Risks For Independent Web Publishers In The Next 5 Years
By: Dave Taylor (AskDaveTaylor.com)
I can’t decide. Is the future so bright that I’ve gotta’ wear shades, or is there an impending apocalyptic nightmare of global warming and civil unrest just over the horizon? This obviously matters to me and my family, but it also matters to my business, and since my web publishing business is the lion’s share of my income, it’s pretty important to plan ahead and avoid future risks.
So what’s likely to happen in the next few years and what can I do about it proactively?
What web publishing trends tell us…
First off, it’s quite likely that the trends we’re seeing now will continue, so less desktop, more mobile, more accelerated mobile technologies, and potentially more ad blockers. But, you’ve already long since realized that you have to not just be mobile friendly, but mobile optimized since Google will be rolling out their Mobile-First Index later this year.
In fact, at the recent Pubtelligence event, Google made it clear that the mobile first index was not to be feared, but also not ignored. All publishers should be paying close attention to the basic webmaster guidelines and how they are applied to their mobile site today. Many currently rely on their desktop configuration for indexing and crawling and may have a major hole when it comes to the HTML on their mobile site (despite it being responsive-design).
A member of Google’s webmaster team (Illya Grigorik) presented some fascinating trends in how user behavior and emerging markets are shifting. This data is partially why Google is shifting their time towards a mobile-facing index.
In many ways, mobile speed is more important to ever in certain parts of the world — where the cost of data to load a page is an actual factor for many internet users. Conversely, other parts of the world are getting faster internet and even more powerful devices.
The gradual rise of higher powered tablets like the Microsoft Surface and the Apple iPad Pro will undoubtedly continue, so relying on keyboard entry is likely going to become more of an obstacle for your users as voice search and other technologies make your content available in new and different ways. Just look at some of the ways Google is leveraging search results now!
Risks for publishers that are emerging now
Are you using structured data on your pages? Google is certainly doubling-down on search results that provide quick answers and more dynamic content to searchers. How are you keeping up? Are your competitors hoping ahead of you? Anyone can add these kinds of snippets to their web page.
In fact, Google is even providing this for images now. In many ways this is an opportunity for your images to contain more contextual data so that you could potentially drive more visitors to your site. A risk with this is that Google is now allowing users more and more access to your content before they even reach your website. Finding a balance here isn’t easy, but falling behind competitors could be a death blow.
Google doubling-down on security
Forms will need to auto-fill, users will likely want to use biometrics – or at least two-factor authentication – to secure their accounts. This also means that touch input is on the rise; does your site UI have large tap targets instead of tiny mouse click targets for navigation? Are you even an HTTPS site yet?
Google has doubled down on this recently. In fact, in the very near future, websites that are still using HTTP protocol will be marked as INSECURE by chrome browsers. The incentive has never been stronger to make this move.
The advertising industry is changing too
We know that the digital advertising space is growing 20% YoY. This is great news for publishers, right? Maybe. For some, it will be brilliant. For others, it could accelerate risks if they fail to keep up.
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We’re already entering a cold war between users who want a more personal Web experience, advertisers who want a more disruptive experience, and publishers who want to find a balance between the two while still collecting a profit. It will be increasingly important to focus on how user experience affects your users and advertisers.
With the rise of Chinese censorship affecting other sites around the world — VPN software is no longer available for Chinese citizens in the Apple App Store, for example — it also suggests that if you rely on international traffic, that might be more of a risk than you realize. My AskDaveTaylor site is tech and consumer electronics focus, so visitors are from around the world, including lots from India. That will undoubtedly change over the next few years, meaning that I could see a loss in overall traffic which obviously has a detrimental effect on the bottom line.
And speaking of loss of traffic, one of the most obvious risks over the next few years are platform changes (i.e. the Duopoly). My site gets a significant percentage of overall traffic from individual user searches; if the platform changes and I drop in SERPs (search engine results placement) then that’s a huge problem.
If the cost of acquiring new visitors goes up, however, smart sites will be paying more attention to customer retention. In this case, an email newsletter and ways to entice visitors to sign up. That’s exactly what I’m doing this summer, having hired a developer to integrate new, far more data-driven pop-up subscription offers into my site and email backend.
Zombie Apocalypse is always looming
Finally, there’s always the risk of the zombie apocalypse. If that happens, well, then that could be great for traffic if I’m nimble and start writing about how to identify and kill those pesky walkers, but not so good for ad revenue if all my potential advertisers are overrun by the hoard. Man, it’s always something, isn’t it?
Now, what about your planning process? What do you see coming on the horizon that’ll have a significant impact on your online publishing efforts, and what are you doing to mitigate the risk?