Do you ever get the feeling like advertisers are watching your every move on the internet? Thanks to remarketing ads that remind you about the products you previously browsed and other ads tailored to your interests, your online shopping experience is both highly-personalized and a little uncanny.
If you're tired of receiving those ads, you'll be happy to know that data privacy rules are changing and companies like Apple, Google, and Facebook are starting to make it more difficult for advertisers to track your behavior, collect data about you, or target you with ads.
But if you're reading this article, chances are you also use digital advertising to grow your business. And with increased privacy comes imprecise ad targeting and higher costs-per-click (CPCs). Serving relevant ads to your ideal audience is going to become harder and harder to do as data privacy continues to increase. The most successful companies will find other ways to reach their prospects, and they'll do it without relying on things like third-party cookies and detailed audience segments. One of those alternatives is content marketing.
Let's take a look at how new privacy initiatives are impacting the world of marketing and why putting more focus on inbound methods like content marketing and SEO might be your best approach to reaching new customers.
The impact of Apple's new privacy features
Apple released its App Tracking Transparency (ATT) feature in 2021, making it much more difficult for advertisers to target iPhone users with relevant, highly-personalized ads. In fact, Apple's increased data privacy features reportedly cost social media companies like Facebook, YouTube, and Twitter almost $10 billon in revenue in the latter half of 2021.
If you're not familiar with the feature, it boils down to this: when you start using a third-party app (such as Facebook), your iPhone will ask you if you want to let the app track your activity across other apps. If you deny the app permission to track you, they will not be able to serve you ads based on your other browsing habits.
According to Adweek, about 40% of all smartphone users in the US could be un-trackable because of this feature (with about 56% of smartphones being iPhones and an estimated 70% of those iPhone users denying permission to track). This affects Facebook advertising and other forms of paid advertising that use remarketing or audience data.
Other data privacy changes & how they're impacting marketing
Apple's ATT features aren't the only thing changing the digital marketing landscape. Apple’s Mail Privacy Protection (MPP), also released in 2021, limits email tracking and impacts statistics marketers report on, like email open rates. Google Chrome is set to phase out third-party tracking cookies by 2024, Facebook is limiting its audience segments in March 2022, and the EU's GDPR laws are already starting to influence data privacy regulations at the state level (including New York, Virginia, and California).
The good news is, as third-party cookies go away and your data becomes more private, you won't get those creepy ads anymore for something you looked at earlier in the day (or coincidentally talked about minutes before), or have to worry about Facebook or display ads spoiling your surprise gifts. And if you don't like the Orwellian feeling that Big Tech knows more about you than you do, then this should be welcome news.
The bad news is that you'll be seeing more ads that you have no interest in, and if you're trying to promote your business to the right audience or convince people who have already visited your site to return and become a paying customer... then you're going to have a more difficult time doing that.
Why content marketing could be the better channel for ROI
Modern outbound marketing (which includes paid advertising) has been heavily reliant on audience data to reach prospects and generate leads. As the ability to target custom segments based on demographics, affinity (interests), and browsing history declines, so will the ability to deliver relevant ads to your ideal customers, and so will your ROI.
Since paid advertising relies on data to find prospects, Google Ads, Facebook Ads, and other pay-per-click (PPC) platforms are going to become more of a guessing game. In contrast, content marketing meets prospects where they already are — social media, email inboxes, and most importantly, search results.
Inbound marketing (including content marketing) has been working alongside outbound for years. but it lacks the instant gratification of setting up an ad, letting it run, and seeing the impressions and clicks accumulate. Content marketing is a long-term play — writing and producing the content takes longer, perfecting it is more of an art than a science, and ranking in organic search results takes a while — but if done right, your content will continue to perform well for you.
Each PPC ad is a short-lived investment that you have to make over and over again, but the same piece of content (perhaps with some revision or optimization every now and then) can continue to educate, persuade, and nurture prospects for years, using the cumulative effect of SEO to gain more consistent organic traffic over time.
What exactly is content marketing?
Content marketing focuses on creating — you guessed it — content for a brand's audience to consume. Content marketing involves many subfields and specializations, including content writing, search engine optimization (SEO), video marketing, and more. Email marketing, social media marketing, and even digital advertising are closely tied to content marketing as ways to get that content in front of the right people.
Content marketing is also a core part of inbound marketing, which we've always practiced here at SIX. With inbound marketing, the content is designed to attract new prospects, to engage and nurture them into becoming leads, and to then continue to delight them after they are customers.
If you're familiar with the stages of the typical buyer's journey — awareness, consideration, and decision — then you know that content is crucial to the educational process. The consumer becomes aware of their need for something, considers their options, and makes their decision, and if the purchase is an important one, they'll likely do a lot of research (i.e. Googling) in the process.
That's where your content comes into play, with a little (read: a lot) of help from SEO.
Your content can take the form of:
- Case studies
- Reports and whitepapers
Emails and email newsletters can also be a form of content marketing — and it's certainly a way to deliver your content to your audience — but as I said before, email open rates have been affected by the privacy updates, so I'm not going to focus on it here. Do know, however, that email marketing has historically had the best ROI of all marketing channels. While open rates might not be accurate anymore, that doesn't mean your audience isn't engaging with them.
Why content marketing & SEO will need to be treated as one & the same
There are a few main ways for your audience to come into contact with your content: organic social media, email marketing, paid advertising, and organic search results, Social and email are easy channels to use for getting your content to your existing audience, people who have already opted-in to hearing from you. To reach new audiences, you'll need to use paid advertising and/or organic search.
We've already established that paid advertising is never going to be quite the same as it was before and that it's going to be more difficult to reach your ideal audience from here on out. That leaves you with organic search.
Question time: What do you do if you’re in the market for a product or service but don't know where to go? You Google it. What do you do if you have a question about how to do something? You Google it.
That’s what your potential customers are doing as well.
Consumers are self-educating before they buy. They don't want to be told what to do (because they don't trust marketers or advertisers), but instead they want to do their own research, If a company provides the information (i.e. content) they need to make a well-informed decision, that company earns their trust.
Having an SEO strategy to guide your content production is crucial to appearing in search results. You'll be meeting your audience where they are with the right answers to their questions, and they'll start to recognize you as a trusted source of information in your industry.
Are SEO & content marketing as effective as paid advertising?
Keep in mind that SEO and content marketing are both long-term strategies that don't happen overnight. Content production takes time and it takes even longer (weeks or months) to see a difference in SEO. But if you have a strong strategy and you keep working at it, you will see a difference in your SERP (search engine results page) rankings and, as a result, increased traffic to your website. This is organic traffic — traffic that you worked hard for, but haven't spent any advertising dollars to gain.
Content marketing isn't the medium for instant gratification, but if you're writing content that matches your target audience's search intent and answers the questions they type into Google, then your audience will have instant gratification, and that could help turn them into paying customers.
Content marketing and SEO are investments that pay off in the long term. You'll need to optimize regularly for changes in search traffic and keywords, and you'll need to keep writing and updating content, but you won't be buying traffic that may or may not be interested in your product or service. When a consumer searches for a relevant keyword and lands on your site, you know that the intent to buy, or at least to learn more, is already there. With advertising, it will be more of a guessing game than ever, and your ads will appear to at least some people who aren't remotely interested in your product or service.
What should you do now to set yourself up for success?
Paid advertising isn't going to become obsolete any time soon, but it may be a little less profitable. If your current marketing strategy leans heavily on PPC ads, you should begin diversifying your approach and investing in other tactics that you may eventually need to rely on. It's highly likely that, after stricter data privacy has been implemented across many platforms, content marketing will emerge as one of the most reliable alternatives for marketers.
We're in the middle of a huge shift in data privacy, but there's still enough time to preemptively adapt to the changes before they significantly impact your revenue and your marketing ROI. Remember: the most successful companies will be the ones that find new ways to reach their target audience and evolve their marketing strategy so it doesn't depend on third-party data.
If you'd like to reevaluate your current paid advertising strategy and discuss your best options moving forward, you can always book a short meeting with our team.