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InContext / An inside look at the business of digital content

Content marketing, ad blocking and other trends that rocked digital publishing in 2015

December 9, 2015 | By Brandon Carter, Content Marketing Specialist—Outbrain

2015 was as existential as they come for digital media and advertising. Some of the biggest stories that captivated the industry represented tough questions that have been brewing for years but are no longer avoidable.

So which of these stories captivated the industry? We analyzed 5,600 articles from industry trades that were published between Jan. 01 — Nov. 11, and the approximately 4 million resulting page views to determine which topics resonated most, and when.

General Findings

  • Content Marketing accounted for the most overall page views of the trends analyzed in 2015.
  • Mobilegeddon generated the most page views/story (which we can use as a measure of “degree of interest” in a topic), then effectively vanished from people’s minds.
  • After its initial splash in May, Facebook Instant Articles seemed to vanish from the radar until Fall, when it wasrolled out to more publishers and more users.
  • News that Programmatic accounted for 20% of all 2014 digital ad spend got the industry’s attention in July.

The Ad Block Problem
The conversation about ad blockers reached fever pitch in September, as news broke that Apple’s iOS would let users install ad blockers and that some ads could avoid being blocked… for a price. Advertising Week Sept 28 — Oct 2, was essentially an unofficial summit on how to deal with the rise of ad blockers.

The Mobilegeddon That Wasn’t?
After the initial news about Google changing its algorithm to reward more mobile-friendly pages in its search engine results, interest in Mobilegeddon quickly died down as people realized its impact was minimal or indeterminate on their business.


Content Marketing Becoming the Norm?
Content marketing is now a routine part of industry coverage, and has been for the last couple of years. Unlike the other trends in this analysis, interest in content marketing was less subject to dramatic spikes and dips, growing steadily throughout the year as marketers focused on tips for doing it better, planning for 2016, and its overall growth in the industry.

Native Interests
Native advertising generated its interest in relation to two developments: Snapchat announcing the creation of a native ad agency with a handful of media companies at Cannes Lions, and Advertising Week, where Ad Blocking dominated the conversation. Native advertising began to resurface as an alternative for brands and publishers.

Facebook Instant Articles
After making waves with its initial announcement and launch of Instant Articles — which hosts a publisher’s content directly in the News Feed — radio silence ensued for the duration of the summer, leaving many to wonder if it was getting off to a slow start. Then in September, Facebook added more publishers to Instant Articles, and in October, rolled it out to all iPhone users, which re-ignited interest.

The spike in intrigue over Facebook Instant Articles perfectly embodies a tough question publishers have been mulling for years but is no longer avoidable in 2015: at what point do I pull back on trying to pool audiences on my own site and invest more heavily in reaching new audiences where they already congregate?

Naturally, the reaction to Facebook’s offer varied, as some wondered how far Facebook would go in using publisher content to fuel their growing media empire, while others urged caution in how much content should be Instant vs. Owned.

But perhaps lost in the shuffle was Facebook’s own justification for presenting a publisher’s content to users in this way, the same justification Google used in its push Accelerated Mobile Pages (AMP) push.


A Better User Experience
It almost always comes down to the user.

From the ongoing discussion on what native advertising should look like, to the initial panic over “mobilegeddon,” at heart is how to work towards an Internet consumers are almost uniformly pleased with. In a way, the popularity of both ad blockers and content marketing are symptoms of that ideal.

Brandon Carter is a Content Specialist at Outbrain (@brandedcarter @Outbrain). He began his career as a staff journalist for the Maine weekly ‘The Coastal Journal’ before moving to New York and joining the product licensing divisions of Peanuts Worldwide and Sesame Workshop.

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