Trick or Treat? How Big Tech Companies Help and Hurt Content Businesses

How Big Tech Companies like Google, Facebook, and Apple Affect Content Publishers

This Halloween season are you being tricked or treated by companies like Facebook and Google?

Here’s what the latest news and research has to say about how Big Tech’s policies and algorithms are helping—and sometimes hurting—content publishers of all sizes.

Trick: Google’s Ad Blocker Will Disrupt Revenue

For publishers who still rely on ad dollars for a significant portion of their revenue stream, Google’s ad-blocking tool (set to release next year) comes as a huge obstacle for business.

Rather than block all unsuitable looking ads, the tool will focus specifically on web pages where annoying or intrusive commercial messages (like noisy videos that autoplay) are known to exist frequently. If your website is overrun with display ads, videos, and popups, your revenue will take a hit in 2018. If you’re not monetizing your content to diversify your income, now is the time.

There is a silver lining to Google’s ad blocker at least—think of it as a fun size “treat” rather than the whole candy bar. A whopping 26% of U.S. web users install ad-blocking software programs that tend to block out all ad content completely. Google’s tool could serve as a replacement for those people, and since it focuses on particularly egregious websites, it could give some revenue back to publishers who use ad space responsibly.

Treat: Google May One Day Boost Subscriptions

Google is in the very early stages of developing an audience tool that will help drive subscriptions for new and upcoming publishers. In hopes of building a better symbiotic relationship between content creators and the tech giant, the tool will help businesses target new audiences and possibly make it easier for readers to subscribe to publications with a single click.

Working closely with Google does aid Big Tech’s internet monopolization, but still, sometimes it’s good to have a giant on your side. Google says it drives 10 billion clicks a month to publishers’ sites. Having those kinds of numbers backing your subscription efforts is nothing to bat an eye at.

Trick: The Subscription Help Comes At a Cost

Google’s motives aren’t completely altruistic, of course. If and when the program launches, the company plans to take a piece of the revenue pie in exchange for driving subscriptions to publishers.

While they hope to be even more generous with their revenue share than they currently are with their AdSense program (which is currently a 70-30 split in favor of publishers), they will profit off your business. It’s a strategy that can be especially frustrating for niche publishers without a ton of income to spare. Plus Google has a history of penalizing publishers who don’t play by their rules, so it’s possible publishers won’t have much of a say in participating in the program, regardless of whether or not they want to share their revenue.

Treat: Google Ditched the “First Click Free” Policy

Speaking of Google penalizing publishers, here’s some good news! At the beginning of October, Google announced it will end its decade-old “first click free” policy, which basically meant content behind the paywall was ignored by Google unless you gave the search engine traffic access to the article without a subscription. You either complied and undercut your own subscription model, or you didn’t and your organic search traffic took a hit.

Going forward, if your developer places the proper code on your site, you can allow Google to crawl your premium content, and they won’t ding you in search results, a move that can help drive potential subscribers to your website without any new promoted programs.

Trick: Slow Load Times Reduce Ad Revenue

Ads load more slowly than content on Google’s accelerated mobile pages. Visitors tend to scroll without viewing (or clicking) any ad content, costing publishers potential revenue. This lag time is especially troublesome given how much traffic is driven by mobile apps and devices in 2017. Mobile apps account for 52% of the time spent using digital media. Combined with mobile web, mobile usage, as a whole, accounts for 60% of time spent.

It’s good on Google to prioritize native content over ads on the same page. But since Google prioritizes AMPs in search rankings, not loading ads on these pages, in particular, has the potential to impact conversions on publishers’ most popular pages, in turn hitting them where it hurts the most: their bottom line.

Treat: Facebook Will Allow Paywalls in Instant Articles

Facebook is currently testing a new subscription tool for Instant Articles in their mobile app. The test currently requires publishers to offer 10 articles free first (which isn’t all bad, you can read our take on free trial models here), but after that, publishers have an option to include a paywall on their content. Readers who hit the paywall will see a subscription link to the publisher’s website. The best part? The publisher will keep all the revenue from the sign-up, Facebook said.

The tool currently comes with a catch, however. Apple has been resistant to the new tool because it gives all the revenue back to publishers. Because of this, the feature is currently only being tested on Android devices.

How Content Businesses Can Work With Big Tech

Whether you’re being tricked or treated this season, you can work alongside Big Tech to monetize your business.

1. Create Great Content.

Your audience will pay for your content, provided it solves their problems in a way your competitors can’t. Create great content and online experiences that drive results for your audience. Then, you won’t have to rely on the ways Big Tech is gaming the publishing system.

2. Get Help From Your Technical Team.

Google updates their algorithms and policies pretty regularly, which means your content structure isn’t a “one and done” strategy. Make sure your technical team watches for changes and structures your content so Google can find it easily and quickly.

3. Focus on Your Best Customers.

Your top 10% of customers are responsible for up to 70% your sales. These ultra-loyal customers (we call them your “whales”) don’t necessarily find your content through big tech companies anymore. They are subscribed to your email list and RSS feed; they seek out your products directly. Focus on how you can provide the best products and information to this group to increase your profit margins and work around search engines.

How Sterling Woods Can Help

The Sterling Woods Group teaches clients our five forces to methodically make more money online. The goal: make sure you lock in double-digit growth year after year using the power of digital media. Many companies have experienced over 50% growth using our system. Beyond the financial benefits, clients tell us that – for the first time in years – they feel truly focused.

We offer workshops, coaching, and keynote speeches. Sterling Woods is also an agency that launches new digital initiatives, so clients don’t have to add overhead. Our agency business model is unique in that most of our fees are based on performance.

About the Author

Rob Ristagno, Founder and CEO of Sterling Woods, previously served as a senior executive at several digital media and e-commerce businesses, including as COO of America’s Test Kitchen. He started his career as a consultant at McKinsey. Ristagno holds degrees from the Harvard Business School and Dartmouth College and has taught at both Harvard and Boston College.

Rob is the author of A Member is Worth a Thousand Visitors: A Proven Method for Making More Money Online, set to be published in 2018. He regularly speaks at key media conferences, including at Niche Media events, Specialized Information Publishers Association meetings, and the Business Information and Media Summit.