The Death of Net Neutrality: Implications for Marketers

This article is in reference to yesterday’s news on the FCC’s vote to end net neutrality and its implications for marketers.

In essence, this means that cable companies and internet service providers (ISP’s) will no longer be regulated as public utilities. Thus, companies like Comcast and AT&T now have free range over how they charge customers for access to online content.

While the implications for customers are clear (customers will be forced to bundle products and services, likely paying more for items they don’t want nor need), the implications for marketers are less obvious.

Implications for SEO

With the end of net neutrality, search results will favor companies who can afford to pay for their search ranking. Smaller companies who once ranked high by playing by SEO rules may struggle to keep up with the telecom giants.

In addition, the quality of online content may suffer, as the competition for SEO ranking is no longer about the content itself, but about who will be the highest bidder. According to Forbes, marketers now have to cast a wide net through major websites with the most user access, rather than providing original content to customers who are actively searching for a product.

Further, companies like Amazon and Verizon could force customers to search through their preferred search engine (think Yahoo over Google). This, in turn, forces marketers to concede to the new search engine’s rules and algorithm. In this case, social media will become the go-to method for sharing content. However, customers may only subscribe to Twitter or Facebook if it’s part of the ISP bundle.

[bctt tweet=”The end of #netneutrality could mean less traffic, and ultimately fewer customers, for smaller businesses and brands. Read more…” username=”relevance”]

The end of net neutrality could mean less traffic, and ultimately fewer customers, for smaller businesses and brands. Marketers are encouraged to consider a new SEO strategy and to review their current SEO budget and framework in light of this new information.

Implications for advertising

Similar to the impact on SEO, the repeal of net neutrality could result in higher advertising costs. This has a more significant impact on smaller businesses, but even large corporations could be forced to allocate additional funds to their advertising budget.

The competition could become even more brutal with the impending decision on whether or not AT&T will be allowed to purchase Time Warner and Comcast to purchase 21st Century Fox. Either of these mergers will have serious implications for marketers who rely on television advertising. If ISPs are allowed to own media companies, they have the power to favor their own ads over advertising from smaller brands and companies.

For example, brands might be forced to pay a premium for high-quality bandwidth or be pressured to partner with a media company owned by an ISP, rather than one they’ve worked with before. To customers, this could look like an ad that doesn’t load quickly on one website, causing the customer to skip ahead or ignore the ad. Because user experience has become a huge focus for companies, this could pose serious concerns for small businesses or startups that cannot afford the high costs of faster bandwidth.

Joshua Lowcock, U.S. Executive Vice President and Chief Digital and Innovation Officer at UM said, “It’s going to fundamentally change the way marketers can approach digital media, the ROI they can extract for it and even what partners they should be looking to and considering.”

“Without net neutrality, creators and brands could struggle to reach new users and investment to ideas will struggle and dry up over time,” said Mozilla CMO Jascha Kaykas-Wolff. “Then the internet might start to look more like cable TV.”

Why some think this might be a good thing

While many thought leaders and influencers are condemning this decision, others are trying to find a silver lining. Some say marketers now have the opportunity to position their brands as trusted and needed sources of content.

According to AdAge, this regulatory shift could “open up a wide-range of opportunities for agencies, advertisers and marketers.” Some believe this could be a perfect opportunity to pair programmatic creative with programmatic media buying.

Ajit Pai, the current head of the FCC, suggests that this shift allows for more innovation and creative opportunity. Marketers can now experiment with new business models that were previously not allowed under the Title II regulations.

The Takeaway

While it’s too soon to tell when the regulatory shift will begin to impact businesses, marketers are encouraged to review both SEO and advertising strategies and budgets. This is also an opportunity for marketers to think creatively about how their advertising may fit in with the vision and strategies of ISPs.


What strategies will your company adopt to prepare for the end of net neutrality? Share your ideas in the comments below.