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Photo by FLY:D on Unsplash

Let’s face it: nobody likes ads. Sure, some people may not “hate” them, and understand their role in keeping content free on the Internet. But when was the last time you looked at a random ad on a website and thought “wow, that is quite aesthetically pleasing, and not distracting at all”?

Ad-blockers exist specifically because online adverts never make any attempt at subtlety. Not to mention they can negatively impact your browser performance. Using the right service is a great way to clean up the web, make websites load faster, and even protect you from malicious scripts online.

Now, while they are certainly useful out-of-the-box, there is still a lot more you can do to make your web browsing experience more pleasant. Here are five helpful ad-blocking tricks that everyone should know about.

#1 Use Community-Driven Filter Lists

As mentioned, ad-blockers nowadays do more than just rid you of actual adverts. They can also block irritating page elements (auto-playing videos, anyone?), cookies and page trackers for extra privacy, and even entire domains (e.g. malware and phishing scam sites).

Of course, you can’t expect a single person, or even a dedicated dev team, to stay on top of all these ever-changing dangers and annoyances. That’s why ad-blocking communities band together to create projects like the Fanboy’s List (now merged into EasyList), EasyPrivacy, and more. Then there are localized filter lists such as EasyList Italy, Adblock List for Finland, and similar ones grouped by country.

Take advantage of such lists if the default ones don’t catch the ads on any local news sites, blogs, and so on. To add custom filter lists to uBlock Origin (uBO), the process is as follows:

  • Click on the uBO extension in your browser.
  • Open the dashboard by clicking on the three-gear icon.
  • Enter the Filter Lists tab, and you’ll find quite a few to choose from.

The uBO Reddit community is pretty active, so check that out if you’re unsure which ones you should enable. Feel free to ask for help with the extension or any specific filters you need. The same goes for any other blocker you may be using.

#2 Update and Clean Up Your Filters Regularly

Just signing up for a bunch of different filters is no use if you don’t update them every once in a while. While you’re in the Filter Lists tab, check the box that says “Auto-update filter lists.” If you ever have any issues – say, YouTube ads returning – it may be worth clicking “Update now” to add the newest filters.

More importantly, if you’re an ardent blocker that makes frequent use of the “Block element” option, you may need to do some spring cleaning every now and then. Access the “My filters” tab and remove any old filters. Like those floating menu banners on news sites that take up half the screen, or an annoying sidebar.

Why remove them, you ask? Well, if the owners ever make any changes to how their content is displayed, these old filters may break the website on your end. For example, blocking a video ad frame on certain websites may cause the video player to stop working, or even disappear entirely. Fortunately, you can easily unblock them by heading to the “My filters” tab (or equivalent section in your blocker).

#3 Make Websites More Usable with uBlock Origin

Ever wanted to quote a news article or a blog post, but then – oops! You can’t copy or select any of the text, because the website designers hate you. Rather than manually typing out that entire paragraph, there’s an easier solution.

Simply click on the uBlock Origin extension, then click on the “</>” icon to disable JavaScript on the website you’re currently on. This disables the script that doesn’t let you copy text, auto-playing videos, attempts to block access until you subscribe, anti-adblockers, and many other nuisances that aren’t necessarily “ads”. Make sure to click on the padlock icon afterwards if you prefer to permanently save these changes.

Using uBlock Origin to accomplish this means you won’t have to go through your browser settings, use the element inspector, or install yet another extension.

#4 Block Website Overlays to Access Content

Chances are the default cosmetic filter lists will deal with any annoying overlays. You know, the ones trying to sell you a monthly subscription just to read a small tidbit from a news article. If not, you can always right-click the overlay itself, and use “Block element…” to remove it.

Naturally, online newspapers are aware of this approach, and they’ll use randomizers to prevent you from blocking them entirely. Once again, the uBO community has developed scriptlets such as this one that makes short work of overlays. Just add this rule in the “My filters” tab: “example.com##+js(overlay-buster)” and switch out example.com with the offending website.

#5 Use Element Zapper Mode to Block Items Temporarily

The Element Zapper has essentially the same function as opening developer tools in your browser and deleting code from there. However, it’s much more intuitive to use, especially for beginners who may not want to sift through advanced browser tools to get rid of a simple nuisance.

It’s extremely useful when you want something out of the way for a few minutes, but don’t want to create a permanent filter in case it becomes useful in the future. For example, zapping the sidebars on Facebook, Twitter, or Reddit will conserve some space when you have two windows open side by side. It also comes in handy to prevent unnecessary bloat to your filter lists. After all, no use creating a new rule for a website you’re only going to use once.

Just click on uBO in your browser and use the little thunder icon to start zapping. The tool will highlight which item is going to disappear, much like Element Picker mode. Hold Shift + click to channel the full power of Zeus and zap multiple nuisances in one go.