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Publishing within the walled gardens

Michael Allen Senior Technology Consultant

The proverbial ‘Walled Garden’ are publishing environments where the platform provider controls the content and services that their users can access. The world’s largest social network, Facebook, is a prime example, but also extends to include many other household names such as Twitter, Pinterest and Snapchat.

When it comes to consuming content, faster is better. Unveiled last year, one of the offerings which Facebook has built for driving value with publishers and content providers, are Facebook Instant Articles. In essence, it allows Facebook to publish publisher’s content on their behalf within their mobile app, in a slickly packaged and lightning quick presentation.

On the Google side, the company introduced their Accelerated Mobile Pages (AMP) solution, which is similarly designed to improve the user experience through mobile optimized content hosted on their own high speed servers.

These offerings from the two giants in the industry are not only changing the way we consume content on mobile through richer streamlined experiences which are accessible in milliseconds, but also promise an enticing value proposition for publishers in a number of ways:

Enticing Value Propositions for Publishers
  • The technical element is a huge boost. Faster loading times and more efficient code vastly improve user experience. Websites like the Washington Post have reported significant gains from Google AMP in speed of content serving. The Post is loudly touting its “lightning-fast” mobile website. Other properties like eBay, who were early adopters, have used Google AMP to reinvent their UIs, for increased conversion rates.
  • Viewability is prioritized. With different designs, ads appear more organically, without interrupting the reader. By making ads appear more organically related to the content, user interest is also reignited, while helping to resolve the ad blind spot problem.
  • Reach is exponentially increased. As a content distribution channel, the appeal to publishers is certainly attractive. They get to tap into a massive captive social audience, and their instantly loaded content is highlighted in an attractive format. For audience engagement, particularly on mobile, it goes a long way.

These advantages are so compelling that it’s hard to argue with the balance of return. But some publishers remain wary – not with the technology, but with the technology providers themselves. The concern is that by offering their own content to walled garden platforms such as Facebook, they’re conceding a portion of their own traffic and valuable user data, and empowering the platforms they’re essentially competing eyeballs with.

“According to a recent study, more than 75% of major publishers across the US and Europe said Facebook was vital for increasing reach and driving referral traffic

These are valid points, but publishers in general recognize the advantages. According to a recent study, more than 75% of major publishers across the US and Europe said Facebook was vital for increasing reach and driving referral traffic, where approximately 30% of their website’s total visits came from the social giant.

The monetization opportunities are also very compelling. Facebook’s instant articles allows publishers to fill the display inventory themselves and keep 100% of the revenue, or let Facebook handle ad placements in return for 30% of the revenue.

With Google AMP, publishers control their own ad inventory and how they sell it. It supports a wide range of ad networks, technologies and formats, with the stated aim of ad monetization.

What are the numbers? They’re hard to come by, but they can be inferred from the impact on audience reach and retention. Google AMP adds further functionality to help monetization: a unified paywall system to expedite payments across different software.

Ad revenue also receives a potential boost, due to their less intrusive nature and better integration with user-requested content, leading to higher conversion rates – and, of course, less ad blocking.

So should Publishers embrace this technology? 

While revenue results and additional referral traffic across publishers can vary, the improvement to user experience cannot be ignored. Publishers have a lot to benefit from these initiatives, and they should be explored and tested as the technology evolves. 

About The Author Michael Allen - Senior Technology Consultant

As Senior Technology Consultant Michael works directly with top tier online publishers and marketing clients, providing consulting strategies and technology solutions that enhance their business and deliver measurable results.

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