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The Bright Future of an Ad-Blocked World

This summer I read Isaac Asimov's awesome sci-fi novel The End of Eternity. I thought a story about time travel would be a pleasant escape from the present-day world of media and marketing I work in every day. Ha!


Cooper, coming from an era in which advertisement was not as wildly proliferative as it was in the later Centuries of Primitive times, found all this difficult to appreciate. He said, "Isn't it rather disgusting the way these people blow their own horn? Who would be fool enough to believe a person's boastings about his own products? Would he admit defects? Is he likely to stop at any exaggeration?" …. Advertisement! A device for forcing the unwilling into line. Did it matter to a ground-vehicle manufacturer whether a given individual felt an original or spontaneous desire for his product? If the prospect (that was the word) could be artificially persuaded or cajoled into feeling that desire and acting upon it, would that not be just as well?" — Isaac Asimov, The End of Eternity (1955)

Amazing how Asimov's 60-year-old ideas about advertising are so in sync with our contemporary moment and the outrage so many of us feel toward online ads. (Imagine if Asimov had lived to see the rise of the pop-up!) Even more amazing: The notion of a world free from all of that artificial persuasion and cajoling isn't science fiction. It's about to happen.

The Change Has Come — Ad Blocking Isn't a Software Feature, It's a Cultural Movement

I believe strongly in the acceleration of history, that the only constant we can expect is ever-quickening change, and I believe we're witnessing a great quickening in the evolution of the media industry. Consider just the past several weeks: Facebook's roll out of Instant Articles; Google's plans for Accelerated Mobile Pages; the launch of Apple News; and, most importantly, Apple's enabling of ad blockers. It feels like that moment at the top of the first peak on a roller coaster, when you hang suspended, knowing you're about to plummet and there's no going back ... and it's awesome!

Lots of smart and thoughtful people have weighed in already on the inevitable rise of ad blocking and hosted content on social platforms, the ethics of opting out of a supposedly implicit contract (bad advertising in exchange for free content), and how this will bring about the slow death of the free web. However you might feel about ad blockers, I'm pretty sure there's consensus on one point: We hate online ads.

Ads annoy and interrupt us. They track us, follow us around, and report back on our behavior. And they slow down page loads, making us wait … and wait … and wait for what we want. Can you blame people for wanting to block them?

The problem is that online advertising, as we know it, has broken the fundamental relationship that connects publishers, brands, and the people they're both trying to reach. But the solution isn't ad blocking or abandoning the open web altogether. We need to recognize this critical moment as an opportunity to rethink the way publishers, brands, and people connect with one another online.

Cross-Platform Social Properties

For the past decade — as founding CTO of The Huffington Post, and now as founder and CEO of RebelMouse — I've tried to help publishers and brands understand how the social web can enable more genuine connection with the people they're trying to reach. At RebelMouse, we've been lucky to work with a wide array of publishers and brands, including some of the most forward leaning and eager for these changes. We also work with some who are struggling with the changes, realizing that perhaps they've spent the last 15 years learning skills that now dead-end at an ad block.

The inevitability that Facebook and other social platforms will host their content has only deepened their fear and panic. I've talked with many who can accept that there's a short-term gain for publishers to hand over their article pages, but that ultimately it's long-term suicide. But I believe that resisting and failing to adapt to this new era of distributed content is suicidal.

In this new world, publishers and brands can't be mere destinations or unwelcome interruptions. They need to acclimate to the media ecosystem they now share with their readers and consumers, who live their lives in the feed, expect great content to find them, and demand to have a voice in the conversation. They have to become cross-platform social properties that understand distributed content and provide homes for subcultures and communities of interest to take root and thrive.

For publishers, it means understanding that static websites and legacy platforms are tying them down and holding them back. You can publish the greatest content ever imagined, but unless you are social at your core, publishing to all channels and devices, distributing your content far and wide, and engaging people in an ongoing conversation, your online presence is little more than a front door waiting to be knocked.

It's also a chance for publishers to break free — finally! — of the banners and pop-ups and auto-playing videos and all the fraudulent traffic they bring. We've already seen what a viable post-display-ad web can look like thanks to properties like BuzzFeed (whose founders are RebelMouse investors and advisors) and others that are all in on native advertising. No, not all native ads are immune to ad blocking, but the format has proven to be genuinely engaging — and we're only beginning to see how good it can be.

Brand Publishing at Scale

For their part, brands and marketers need to follow publishers' lead and start acting like new media companies. That means becoming publishers — or working with publishers — to create content with an authentic voice that enables them to be at home in the feed. By focusing more on creating and publishing their own content, brands can connect directly with consumers and turn them into a loyal community.

A lot of brands are understandably hesitant to become publishers. It's not easy! I've talked to several who are traumatized by their disastrous — and expensive — experiences with microsites. Some have decided to pass on the idea of creating social properties altogether, opting instead to live only in the feed. But as much as distributed content needs to flow out and find its audience, it also needs to flow in and bring the audience back to something they can hold onto, a place where community can live.

Of course, marketers can't expect to wake up one day, decide they're going to become publishers, and proceed to kill it out of the gate. Red Bull Media House has been around for nearly 10 years and has some 850 full-time employees. That's not scalable across industries. Red Bull is the outlier, not the standard.

But that's changing, and that's why we're working with clever and awesome content creators, with chops honed at media companies and creative agencies, and providing a platform to make it scalable. And whether you're Red Bull or Kleenex or whoever, every brand can find a way to connect emotionally with people by telling them stories they love and want to share.

Turning Connection into Conversion

Brands can then go further and turn that connection into conversion. CMOs already understand the importance of data and creating systems that optimize around key metrics. Once they catch up with new and emerging media companies in the content game, brands need to make sure that the key metric of conversion to purchase is part of every piece of content they publish, tracking across every device and channel it reaches.

Here's an example: If an airline is starting to get good at publishing, they will have to start learning concretely how each post they create is working. This means using new media data to understand social discovery before and after they hit publish. But it also means tracking conversion so that the content creators can learn from each post, every day.

So, let's say the airline's content team produces an article in listicle format: "13 Cats Who Can't Control Their Excitement One Second Longer." The article might do a million page views, but it probably didn't sell them a single extra ticket or mileage program. Then, they try an article like "13 Dogs Who Are SO excited to Travel with You," and maybe it gets them only 250,000 page views … but converts to 1,000 new tickets sold and 5,000 new mileage programs. By adding this conversion data into every article they produce they'll be able to experiment with new media in a way they can truly learn from, and that can truly drive their business to grow quickly.

This is the great opportunity to come for brands and publishers in the world. They should lift up their hands and scream as they take this first plunge. And as they lean into the curves and corkscrews ahead, they should think of that line from Nirvana's "Smells Like Teen Spirit": "Here we are now. Entertain us!"

The audience that's waiting for you in the feed means it earnestly. Here they are now. Don't artificially persuade and cajole them. Entertain them. Let's join the future Asimov imagined for us and make advertising a thing of the past.

NEW: Page Views per Particle Enabled for Google AMP

Increase mobile page views for every particle using Google AMP

RebelMouse has deployed an exciting update: We've enabled particle tracking in Google Analytics for articles using Google's Accelerated Mobile Pages (AMP) format, which means every particle now triggers a page view event upon scroll. Before, just one page view event would be logged when the mobile page initially loaded.

Not Familiar With What This Means? Read On

The days of static, flat media are over. Sites with low performance scores, obtrusive ad experiences, and poor content structure simply won't make it. Knowing these truths, the way we think of an article can no longer be static either.

An article today now takes several forms: short-form, long-form, listicle, slideshow, etc. Because of this, we've created a simple framework called Particle Assembler that accounts for all possibilities when building out content.

We playfully call each piece of your content a "particle," which is quite literally a "part" of an "article." These particles have become the core way to author content on RebelMouse, and are standalone elements that use their own imagery, title, and copy. For example, let's say you create a post that's titled, "The Best Place for Tacos in Austin." Each taco destination in this article will have a lead image, the name of the restaurant, its location, and a description of the restaurant with images of their food. Each of these restaurant highlights contain enough information to stand by themselves as individual posts.

Building particles in RebelMouse's Entry Editor.

And they do stand alone successfully when you're on RebelMouse — each particle can be shared separately on social and each will register as a unique page view thanks to our latest update. This is a critical part of our modern pageview methodology that ensures our publishers deliver an elegant user experience to readers while still capitalizing on a meaningful monetization strategy. For instance, not only is every particle now a page view on Google AMP, but it's also a new revenue opportunity. This is thanks to the various placement opportunities for ads we offer within our Particle Assembler.

ICYMI, Google AMP is the search engine's lightning-fast mobile experience. With this update, sites powered by RebelMouse will not only deliver the best AMP experience to their users, but they'll also earn the page views their content deserves, too.

See the Massive Difference

In just a short period after implementing this change, one client experienced a massive spike in AMP pages per user, where it jumped from 1.6 to 8.2:

Here's what their AMP pages per user looked like just prior to the update:

If you're interested in experiencing this type of growth and getting more page views for your mobile content, request a proposal today and let's start working together. If you're already on RebelMouse, email support@rebelmouse.com or talk to your account manager to learn more about particle views for Google AMP.

Primary Tags: Structure Your Site for Success

Dynamic taxonomy improves usability and propels SEO strategy

It's not a surprise that quality content can easily be spoiled by a poor site experience. This is why we're extremely proud of the lightning-fast sites we power. But speed is only the beginning of the user experience.

The temperature on platform dependency has cooled in recent years, revitalizing the value of site visits and search strategy. This is good news for both users and publishers who need site stability to survive. Because of this shift, RebelMouse focuses on three primary key performance indicators (KPIs) to measure site usability and health:

  • Sessions per User: The average number of site sessions that each user has in a given time period.
  • Pages per User: The average number of page views that each user has in a given time period.
  • Time per User: The average amount of time spent on site by each user.

In order for these metrics to shine, a site's architecture must be organized in a way that increases every user's time on site. The logic is simple: If a site is easier to navigate, the user will likely stick around longer. This is the gateway to user loyalty.

One important way we support these KPIs is through our intuitive tagging structure for content. Let's take a look at our primary tag functionality and how it can set up any site for success.

What Is a Primary Tag?

On RebelMouse, we give you the ability to use as many tags as needed on every article to help keep you organized. But there's also an option to assign one primary tag to a post. A primary tag is built on the same principle as a primary section. One tag lets you assign higher importance to certain pieces of content when processing and organizing your posts.

The Primary Tag and Tags sections in RebelMouse's Entry Editor.

The Benefits of Primary Tags

Dynamic Taxonomy: One of the primary benefits of using a primary tag is that it exposes the depth of content available to your users. Many publishers do this through the use of sections, which often turns out to be redundant and, in turn, ignored:

Sections can often be annoying to navigate and repetitive.

Using a variety of relevant tags for every article, rather than just repeating the same handful of sections, opens up more opportunities for targeted descriptors. For example, instead of using "Recipes" as a section over and over again, a primary tag can be used to create specific content flows for topics like "Vegetarian," "Soups," or "Cocktails."

Richer SEO: Since a primary tag exposes more information about your article, it also supplies more relevant data to Google's algorithm. Surfacing content in usable ways supports Google's mission to serve content based on audience behavior and intent instead of outdated and frowned-upon SEO methods like keyword stuffing. This approach is called white hat SEO, or ethical SEO.

By targeting specific interests, your dynamic tag structure will allow Google to more accurately understand your article's content and rank it accordingly. On RebelMouse, this creates a trickle-down effect, because users can click a tag and quickly get directed to more relevant articles, which boosts your SEO efforts further.

Here's how the site experience looks on RebelMouse-powered EcoWatch when viewing their primary tag "Plastics."

RebelMouse-powered EcoWatch takes advantage of a primary tag construct.

Improves Crucial KPIs: As mentioned before, RebelMouse traffic experts are constantly focused on improving the three KPIs that matter most to site usability and building audience loyalty. These metrics answer the following questions:

  • Frequency: How often are users coming to the site?
  • Depth: How many articles does each user consume?
  • Duration: How long is each user staying on the site?

Looking again at EcoWatch's use of primary tags, it's important to note that a primary tag is exposed on every one of their articles. They're also used in a left-hand navigation module that features the latest stories and trending topics:

Start Leveraging Primary Tags on RebelMouse

If you aren't on RebelMouse yet, request a proposal today and let's start working together to make sure your site is optimized for user growth. If you're already publishing on RebelMouse, and want to learn more about tagging best practices, contact your account manager or email support@rebelmouse.com.

Page Speed Is Crucial to Your Marketing Efforts

Most marketers don't prioritize page speed because they don't think it impacts their bottom line. However, page load has a direct impact on conversions and revenue.

Here's a very simple scenario, supported by industry data, to underscore why the way pages are built and powered is crucial for paid media initiatives and your overall business:

Let's say a paid media campaign drives 100,000 new visitors to a landing page that takes five seconds to load. Google says that 53% of mobile site visitors will leave a page that takes longer than three seconds to load. So of the 100K mobile site visitors you paid to bring to the page, ~50K are leaving immediately due to poor page performance alone.

Some studies even show that bounce rate increases approximately 100% for every two-second delay. So, if site load jumps to seven seconds, you'll pretty much lose all of the visitors your paid strategies brought in.

A Poor Site Experience Costs More Than You Realize

Page load plays a huge part in customer dissatisfaction, too. Continuing on with our previous example, let's classify the ~50K that didn't abandon the page as dissatisfied due to poor page performance. As HubSpot points out, 79% of them are less likely to buy again from the same website. That's ~40K visitors never coming back to the site due to poor page speed. The loss is even greater when you consider how valuable returning visitors are: They represent up to 48% of all transactions and spend almost 2x more than new visitors, according to Business Insider.

Plus, people love to spread the word about a bad experience, probably more than a good one. 40% of visitors who had a bad experience with a website's performance would tell a friend or a family member. So of your 50K dissatisfied visitors, 20K are talking negatively about your brand. If they tell only one person each, that's an opportunity cost of another 20K potential site visitors and customers.

The main takeaway? Your paid media has to work much, much harder when you neglect to optimize your site for performance.

Owned and Paid Media Should Work Together for Better Efficiency

And speaking of site improvements to help the bottom line, marketers can't overlook the value of owned content (e.g., articles, reviews, social feeds, etc.) and its impact on overall traffic and lead generation strategies. Sites tend to see significant lift in audience reach and conversion when content is paired with commerce: For e-commerce companies, content can account for up to 69% of total organic traffic. And, even more compelling, conversion rates have been 6x higher for companies that adopt content marketing.

RebelMouse's CMS makes it easy for brands to systematically optimize page speed performance and organic reach, which allows paid media to be more efficient.

RebelMouse allows clients to easily manage website layouts and components at any time, ensuring sites remain fast and are rewarded by Google and Facebook. Our platform features proprietary SEO tools designed to help clients optimize organic search with every post and better align paid and organic search strategies for increased efficiency. Similarly, our platform also includes proprietary social tools to organically build community and growth, and our data helps clients spot winning organic trends that can inform paid social media.

RebelMouse Is a Partner That Can Guide You

When it comes to content marketing, it's important to be mindful of the relationship between owned, earned, and paid media — it will only help your teams engage and convert more audiences into customers and brand loyalists. At RebelMouse, we're proud of how we work with brands and our ability to provide the expertise, best practices, and modern technology that help teams become better content marketers. If you're a brand marketer, feel free to reach out to us to learn how RebelMouse can help you be more strategic and effective in your content marketing efforts.

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Target High-Value Users With Affinity Categories

Unlock valuable audience data and shape a new strategy

In today's landscape, quality content isn't enough — it's half the battle. Publishers need to produce shareable content backed by data to experience sustainable growth. At RebelMouse, we have a unique pageview methodology that provides an innovative user experience for every reader without sacrificing revenue and growth opportunities for publishers.

To do this, we track massive amounts of data across our platform through the use of custom-built Google Data Studio dashboards.

Click here to see the kind of growth our clients experience every day.

One of the best ways to discover more about your audience is by taking advantage of Affinity Categories. This feature breaks down audience demographics, including age, location, interests, and more. Affinity Categories are usually used to target audiences for ads, but we also use them to gain insights on what topics a site's visitors are interested in overall.

Normally, each category is listed out separately in Google Analytics. In the example shown above, our data experts split categories into separate levels to reveal different levels of audience depth. For instance, by splitting up the category News & Politics, we can better explore the detailed distribution of users interested in specific types of news:

  • News & Politics/Avid News Readers/Avid Political News Readers
  • News & Politics/Avid News Readers/Entertainment News Enthusiasts

From an editorial standpoint, this is useful because it allows publishers to determine and target varying levels of high-value users, improving the efficacy of a new content strategy or ad campaign.

If your site is already powered by RebelMouse, email support@rebelmouse.com to get a breakdown of your audience's Affinity Categories. If you aren't powered by RebelMouse yet, request a proposal today and start receiving the data you need to grow loyal followers at scale.

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