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How to Remove Advertisements from Websites

Web users divide online advertisements into two types:

  • Good advertisements: those which are available only to people who actively want to see them, like the classified ads in the old Yellow Pages.
  • Bad advertisements: those which are forced onto people’s computer monitors without permission.

Unsolicited Advertisements are Annoying

Surveys show that most web users very much dislike unsolicited advertisements on websites (evidence here and here). Unwanted advertisements are widely considered to be intrusive and irritating, and can be a real nuisance if you have a slow internet connection. The majority of print and television advertisements are also unwanted, but for some reason they are less strongly resisted than their online equivalents.

Advertisements are Easy to Eliminate

Fortunately, it is straightforward to configure web browser software to remove almost all advertisements from any website. There are two basic methods:

  • Eliminate the source of the advertisements.
  • Disable the mechanism that puts adverts onto a page.

1: Eliminate the Source: Use an Adblocker

Most advertisements are hosted on specialised websites rather than the web pages they actually appear to be on. You can prevent these specialised advertising websites sending their advertisements to your computer by using adblock software. All the major browsers have some form of adblock software available:

Each adblocker requires you to actively subscribe to one or more lists of websites which serve advertisements, and allows you to over–ride these lists if you wish to receive advertisements from certain sources.

2: Disable the Mechanism: Use NoScript

Most advertisements are inserted onto web pages by JavaScript. NoScript, an add–on for Firefox and Chrome, allows the user to block JavaScript, as well as Java, Silverlight, and that greatly abused source of animated annoyances, Flash. NoScript is probably the most useful single addition to any web browser.

NoScript allows you to over–ride its default settings and permit certain scripts on specific websites. Most shopping cart checkout systems, for example, require the use of JavaScript.

NoScript is currently available only for Firefox and Chrome. Opera has some similar capabilities built in, but it appears not to be quite as effective as Firefox with NoScript. At the time of writing, there is no sign of anything being developed for Safari, although Click to Flash does an excellent job of blocking Flash on the Mac OSX version of Safari. There is nothing promised for Internet Explorer.

By combining NoScript with an adblocker, you will get rid of almost all unwanted online advertisements.

Some Advertisements Will Get Through

These methods cannot eliminate every single advertisement. If an advertisement is incorporated into a web page in the same way as any other piece of text, there is nothing you can do to remove it. But adding advertisements in this way is a very labour–intensive method, and is used rarely. Almost all advertisements are vulnerable to the methods described above.

JavaScript and Flash are sometimes used to enhance websites with certain inessential features, such as decorative animations. You may also come across the occasional website that misuses JavaScript or Flash to create essential features such as navigation menus. Some websites are even constructed entirely using Flash. In these cases, you will need to change NoScript’s default settings to allow scripts in particular cases. That is, if you want to — any website which is made entirely of Flash probably isn’t worth visiting.

Security Benefits

JavaScript and Flash do not just place advertisements in websites and thence onto visitors’ computers. They are also used to transmit malicious software. The use of NoScript and ad–blocking software will prevent a lot of nasty stuff ending up on your computer, and should be part of everyone’s internet security practices. For the majority of knowledgeable web users, NoScript in particular is more of a security tool than anything else.

If Adverts are Eliminated, Who Loses?

There are lots of pros, but very few cons:

  • Advertisers will lose, but not by much. Unwanted, speculative advertisements have a much lower success rate online than in print or on television. The average click–through rate for online advertisements is less than 1%, according to this article. In other words, fewer than one in a hundred website visitors will actually go to the bother of clicking an advert in order to visit the advertiser’s website.
  • Website owners who host advertisements won’t lose much either. The low click–through rates, combined with prices of just a few pence per click, mean that revenues for non–classified advertising are poor. Because intrusive advertising often causes visitors to leave a website, the removal of advertisements may well benefit the website’s owner by increasing the number of pages viewed on each visit.
  • Purveyors of malicious software will get fewer victims.