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Ad Blockers can Ruin Your Legitimate Web App that Isn’t Even Serving Ads

November 21st, 2007 tony Leave a comment Go to comments

Since rebranding some of our old classifieds sites and relaunching the system as OhSoHandy.com in a newly built Ruby on Rails app we’ve received a handful of emails complaining about strange behavior that always involved links not appearing for the user.

How do you read the rest of the postings or see any pictures that were uploaded?!?! There are no links on the classifieds to keep reading them. Please help since I am new to the website.

At first I discounted this as user error. “These fools don’t know how to use the internets!” DELETE.

After getting several more of these I became concerned and managed to get a few users to send screenshots and HTML source. We were all stumped. The page was fully loaded except the links to the classified ads were missing. There were no errors in the logs.

Finally I posted the mystery to my fantastic local Ruby group and Chris Garrett (not the SEO one) had a fantastic suggestion:

I just came across something else in my hunting. It could be an
ad-blocking plugin. See if the users have some common plugin in their
browser that hides ads. Also, see if there is some pattern to the
links that are disappearing – e.g. some keyword or URL pattern.

Did a bit of Googling and sure enough Norton Internet Security takes a very heavy handed approach to blocking ads on sites:

Ad Blocking maintains a list of more than 200 HTML strings that are associated with advertisements…….

For example, Ad Blocking prevents Web pages whose URL includes www.ad.siemens.com from being displayed because the URL includes the HTML string “AD.”

ad block

And our URL’s are structured with the word ad in the URL:


Created a page to test the theory and asked the most recent user to check it. He validated the test and confirmed that he did indeed have Norton Internet Security installed and running on his machine.

So be careful when naming your URL routes and avoid the use of the phrase “ad” or “banner”! Much, MUCH thanks to Chris Garrett for thinking outside of the box and to Curt Rabon of Blue Lizard Technologies for pointing out the problem and allowing me to use him for a guinea pig.

Lookout Googlebot. We’re going to be serving a LOT of 301 redirects shortly.

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  1. November 27th, 2007 at 19:19 | #1

    I’ve got what I think is an even better tale of woe. A few weeks back, I wrote a blog post the headline of which included the phrase “and a bottle of Vicodin.” When I hit “publish,” my content-management system went completely apeshit. Requests for that page were being blocked at the Web server — not at the browser, not at the CMS, but at the Web server itself.

    It took some figuring it out (and a lot of my yelling like a lunatic at a faceless computer screen), but eventually I changed the URL of the page to read “and-a-bottle-of-medicine” instead, while letting the headline stay. Problem solved.

    Well, not so much “solved” as “run away from as fast as possible, hoping against hope that I never run into this situation again.”

  2. December 17th, 2007 at 15:35 | #2

    On my site, I always name my add/banner directories something other than ad and banners so that they won’t get auto-blocked. good to know about the urls too though.