How to Block Ads on the Web

Advertising on the web is a necessary evil that keeps many sites free for you and I to use. But when ads cross the line by flashing, playing sounds, and getting in our faces, we must put them out of their misery. Here's how.
Published: Apr 24, 2007
Author: Jordan Running
Related OS: Windows
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Advertising is a hairy creature. You could consider it either the best thing or the worst thing ever to happen to the web. Best because it allows a wide variety of online services from email to video hosting to be used free of charge by anyone on the planet. Worst because, let's face it, a lot of ads on the web are alarmingly obnoxious.

I'm here to tell you how to get rid of almost all of the obnoxious ones. Not because I don't think the operators of free sites deserve to make a living, but because I think if they can't do it without giving me a headache in the process, they might want to think about adjusting their business model.

Let's Talk About Pop-Ups

Pop-up windows, and their crafty cousins pop-unders, occupy their own special place in advertising hell. Fortunately, if you're using a modern web browser, pop-ups should be little more than a distant�possibly repressed�memory. Current browsers like Firefox, Internet Explorer 7, and Opera all feature built-in pop-up blocking that works great. If you're not using one of these browsers (you can check your Internet Explorer version by going to Help > About...), then for your own sake upgrade! I recommend going straight for Firefoxo or Opera, but if you're an Internet Explorer fan the most recent version is passable.

By the way, if you're already running one of these browsers and are seeing more than the occasional pop-up window, especially when you're not browsing the web, you probably have a different problem: spyware or adware, collectively referred to as malware. Malware is malicious software that infiltrates your computer for the purpose of stealing your personal information, using it as part of a "botnet" to send out spam or viruses, or, in some cases, just showing you unwanted ads. These programs sometimes launch pop-up windows using your web browser (so they might say "Internet Explorer" at the top), but the problem is actually unrelated to your browser. To get rid of these you'll have to run a malware removal program like Ad-Aware or Spybot Search & Destroy, which is a different topic entirely.

Blocking the Rest...

...in Firefox

With pop-up ads out of the way, we can deal with the rest of our problem: Animated banners that flash garish colors, play music and sounds, obscure the content we're trying to read, and urge us to punch monkeys and zap gnomes. If you use Firefox, your best choice is Adblock Plus, a free add-on that's capable of blocking almost all ads on the web.

Most of the time Adblock Plus just sits on your toolbar or status bar looking pretty. You wouldn't even know it's working except for the refreshing lack of ads on the sites you visit. By default Adblock Plus (ABP) blocks every ad it can. One thing you'll want to do is add some subscriptions at the ABP site. Subscriptions are regularly-updated lists of "rules" for blocking new types of ads and ad providers. If you click on ABP's red stop sign icon, you'll see a list of all the rules you currently have. You don't want to go overboard with rules, since you might inadvertently end up blocking things�like real content you're interested in�that you don't want to.

Adblock Plus

While you're browsing, if you see an ad that Adblock Pro isn't blocking automatically, you can right-click on it and choose the Adblock option (like "Adblock Image" or "Adblock Frame") to quickly add a rule for it, thus blocking it forever. If you decide there's a web site or a page that you don't want to block ads on�say, a page you visit frequently and want to support�you can right-clBP icon and disable ad-blocking on the current page or the entire server. This will add an "exception rule" to your rule list.

One small caveat is that if you have a lot of rules they might occasionally interfere with legitimate content. So if you go to a page and don't see what you expect (like some photos that are supposed to be there), try turning off Adblock Plus by middle-clicking (i.e. with the mouse wheel) or right-clicking and unchecking "Enable Adblock Plus" and reloading the page. If the content that was missing has suddenly appeared, you may want to add a rule if you intend to visit the site in the future.

...in Internet Explorer

As I've remarked before, the free add-on market for Internet Explorer is anemic compared to Firefox's, but you're not totally out of luck. A good place to start is IE7Pro. IE7Pro isn't just an ad-blocking add-on, it also has a lot of other useful features like tabbed browsing enhancements, crash recovery, mouse gestures and more. In the ad department it blocks Flash ads, images, and IFrames much like Adblock Plus according to URL.


Unlike Adblock Pro, by default IE7Pro automatically blocks all Flash movies, which may include things like games or videos you're interested in. In this case, you have to add the site to your whitelist by right-clicking on the IE7Pro icon in the status bar and choosing Ad filter advanced > Don't block this site...

Another option, if you think blocking ads might be worth a few bucks to you, is the well-regarded Ad Muncher. Ad Muncher is a stand-alone program that works with all browsers (and some other programs like ICQ) and claims "the most extensive advertising filter list available." Ad Muncher is free to try, but costs $24.95 after the 30-day trial. Also, it has a cute cow mascot which I'm rather fond of.

Like I said, ads can be obnoxious but some of them are a necessary evil. Remember that some of the sites you use every day exist solely because of ad revenue, and if you want those sites to continue to exist you should should do them the courtesy of not blocking their ads, and even clicking on them once in awhile. That said, for those ads that give us headaches and get in our way deserve to be blocked, and hopefully these tools will help you do it.

About Jordan Running

Blogger since 1999, Jordan Running went pro in 2005 and never looked back. Sometimes programmer, occasional photographer, and serial tinkerer, he decided to to switch to Linux in 2001 but just hasn't quite gotten around to it yet.

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