I recently discovered that I’m something of a hypocrite. I want all the world’s knowledge at the click of a mouse or the tap of a finger, and I know that costs money. If, however, a site providing any of that information has the audacity to have a sidebar of ads, a banner ad, or, sin of sins, has put that content behind a paywall, screw ‘em… I’ll go to another site.
Some content provider out there doesn’t care about stupid things like paying for hosting costs, supporting future content production, improving the user experience, or (gasp!) making a living, and I’ll just get my information from them! And those people who spent hours putting together the ads, making them something I might find unobtrusive yet interesting, screw them too! I’ll go a site that gives me a break from the ads. That’ll teach those capitalists!
Consider the “Data Smog”
Of course, I don’t believe many of the people reading this post are like me (actually, after doing a little research, it turns out they surprisingly enough are… but more on that later). You know how important ads are not only to the company featured, but the sites upon which the ad was displayed. For most average users, the thought that ads support not only the companies featured, but also the content production, either doesn’t occur to them or doesn’t matter, and honestly, who can blame them?
According to David Shenk’s book Data Smog: Surviving the Information Glut people in 1971 saw an average of 2,000 ad messages per day. Today, according to the marketing firm Yankelovich, we see 5,000, or 3.5 a minute assuming you don’t sleep. So, yeah. That’s a lot. Of course people are doing anything to get away from ads – they see one every 20 seconds! In fact, upon doing some research for this post, the link to download AdBlocker kept beckoning with its damned siren’s call.
I Love It When You Talk Mad Men
So what do we do in a world where our users are actively avoiding us, aided, even, by the people who make the most money from ads? We have to create the kind of content that doesn’t seem like an ad, but works as one. We have to go old school.
Remember your Marketing 101 class (or the equivalent blog post) when you first read about a conversion funnel? The thing is, that crusty old thing is more important today than ever. According to PageFair, a service that allows webmasters to track the percentage of their users utilizing adblocking software, up to 30% of users (and up to 100% of mobile users) will be using Adblocking software by 2018. There are a bunch of other scary figures in that study as well, so it’s worth checking out.
NOTE: Keep in mind you’re looking at a study conducted by a company only contacted by people in need of adblock software tracking, which is a bit like going to McDonald’s to conduct an obesity survey.
The point is, the more Google makes changes, and the more your users are afforded the tools to reduce the amount of ads they see, you’re going to have to get more and more old school.
Quit Creating Content, and Start Creating Customers (with… um… Content)
In order to understand what to do in a post-ad world, you have to understand two things: your current content strategy, and your users. One of these is not necessarily easier than the other, so let’s start with the content.
First, you have to start with a content audit. Probably not the first time you’ve heard that. The difference with this audit is that it’s not about ensuring you’ve created pages to address the various user intents that can bring users to your site. It’s about creating customers of those who might not know they need you. This audit is all about the conversion funnel, baby.
The fact is, the vast majority of your content has to be about creating brand awareness, and it has to be considered an investment (back to that old-school thing I mentioned). Old-school content production (catalogues, brochures, direct-mail, jingles, etc) was seldom about creating conversion assets that appealed to your customers… it was about creating awareness. Same applies here. As you go through your content, categorize it (assuming you have enough content to categorize) not into subject matter or user intent, but rather the area of the conversion funnel addressed.
When you categorize your content, follow categories like those above in whatever way works for you. Maybe what works best for your product is consolidating “Interest” and “Desire,” maybe add a “Retention” category, whatever. Once you’re done, you have a choice to make. You can either simply move on to creating an editorial calendar or perform the same process for your competitors. Swallow your pride, see what worked for them, and get inspired.
Second, and equally important, you need to know your user base. It’s easy to assume that, if your users are technically savvy, they would never use adblocking software on your site. They, above all other user bases, know the site they’re accessing need ad revenue to continue being the kind of website that keeps users coming back, right? Wrong. Savvy users are actually most likely to use adblocking software. According to a study by ClarityRay.com, a company that performs a service similar to PageFair, the highest percentage of users utilizing adblocking software are users frequenting tech sites.
Going “Old School Plus”
The goal is no longer (and hasn’t been for quite a while) tricking anyone, not users or Google, into doing anything… and while that sucks for those of us who were damn good at creating the tricks… it’s overall a very good thing. And, because we’re working in this glorious age of analytics, we get to go “old school plus.”
The philosophies behind old school, pre-internet marketing are very similar to what we must use to be effective in today’s post-zoo-animal, post-adblocker days. The difference between the eras, though, is in practice.
Whereas if I wanted a potential customer to visit my toy train store 20+ years ago I might take out a Yellow Pages ad (back when they were actual yellow pages), or plaster my name on a billboard, I can now target specific people. I don’t have to take out a national television ad, appealing to 30 million people to get at the few thousand that might be interested in me, but I can grow a community made for my users and essentially maintained by my users (with brand evangelists).
With the direct positive correlation between tech-savviness and the user’s propensity to use ad blocking browser extensions, it stands to reason that the percentage of users utilizing ad blocking software will continue to increase. Therefore, we don’t have to explain away the investment in content as marketeters, but can rather make decisions based on the very logical conclusion that ads will be less effective as people discover they can be avoided.
We need to push our old school plus methods not because it’s the right thing to do or Google might change everything tomorrow, but because our users are demanding it. Your advertising methods must evolve not because I say so, but because your customers say so. It’s exhibited not by their words, but their behavior. How will you stand out in the data smog?