The Value of First Impressions: The Impact of Ad-Blocking on Web QoE

James Newman and Fabián E. Bustamante
To appear in Proc. of PAM, March 2019.
Northwestern University

CS Department
Northwestern University
Evanston, IL 60208, USA
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We present the first detailed analysis of ad-blocking’s impact on user Web quality of experience (QoE). We use the most popular webbased ad-blocker to capture the impact of ad-blocking on QoE for the top Alexa 5,000 websites. We find that ad-blocking reduces the number of objects loaded by 15% in the median case, and that this reduction translates into a 12.5% improvement on page load time (PLT) and a slight worsening of time to first paint (TTFP) of 6.54%. We show the complex relationship between ad-blocking and quality of experience - despite the clear improvements to PLT in the average case, for the bottom 10 percentile, this improvement comes at the cost of a slowdown on the initial responsiveness of websites, with a 19% increase to TTFP. To understand the relative importance of this tradeoff on user experience, we run a large, crowdsourced experiment with 1,000 users in Amazon Turk. For this experiment, users were presented with websites for which adblocking results in both, a reduction of PLT and a significant increase in TTFP. We find, surprisingly, 71.5% of the time users show a clear preference for faster first paint over faster page load times, hinting at the importance of first impressions on web QoE.