In the last few months, Facebook announced that it is changing its algorithms so that users would see fewer posts from publishers and more posts from friends and family.
The publishing industry’s reaction to this has been understandably mixed; some feel slighted while others remain optimistic.
Facebook drives more traffic to publishers than Google, accounting for 38.2% of traffic last year. In the first month alone, almost every major news outlet has seen a double-digit declines in Facebook traffic.
Despite this, publishers aren’t in trouble; they have an opportunity to regain more control over their fates.
Facebook’s algorithm change underscores the current industry push towards relevance and personalisation, and publishers have the opportunity to ride this wave by making changes to their on-site experiences.
One of the biggest complaints that users have about digital publishers today is the ad experience.
Since banner ad effectiveness is on the decline (viewability hasn’t improved since 2013 and 54% of users don’t trust them), advertisers have been buying up disruptive ad formats such as interstitials, pre-roll, and full-screen takeovers.
These experience-degrading ads are part of the reason Facebook made its algorithm change. The ads force users into an experience that they didn’t want to have on top of what’s already been said about those formats being disruptive and sucking bandwidth.
By making ads more contextual and maybe even fun in the process, publishers can keep readers coming back
Unfortunately for publishers, it’s Facebook’s prerogative to make any changes it wants on the fly, which is why this is a good opportunity to both improve the reader experience and breakaway from the reliance on social platforms.
To do this publishers need to provide a contiguous experience for users through similarly contextual and relevant content and ads.
But what is a contextual ad?
The best example you can find is Snapchat sponsored filters. They aren’t a disruptive format like a banner ad or pre-roll video users tolerate to get to a cool piece of content; they’re a fun experience that people like to use all on their own. They work well because Snapchat didn’t try to force predetermined ad units into its platform, it got innovative and force advertisements to adapt to the interactions it already provided (and what it already knew people loved).
Taking a page from the Snapchat playbook, publishers need to create ad experiences that adapt to the content and layout that people go to the publisher for in the first place.
Native ads might be considered generation one of this approach, but it’s not only about content, it’s also very dependent on design today.
Contextual ad formats are visual and even tactile in a way that will cause users to come back to see what’s next. People check Snapchat frequently to discover new filters.
My advice: get weird with it
If you publish content that appeals to a niche audience, use that focus to inform the capabilities of your advertising. If you publish only on video games your ad experience could be gamified in some way.
If you publish art reviews, you could have ads framed and captioned with interesting or humorous phrases as if they were in a museum.
Digital music magazines could have brands record jingles and invite users to vote on which one is the most catchy or collaborate on a quick remix. The possibilities are endless if you unleash your imagination and have the right tools.
By making ads more contextual and maybe even fun in the process, publishers can keep readers coming back, making up for any dip in Facebook referral traffic.
Contextual ads will also improve the overall user experience and maybe, just maybe, make people think a little better of digital advertising.