Ad-Blocking Firm Trains Sights on Paid Search

First there were banner blockers and pop-ups blockers. Then EarthLink began offering software to block rich media. Now, paid search listings and contextual ads have become the latest prey for ad blocking software, with the latest release of InterMute’s AdSubtract Pro.

Dubbed “Search Sanity,” the new feature recognizes and strips off paid listings on Google, Yahoo!, MSN, America Online, AltaVista, LookSmart and AlltheWeb. All of those search sites get their listings from Overture, Google, or LookSmart.

“We’re providing a tool that lets the users decide what they want to see,” said Ed English, CEO of InterMute. “There’s no reining [publishers and advertisers] in. We saw pop-ups get out of control, we saw pop-unders get out of control.” Now, English said, search engines have “lost their way and tarnished their credibility.”

The new software, which retails for $29.95, also blocks the latest offshoot of paid search, contextual advertising. Contextual advertising allows paid search players to distribute their listings through contextually relevant placements on content sites.

Paid search has been pegged as the driver of recovery in Internet advertising. Jupiter Research, which shares a parent company with this site, has said paid search would grow nearly 50 percent to bring in $1.6 billion in revenues in 2003. By 2008, the research firm believes paid search will account for $4.3 billion, or nearly one-third of all online ad revenue.

Marketers and publishers have usually shrugged off ad-blocking software, saying only a small percentage of Internet users have it installed. New figures from the NPD Group, which tracks retail software sales, would seem to belie this perception. The researchers say AdSubtract was the third best selling business software title in September, trailing only Microsoft Office XP (academic edition) and QuickBooks 2003 Pro. While the title hasn’t appeared on top-ten lists in the months since, fellow ad-blocking software Pop-Up Stopper Companion has continued to make a strong showing, according to NPD, indicating strong user interest in such solutions.

InterMute has also added features to AdSubtract to protect browsers from being redirected to Web sites they didn’t intend to visit, such as sometimes occurs when users mistype a URL. The new software also allows users to right-click Web images to indicate they don’t want to see them, which would keep the image from being displayed on future site visits.

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