The Publisher Turf Wars: Facebook Instant Articles, Ad Blocking And The Future
With the rise of ad blockers, reaching an audience is harder than ever before, but are platforms like Facebook Instant Articles the answer? Columnist Blaise Lucey explains why publishers should instead work to draw readers to their own apps.
My friend is a big fan of “The Daily Show.” He watches it almost every day on his computer, streaming it from the Comedy Central website.
Every episode is missing one very obvious thing: commercials. Like millions of other people, he uses ad-blocking plugins that kill ads before they even have a chance to roll in front of the videos.
So even though he may be passionate about the show, he’s actually not supporting it. He never sees the ads that keep “The Daily Show” in business, and he probably isn’t even counted as a visitor to the website.
Ad blocking has gotten popular. Last August, a report from Adobe and Pagefair found that use of popular plugins like AdBlock Plus had grown about 40 percent year over year. The report estimated that ad blockers cost publishers $22 billion in 2015.
And that was before September, when Apple introduced iOS 9 and ad blocking suddenly went mobile.
Ad blocking is serious business or, really, a serious lack of business, especially for media companies that depend on ads for revenue. And it comes at a time when media companies are fighting a turf war just to reach an audience, let alone keep them engaged.
Between An App And An Ad-less Place
Since ad blocking first became popular with mobile users, media companies have made moves to stem the bleeding. Publications like The Guardian asked visitors who use ad blockers to pay for a subscription.
The Washington Post decided to block content for anyone using ad blockers. During an earnings call, Mark Thompson, CEO at The New York Times, said that the paper opposes ad blocking, according to The Wall Street Journal.
This is all happening just as traffic is declining or plateauing among major publishers, from Buzzfeed to Mashable and Quartz. Traffic to The New York Times’s home page dropped by about 50 percent from 2012 to 2014.
Not only that, referrals from Facebook (the number one source of traffic for media companies) to publishers dropped sharply last year. SimpleReach, in a survey published by Digiday, discovered that referrals to the top 30 major publishers on Facebook dropped by 32 percent from January to October 2015. From January to February, the drop was a dramatic 75 percent.
Publishers have to try harder than ever to reach their audience, and when they do, it’s guaranteed that more people are using ad blockers.
So what’s the solution? For many publishers, it’s going to be apps.
The experience on apps is (literally) built for mobile users. In-app ads can be more personalized and don’t slow down the browsing experience. They’re also immune to ad blocking.
But there’s a turf war happening. It can be hard to convince users to download and engage with a brand app, so social networks are hoping to fill the gap.
LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter are all pushing to offer ways for publishers to create content directly within the social app environment. LinkedIn Pulse allows thought leaders to upload articles that can be seen by thousands of users.
Twitter is planning to roll out a new 10,000-character limit, making it easier than ever to offer followers native content. And then there’s Facebook Instant Articles, the most direct solution.
Facebook Instant Articles just rolled out to select publishers last fall. The social network has closely monitored the results.
When publishers argued that Instant Articles didn’t allow for the same amount of ad space as their own web content, Facebook adjusted the format. Now, publishers are even able to link back to related content on their own websites.
Videos uploaded directly to Facebook see 80 percent of all video interactions on the site, dominating embedded YouTube videos. In the future, creating articles native to Facebook will probably offer the same advantages, in addition to ad revenue.
It’s not a far stretch to imagine that LinkedIn and Twitter will also help amplify the reach of native content, creating syndication opportunities for any publisher willing to take that route.
Native Apps, Native Content
According to Brock Murray, director of web marketing at seoplus+, the risk of uploading content directly to social is that you’re ceding your relationship with the customer:
[blockquote cite=”Brock Murray, director of web marketing at seoplus+”]Facebook Instant Articles might make content load faster. It might be better for mobile browsing and increase the odds of someone consuming your content instead of scrolling past on their feed. Though Facebook still counts views as traffic to the original publisher, the practical value of an on-site visitor simply cannot be replicated. I’d trade eight seconds of loading for eight minutes of on-site interaction any day.[/blockquote]
In these publisher turf wars, it’s up to media companies to find a balance between owned web properties and third-party properties. Social should still be used primarily as a promotion.
Media companies really need to focus on driving readers to their own apps, not just to their websites. That will solve the challenge of ad blockers and, simultaneously, build a better customer experience.
Publishers need to start by integrating mobile deep links within all their promotions. Deep linking sends app users directly from one app to another, or it opens an app from the mobile web if someone is on a mobile device.
By investing in deep-linking capabilities, brands can build a seamless experience for the mobile users who find their news on social media apps.
If you can send every mobile user who finds an article on Twitter or Facebook directly to your app — or prompt them to install it — then you’ll be able to build a direct relationship with that customer.
Deep links essentially create the same smooth browsing experience as Facebook Instant Articles, but the publisher still controls the final interactions.
So really, the turf that publishers should focus on is their app. By finding new ways to engage app users and keep them coming back, media companies can stop fighting the turf wars and start thinking about how to create a better experience and improved content for their readers, rather than worrying about how to get in touch with them.