Are Google and Facebook over-policing the Internet?

When the Internet first launched, it was deemed the “information superhighway” and traffic moved rather freely. However today, this highway really has two major traffic controllers: Facebook and Google.

According to a recent report from traffic-analytics service Parse.ly, Facebook and Google each drive about 40 percent of traffic to Parse.ly's vast network of digital publishers, which includes Slate, The Daily Beast and Cosmopolitan (and The Drum) to name a few. If today’s publishers want to get traffic flowing to their sites, they must abide by Google’s and Facebook’s rules. We observe the power dynamics of this relationship every time both web giants tweak their rules and algorithms which result in loud cries of protest from websites on the losing end of the changes.

No Clickbait? ‘Like.’

Take for example Facebook’s recent announcement regarding a crackdown on clickbait content – it caused a bit of an uproar. Given the social platform’s growing power over digital media, some publishers feel they have to “pray to the Facebook gods and open up a goat and spread the entrails over the table to figure out what's the right way to construct a headline.” But are Facebook and Google acting as spiteful entities that control your fate, or are they simply media influencers that set the bar for top-notch quality content?

Facebook’s clickbait announcement is a continuation of the tweaks they’ve already made to their algorithm that commit to a positive user experience for everyone on the platform. This change, along with previous ones, further incentivizes publishers to create content that rather than tricks readers, engages them for longer periods of time in more substantial and interactive ways. This applies to both editorial and native ad content, considering publishers and advertisers are pushing out both. If looking at it from this point of view, it seems like Facebook’s intention is to ensure the cream rises to the top.

As Shaul Olmert, CEO of digital authoring platform Playbuzz puts it, “Since publishers make money per impression, they'll sometimes do anything to generate more impressions. But, in essence, advertisers are looking for a count of views by users who are actually engaged. Both parties have commonly accepted choosing old-school metrics over more meaningful ones such as engagement and interactivity. Enough is enough – it's time to go beyond impressions and views, aligning all content with today’s content consumption habits."

Google and Interstitials

Or Google, for instance, who is fighting the war on irritating ads by punishing sites that use pop-ups and interstitials (those annoying full-page ads that load above content) in an effort to improve the mobile search experience. In a blog post, the company noted: “Pages that show intrusive interstitials provide a poorer experience to users than other pages where content is immediately accessible. This can be problematic on mobile devices where screens are often smaller.” What does this mean? Sites that don’t shape up to Google’s standards by January 10, 2017 “may not rank as highly” in search results.

Similar to Facebook’s clickbait announcement, the UX remains at the center of the search engine’s decision, which though likely aggravating to publishers and advertisers alike, aims to provide an enriching environment for users so content they are expecting can easily be accessed versus obscured.

Google and Facebook might get a bad rap based on their powerful status in the media landscape, but at the end of the day, many of their decisions (including the aforementioned) are leading the industry to a place of higher standards that protect the user – the exact target publishers and advertisers are out to reach in the first place. While web publishers might lose out on traffic, the internet as a whole improves.

Eli Schwartz is director of marketing for APAC at SurveyMonkey. He can be found Tweeting at @5le

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