Annoyed by online adverts and want to get rid of them? You've come to the right place. In this article we explain how to easily block adverts, popups, trackers and more on your Mac, using a variety of free and paid-for tools in the Safari and Chrome web browsers.
Before we proceed, please bear in mind that the site whose adverts you're blocking probably relies on revenue from advertising. That may not worry you, and we know that some of the online advertising out there really does cross a line in terms of intrusiveness. Just don't complain if a site you love suddenly closes, or starts to charge visitors, because people refused to view its adverts.
We'll start with blocking adverts in the Mac version of Apple's own web browser, Safari.
Using Safari's Reader mode
Strictly speaking, if you want to block adverts in Safari on the Mac you'll need to install third-party ad-blocking software - and we'll talk about that in a moment. But a far simpler approach is to use Safari's built-in Reader mode, which is practically as good.
Reader isn't quite an ad blocker, because it blocks a bunch of other visual distractions too: sidebars, mastheads, comments, social elements, videos. (It's the same principle as the 'Read later' services we discuss at the end of this article.) You just get the text and the pictures, which can be a far calmer experience than some of the more visually 'busy' sites.
As a general rule, you can activate Reader mode at any time, although it's not really possible on Home pages of sites that feature multiple stories and links.
There are a few different ways to enable the Reader mode. Depending on your version of Safari, you can either go to the menu bar at the top of the screen and select View > Show Reader or hit Shift-Command-R. But the easiest method is to click the Reader button (the one with three and a half horizontal lines) next to the URL bar.
This will then strip the page down to its bare bones, leaving only the content behind.
But from Safari 11 onwards you can be more sophisticated and tell the browser to always open article pages from particular domains in Reader mode - or even to use Reader by default all the time.
When you're on a site you want to give this treatment, go to Safari > Settings for This Website (or you can right-click the URL box and choose Settings for This Website). Under the heading 'When visiting this website', put a tick next to 'Use Reader when available'.
You can remove domains from the Reader list in Safari's Preferences page. Go to the Websites pane and select Reader in the lefthand column. Select a website, click the menu to the right of it and select Off.
At the bottom of this page you'll see another option: 'When visiting other websites'. Set this to On and Reader will be activated by default on all compatible web pages.
If popup ads are driving you mad then you can quickly put a stop to them. Safari 11 users can go to Preferences and select the Security tab. Now put a tick next to 'Block pop-up windows'.
It's a little more complicated in Safari 12, as you need to go to Preferences, select the Websites tab, then click on the Pop-up Windows option in the left-hand column.
Now you can either make a rule for the website you're currently visiting by clicking on the drop down menu to the right of its name, or go to the bottom of the window and click on the drop-down menu next to 'When visiting other websites'; then select either Block and Notify, Block, or Allow.
Third-party ad blockers
If you want to block the adverts but leave the rest of the visual elements intact, you need to install a third-party ad blocker. There are lots of them out there, plenty of which are free, but tread carefully.
Our recommendation would be the donation-ware Safari extension AdBlock, which deals with graphical ads, text ads and even ads in YouTube videos. Safari 12 did bring some changes that caused a bit of a wobble in performance, but things seem to be heading in the right direction once more.
AdBlock also lets you whitelist pages on sites whose adverts you do want to see, to support them or because the ads may be useful. To whitelist the whole site you'll need to upgrade to the AdBlock Gold level that costs £4.99/$4.99.
You can download AdBlock here.
If you're looking for something a little more advanced, we recommend AdGuard. It comes in two forms: a free-to-use Safari extension and a £29/$30 app with a 14-day free trial. While the Safari extension is decent and acts in a similar way to AdBlock, the desktop app provides advanced features across macOS, not dependent on a particular browser.
As well as blocking ads and pop-ups from websites, you're able to block tracking from most online sources and even be warned of malicious websites that you might stumble across online. It provides granular control over your ad blocking settings, allowing you to whitelist sites and self-promoting ads, and is incredibly simple to use.
Ad tracker blockers
Another pest online: trackers that follow your movements around the web to serve up ads. This is why you'll be looking at a product on one site, then an ad for it magically appears when you visit another site. To stop this intrusive (and frankly creepy) behaviour, open up Safari and go to Preferences > Privacy and enable the 'Prevent cross-site tracking' option.
Google's Chrome browser is a popular alternative for Mac users, and even though Google is a full paid-up member of the advertising fan club, it allows plenty of scope for ad-blocking.
Let's start by disabling popups, something which can be done from Chrome's own settings - no need to install any extensions.
In Chrome select Chrome > Preferences, then scroll down and click Advanced.
Below the heading 'Privacy and security', click the option Content settings, then scroll down again and look for the Pop-ups and redirects. Click this then ensure that the top option reads 'Blocked (recommended)' and that the switch is turned off.
As with Safari, Chrome won't actually block adverts for you - and there isn't an easily accessed equivalent of Reader mode. (Google has publicly discussed something similar called Distill Mode, but there's no straightforward way for Mac users to turn this on without recourse to extensions.)
'Read later' services
If you decide you don't want to install an ad blocker, an alternative solution is to use a read-later service. These are simple systems that let you easily save an article in a form that strips out the adverts; you can then read if later (or right away, for that matter) without being troubled by all the visual tomfoolery.
Our favourite such service is Pocket. Sign up to the service and you'll be able to create a 'Read later' button as a bookmark in Safari, Chrome or whichever other browser you like.
Open an article, click the button and it'll save to your account. You can then read the ad-free version online (from any machine) or, best of all in our experience, offline using the iPhone app.