Gut Check: One Year In, How is Platform Distribution Working for Publishers?
Publishers have fewer than 10 seconds to hook a reader, so we cannot afford to waste precious seconds on load time. Readers want lightning-fast access to information. Enter new content distribution models, promising almost instantaneous load times, but at what cost?
One year in, we are just starting to get an idea of how some of the leading content distribution platforms are performing (or failing) for publishers. Unfortunately, Facebook Live and Google’s Accelerated Mobile Pages, while faster, aren’t a complete solution.
Although it only officially went live on April 12, 2016, Facebook Instant Articles began trials and partnerships with national publishers last year. In a world where people are constantly on-the-go, this one-stop shop approach is attractive to those already using Facebook. Instant Articles offers users of the social media platform the ability to view articles in-app, where articles load 10 times faster than when viewed on the web.
But the use of Instant Articles by publishers is a workaround to a bigger problem instead of tackling it head-on. Using Facebook Instant Articles requires publishers lose control of proprietary content.
Since Facebook recently opened up Instant Articles to all publishers, they’ve flocked to the platform, hoping to have the same early success of some of the national partners like The Washington Post and The New York Times. Facebook has worked with publishers to develop a model that lets publishers keep any advertising revenue earned on the platform, as well as sell more advertising and incorporate native ads. However, it doesn’t erase the fact that the content is not on the publisher’s own site, making it difficult to track important readership trends.
Another platform publishers have been eager to try, developed by Google, is Accelerated Mobile Pages (AMP), which launched last summer to great fanfare. Laurent Cordier spoke at mediaXchange 2016 in April about the problem of long page load times, saying, “50 percent of users are telling us that the most annoying experience of getting online is latency. Fifty percent of users will leave a page if the page load time is more than ten seconds.”
Unlike Facebook Instant Articles and other social media platforms, with AMP, publishers control their content, a huge plus at a time when news media companies are looking for the key to monetizing content.
Not only does AMP claim to cut down on page load time, but Google’s algorithm would give preference to AMP pages in Search results. Some publishers scrambled to comply with the requirements, but since the pages went live, the results have been inconsistent. And because the pages don’t support Flash and other popular advertising applications, they don’t sell ad space as well as traditional webpages.
According to Cordier, load times have improved by 150 percent, and while some publishers haven’t had improved web traffic just yet, others such as The Washington Post have seen positive results. At mediaXchange, then-senior director of product strategy and operations for The Post Jeff Burkett reported that The Post had seen an 80 percent increase in page load speed and a 50 percent increase in click-through rates. According to Digiday, Google was expected to complete its roll-out of AMP to more content types at the end of June, so the secret to maxing out content’s searchability might soon become clearer.
The verdict is still out on both of these platforms, but they have publishers’ attention and for now, they are two of the best solutions to help publishers increase traffic, and therefore readership and engagement, with their content. But I would like to see more. Faster load times shouldn’t come at the cost of propriety content or advertising revenue. Hopefully, as these platforms evolve, we will see platforms tailored to publishers’ specific needs.
Michael is former Vice President of Innovation & Communications at the News Media Alliance.