards.”

Like other free software or services, Adblockers can be deceptive in what exactly they provide and at what cost. Users should always research anything they plan to use or download. Keep in mind what financial incentives these companies have and how free services can stay free while still paying the operating cost.

If you’re interested in further reading on the practice of adblockers allowing acceptable ads, check out the following posts:

Advertisers Are Paying Off Ad Blockers to Show 200 Million Users “Acceptable Ads”:

https://restoreprivacy.com/report-ad-blockers-allowing-acceptable-ads/

There are no ‘acceptable’ ads”:

https://blockads.fivefilters.org/acceptable.html

As we’ve seen from this section, adblockers aren’t a foolproof solution. What other options exist for online users?

Cell phone showing brave install page on google play store.

What Visitors Use To Block Ads

Some privacy-oriented web browsers like Brave or Tor Browser have built-in ad blocking on desktop and mobile. Others, like FirefoxMicrosoft EdgeGoogle Chrome, and Safari, allow users to choose if they want to block ads through the use of extensions specifically designed for that purpose. These popular browsers have important security and privacy features, but some web browsers are more privacy-oriented than others.

Other browser extensions, beyond the three listed earlier, include:

Out of all the listed browser extensions so far, I would only personally recommend uBlock Origin or AdGuard AdBlocker. AdBlocker Ultimate appears to be a low-quality copycat of AdGuard AdBlocker, which has also been pointed out by the developer of uBlock Origin.

Meanwhile, many sources strongly praise and recommend uBlock Origin (such as the Mozilla FoundationThe New York Times, or ProPrivacy).

uBlock Origin is both lightweight (meaning it won’t slow down your web browsing) and effective (blocks ads without bias), and it also does a much better job of bypassing anti-ad blockers. uBlock Origin should not be confused with the similar-sounding uBlock or any other copycat adblocker software.

We mentioned earlier how some adblockers have a practice of whitelisting sites and allowing advertisements to be shown, regardless of user preference. Reputable adblockers, like uBlock Origin, do not engage in this practice.

What about AdGuard Adblocker? Software users should always be diligent about whether the software they’re using is trustworthy or not. A company can prove that it respects the privacy and data of its users by having a long history of upstanding commitment. AdGuard has been in business for over 10 years and has been very transparent about its privacy policy, with many sources vouching for it.

They also maintain an active blog about their product development and their views on ads and digital safety. They also release informative articles about the advertising industry and remind visitors what they can do to practice good digital hygiene.

AdGuard also covers in detail on their blog how millions of people end up being scammed by fake adblockers, which deceive users by copying the names of popular adblockers.

Are there any other reliable or trustworthy ways for website visitors to block ads?

One option to consider is using DNS-based ad blockers. DNS stands for “domain name system.” You can think of DNS as being like the phonebook of the internet. It’s the system responsible for you to type in the website’s domain name (e.g., https://dataoverhaulers.com/) in your address bar and then access that website’s content.

In other words, it translates a website domain name to an IP address, and that’s how your computer is able to retrieve the information from that website.

Using a DNS-based ad blocker is a method to block ads on a network level, contrary to previous approaches that focused on blocking ads on a browser level. As such, it’s not recommended for those who aren’t worried about managing their network settings. Using a good adblocker like uBlock Origin or AdGuard Adblocker should be a sufficient first step for most people.

However, if you are looking for an acceptable level of control over your network, you may want to look at some network traffic applications like NetGuard or Tracker Control. For the true DIYer, Pi Hole can accomplish DNS-based filtering for your entire network. But again, these solutions are a bit more complicated than simply enabling an adblocker in your browser, so I won’t go into too much detail here.

Finally, you can also bypass ad-blocker detection by disabling JavaScript on a website.

Note: 

Most websites use JavaScript for all kinds of legitimate functions. Disabling JavaScript may break some sites and prevent them from working properly. The extension NoScript does this job for you. Experiment with it as a way to keep undesirable javascript from executing

There’s an entire ecosystem surrounding online advertising. In the war between blocking ads and anti-adblock, is there any middle ground that benefits both websites and users?

Alternatives To Forcing Ad Viewing

There’s no need to rely solely on ad revenue. Instead of spending so much time and effort into detecting and circumventing adblockers, website publishers can instead focus more of their energy on creating valuable, high-quality content. Then, they can monetize after trust has been gained through affiliate links, donations, products, etc.

A bad ad experience is bad for your website. No one appreciates getting bombarded with ads, and online users expect their digital experiences to be smooth and fast. A lousy ad experience will leave a negative impact. Conversely, users will feel warmer about your brand if you have a clean website that respects a good user experience.

Our site, Data Overhaulers, gives users the option to turn off ads sitewide (Menu option in the top left > Turn Off Ads). We do this so that users can learn and benefit from our content without being advertised to, should they so choose.

Suppose you want to encourage users to allowlist your site. In that case, you may want to consider these tips from Google on how to be transparent when engaging with visitors who don’t want to be advertised to:

  • Keep it short and to the point.
  • Speak to your audience in your own voice.
  • Give visitors multiple opportunities to see your message; they won’t necessarily convert the first time.
  • Be open and honest, not accusatory, and emphasize how ads support your site. For example, “Help our health experts create more content for you.”
  • Avoid jargon. Instead of allowlisting, say “allow ads.”
  • Remind regular visitors of how often they come to your site. One good way to do this is to use an article counter. For example, “You must love us — you’ve consumed 10 articles today. Please consider supporting us by unblocking ads or purchasing an ad-removal pass.”
  • Treat your visitors with respect. The goal is to create a positive browsing experience that keeps them coming back.
Frequently asked questions spelled out in scrabble letter tiles.

FAQs About Adblocking & Anti-Adblocking

Let’s remind ourselves of some of what we’ve covered in this article by answering some frequently asked questions about ad blocking:

How does a website know I’m using adblocking?

Websites detect adblocking by displaying a fake ad known as a “bait” and then running a script to check if that fake ad exists after the page has loaded. If the fake ad is not found, they know you’re running an adblocker. If the fake ad loads successfully, websites replace it with a normal ad. 

Are adblock and anti-adblock illegal?

No to both – it’s perfectly legal to block ads, and it’s also legal for website publishers to attempt to thwart adblockers with anti-adblock software. Both adblocking and anti-ad blocking are well-known practices. Many companies and organizations support each side of the conflict.

Can I trust ad-blocking extensions?

You can’t automatically trust adblocking extensions to follow through on their promise to block ads. Many adblockers make money from companies who pay them to be placed on their allowlist. You can make informed decisions by examining any financial incentives and looking for transparent organizations about what they do with your data.

Mike Chu

Mike is a web developer and content writer living as a digital nomad. With more than 20 years of devops experience, he brings his "programmer with people skills" approach to help explain technology to the average user. Check out his full author bio by clicking here.