The “end of net neutrality” has become a rallying cry for proponents of the free internet across the world. Leading up to Trump’s April 23 repeal of net neutrality laws, users have taken to airwaves and fiberoptic cables to decry the dismissal of legislation that mandates impartiality of internet service and traffic, regardless of content or affiliation. While it’s true that the end of internet neutrality may present problems to bloggers, businesses and entrepreneurs, however, online paid search advertisers may see a silver lining.
In order to see why, let’s take a look at what the end of net neutrality might mean for both users and online advertisers. It is also useful to explore how marketers and advertisers can put this change to good use generating traffic and eyeballs for their clients. Lastly, we will consider a few of the outstanding questions posed by this change to better understand the future this may bring about.
What Is Net Neutrality, Or More Specifically, It’s End?
As the name suggests, net neutrality means that all content on the internet should be treated as equal by the corporations that provide services and the governmental bodies that regulate it.
According to Investopedia, this covers “content, user, platform, application or device” and “requires all Internet service providers (ISPs) to provide the same level of data access and speed to all traffic, and that traffic to one service or website cannot be blocked or degraded. ISPs are also not to create special arrangements with services or websites, in which companies providing them are given improved network access or speed.”
In other words, internet service providers such as Comcast or AT&T were forced to provide the same speed and accessibility to all websites (including their competitors). With the repeal of these laws, the possibilities for them are obvious. Since most ISPs are monopolies in their service areas, there’s no one to stop them. This raises hackles for obvious reasons.
Despite the under-examined “monopolies are bad” thing (many monopolies are legal and based on a superior product to which customers willingly flock over competitors), this opens doors to a freer market – which is always beneficial to those who want to push the envelope in any sphere.
And as far as envelope-pushworthy spheres are concerned, it’s hard to beat online marketing and advertising. The end of net neutrality will mean greater freedom for:
- Designing and employing ad creatives
- Gathering and analyzing data
- Combining ad creatives with ad buying
- Exploring the hundreds of different rates and plans that will open up
- Leveraging the variety of free and unlimited bandwidth opportunities that will soon pop up
Before drawing any conclusions, let’s take another minute to examine what the end of net neutrality might mean for denizens of the web.
What Does the End of Net Neutrality Really Mean for Users and Businesses?
So what objections have we seen so far? First and foremost, net neutrality was hands-down good for the little guy. Small blogs and businesses that can’t afford to pay big rates for bandwidth may now see their reach plummeting. Slower load times and prioritization of competitors who are willing to pay for top billing will further cramp startups, hobbyists and others. Moreover those who count on quick content delivery to keep users on-site or deliver an interactive experience might be just plain out of luck.
It is, therefore, important to be sensitive about what this means for users, little fish and the online sphere as a whole. However, just as Instagram’s publicly loathed algorithm change created outrage among users and a plea to return to status quo, many have found that with proper adaptation, the platform is still viable – and even good for businesses. Given how nascent this development is, it behooves us to wait before panicking. Keep in mind, too, that net neutrality laws were only put into action in 2015 so equality hasn’t been the norm for two decades. Since we all lived just fine without it before, we can find some comfort in the idea that it’s possible to do so again.
Now, how about the good stuff?
Net Neutrality: A Challenge or Opportunity for Paid Search and Online Ads?
Online advertisers have long been used to pivoting on a dime. The internet is essentially synonymous with novelty, and the ability to capitalize quickly on every new change characterizes the most successful search and shopping endeavors.
As such, net neutrality – or its termination – doesn’t represents the only challenge to successful advertising in the online sphere. Creating meaningful campaigns in a fragmented yet hyperconnected world has proven difficult for years, especially to the uninitiated (i.e. almost everyone).
Our point? A new way of doing things doesn’t necessarily mean a worse way of doing things, or even a particularly protracted intermediary period while we figure out another approach. In fact, there are good reasons to believe that net neutrality may open doors that were not there before. At the end of the day, challenge = good for those who immediately take up the banner.
Just how might online advertisers go about achieving success within the new “lawless” land?
The Rise of Bandwidth Offers
Bandwidth immediately jumps to the forefront. The end of net neutrality means that the number of bad user experiences is about to explode. Slow websites and applications will drive users from the doorsteps of many product and service providers. Free trial offers, counted on by many businesses to convert prospects to customers, will be moot without the bandwidth to handle them gracefully.
Companies that offer a free bandwidth along with free trials are much more likely to convert. This, obviously, presents a wide open niche into which advertisers can and should immediately insert themselves. Advertisers experience in creating compelling ads and combining them with the most intelligent media buying approaches will now have a third distinguisher: bandwidth options. Will companies necessarily want to pay to offer this to their prospects? Maybe not. But will the companies who do so quickly outpace the competition? You bet.
The Growth of Advertising Platforms
Internet service providers are likely to cut deals with the big names in advertising: Google, Facebook, Microsoft. The result is that these larger platforms may grab even more market share, and will have more freedom to offer more options to advertisers.
Even more promisingly, Internet service providers may decide to launch their own platforms, which will compete with the other big platforms. It’s possible this could drive ad rates down in the end. Capitalism at its best, right?
Also, let’s not forget that early adoption always offers opportunity. Online advertisers and the companies they represent should make hay while the sun shines; jumping on these new platforms early, they represent a hectic few months, but the advantages over those who “wait and see” will be indisputable.
More Ad Buying Factors
Again, the Cassandras loudly proclaim that ISPs will exert greater control over advertising platform and the net in general. The result, they claim, is unmitigated rate hikes for advertising across the board.
We think it’s too early to shrug and resign ourselves to cruel fate. In fact, the greater number of platforms translates directly to a greater number of buying opportunities. More variables is never bad when it comes to online marketing. The trick is to work with a company that knows what it’s doing to avoid flailing and losing money.
Plus, the increased number of platforms on which to employ ad creatives, and the undoubtedly larger number of media buying options, will combine to create even more variables in the long run – and thus, even more data with which to play.
The Bottom Line: How to Think About Net Neutrality
As with any new change, we can’t draw any conclusions yet. It’s true that experts predict some negatives, and almost certainly a few of those will turn out to be accurate. Others predict that the move will pose security risks to companies and users who can’t afford to pay the costs associated with ISPs’ new modus operandi. Remember, though, nobody really knows how internet service providers will respond to or leverage this change. While regulatory confusion may initially end up being and up a contributing factor to security risks, there is as of yet no clear evidence that users will have to pay out to keep security in place – or that this will be a particular interest area to ISPs who have so many other opportunities at their fingertips.
For now, the best bet is to look ahead: How can companies maintain the best user experiences, and how can online marketers use the range of tools at their disposal to drive traffic to them? These are the questions to answer today.