Each year Carat Global produces a trends report, looking at the major trends we’ve identified as influential for the year ahead. The full deck is available here, but here are 5 of particular interest for publishers.
Several services are becoming like updated versions of the ‘walled gardens’ portals of the early web, where people can find everything they need on one place. Facebook is a prime example of this, even persuading publishers to upload their news stories into Facebook so that the audience stays within Facebook to read the stories – it’s a quicker experience for the audience.
The danger to publishers is that it cedes power to the biggest social players. Currently ad revenue is split between content creators and the platforms where these deals exist, but where will we be in 3 years’ time when the social players are likely to be even more dominant in deciding where the traffic and eyeballs go?
However we think that ‘walled gardens’ will exist for the next few years at least, and publishers need to work with them to get traffic, but pick the best partners to have deep integrations with rather than trying to deal with every platform available.
New Challenges to Advertising
There is a two pronged attack on the traditional advertising model – ad blocking, and paid for, ad-free content.
Publishers need to ensure that they have the right systems in place to measure how much ad blocking is affecting their visitor and revenue numbers. If ad blocking is a problem, then try to come up with a sensible plan of action, as its unlikely that there will be a legal or technological solution to the problem; it’s likely to get worse as time goes on. One plan that seems to work is to explain politely but firmly why ad blocking is bad for business, and why you need the ad revenue to pay for the content, and to not allow people to read the content without turning off the ad blocker. Several publishers, for example City AM, seem to have had success with this strategy. Also, think about what sort of ads people are seeing on your site – is the experience unnecessarily painful and so actively encouraging ad blocker use?
The success of Netflix, Amazon and others shows that there is a market for paid for, ad-free content, and it may be that the media in the West has become too dependent on ad revenues where some people would have been willing to pay for content or pay for extra features.
The Evolution of Search
Search is moving to mobile – Google now seems more mobile searches than desktop ones – and as mobiles are far more personal devices search is becoming far more personal, with use of information like time of day and location as context to make results more relevant. Google and others are also trying to send nudges to pre-empt searches (weather, ‘big’ news, sports scores and more). Google is also starting to experiment with searching within apps (rather than just web pages) to find the best results. All of these complicate the search landscape for publishers.
Publishers need to ensure that everything is laid out as logically and usefully as possible, so that the different search engines can find the information as easily as possible, including details like locations. It’s even more important not to try to game the system, as search engines are more actively spotting and fighting against this behaviour, but to make sure to produce good, relevant, timely content.
Messaging & Notifications
Messaging Apps are growing in popularity, with WhatsApp, WeChat and Facebook Messenger all having over 600m active monthly users. Given their ubiquity on smartphones, they are starting to become almost like operating systems themselves, and starting to allow integration with other apps, for example you can order a taxi through a third party app from within WeChat (& Facebook is testing this too). Just as we talked about how Facebook and others are becoming walled gardens, these are walled too (you can’t message someone on WeChat from WhatsApp) and growing fast.
Just as social sites can provide huge audiences as an easy way of sharing content, messengers will increasingly be used to share content. Publishers need to ensure that their content, including apps, is compatible with the most relevant messengers for their audience. Integration with the apps is going to come soon, so be ready for that too.
Algorithms vs Curation
Algorithms help to determine the contents of news feeds, search results and more, but increasingly curation is being used where taste or judgement is important, particularly in news, music and shopping. In the past year lots of services like Apple Music, Twitter Moments, Instagram and others have started turning to human editors.
This should be great news for publishers, who are already respected in knowing what is good and what is important. Try to strike partnerships with services to be their editors, and also populate your social feeds with curated content, or create new feeds for topics like Music and Film to curate content and express your brand values.