Whoa — MDN has ads now?!

That’s fake exasperation.

Yes, they do! I’m just not terribly surprised.

If someone were to put me in charge of MDN and finding a business model, I would have used advertising as part of it long ago. I think it can be done tastefully, non-invasively, and possibly even usefully. So far, it looks like they are just barely scratching the surface with one little display ad.

The entire sidebar, including the ad, disappears at a < 1200px breakpoint

Right now it looks like it rotates between Frontend Masters, GitLab, and MongoDB only. I’m told Kevel is involved somehow, which I’ve never heard of before or used, but looks like a tool to build your own ad platform. They might be direct deals, but I’ve heard BuySellAds might be involved too, although I can’t see evidence of that right now.

There is no cookie banner (thank jeepers), so no third parties are getting any cookies. Most advertisers (or ad platforms) want to serve the images for you. Partially because it’s easier — they can flop out images themselves. But more so because then they get the hit on their servers, where they gather data: impressions, IPs, whatever cookies make it across, etc. In MDN’s case, the images (and even the clicks) go to self-hosted URLs:

I was told the images are probably a reverse proxy setup, but that no IP data is shared, hence the avoidance of the cookie banner. Big picture, they will probably earn less money doing it this way, but when they say they are honoring your privacy here, they aren’t lying.

Don’t want to see the ads at all? They have paid plans (MDN Plus) that remove them. Your ad-blocker isn’t going to catch them. See the DOM above… there are no class names involved that indicate this is an ad. I don’t blame them, I’ve played that game as well. I imagine some ad blockers with custom rules will pick it up soon if they haven’t already. But tools like Ghostery or uBlock Origin won’t catch it as there are no origins being hit aside from MDN itself.

I think this will be interesting to watch. Will we see affiliate links? Will we see more display advertising? Will we see sponsored content? Will we see the sponsors make their way to MDN social media or video content? Time will tell. I’d experiment with it all if it were me.

I made making a business model out of technical content part of my career for 15 years. I feel like I did well at it, despite the irony of selling CSS-Tricks to a company that wasn’t buying it for that business model (I know some of the ads are still there 🤷‍♀️). I thought that was cool actually. As much as I like the advertising model (ying yang! I make free content to build an audience, others spend time building products, and they pay to advertise to my audience) — I, like everyone else, prefer looking at websites without ads. So if you can pull that off, that’s ideal.

In order to pull off content-with-no-ads, you need an alternate business model. They can and are selling subscriptions, but they just aren’t juicy enough yet to be really meaningful and entice needle-moving signups. They could produce and sell educational products, like courses, but that’s a substantial pivot and requires leadership, investment, and talent, not to mention a strong desire to walk that road.

Assuming the reason they are exploring this is that there is worry that MDN can’t continue without a more clear way to make money, they are in a tough spot! Advertising is the right choice to chase down first, but even that will be tricky. Display ads are a good start, but limited. People don’t read MDN like they do other publications. It’s a reference, not a newspaper. There is no canonical blog. There is no podcast. There is no substantial YouTube channel. Social media is in a weird place. People don’t just passively consume MDN, which is where advertising generally shines.


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3 responses to “Whoa — MDN has ads now?!”

  1. Darby says:

    Not sure what magic I have running but I had to disable uBlock Origin to see the ads.

    • Chris Coyier says:

      Interesting. Maybe uBlock Origin does more than just block specific origins. If you were blocking all requests from developer.mozilla.org you wouldn’t see the site at all.

  2. Michael Carter says:

    With new frameworks like Remix that focus on web fundamentals and #useThePlatform, MDN has become an even more important resource for web developers. I chose to support them with an MDN Plus subscription, but hopefully, this advertising model will help sustain them in a time of economic uncertainty.

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