Issue #3 Early December 2021

Enable images to experience Powered by Ads in glorious colour
Essential news for ad-supported web publishers

Wow, December? How did that happen? Hopefully you are all now swimming in glorious Black-Friday revenue and looking forward to a final few weeks of profitable coasting before taking some time off with the family. The end of the year tends to be a time for making plans for those expecting a quiet January and last minute panics for fitness, travel and DIY publishers preparing for a new year rush. Whichever your immediate future holds, let me get you up to speed with the latest publisher news to help you make the most informed choices.

But first... a bit of housekeeping. If you are enjoying Powered By Ads, or maybe even finding it useful, please add to your contacts right now. This hugely improves the chances of future issues landing correctly in your inbox and stops me feeling hurt when I get confined to the spam bin (it's cold and lonely in there and full of some deeply unsettling things). Thank you!

In this issue...

(just scroll down and read the bits that interest you)

  • Poll results : How ready are you for the Cookie-pocalypse?
  • Millions of WordPress sites admin credentials exposed
  • AdSense Matched Content to be retired
  • Google continues with the Q4 surprises
  • AMP loses further favour
  • Question of the month: Investing in AMP content
  • Triopoly hoovers up 2/3 of all US digital ad spend
  • Google gives ground to EU over privacy sandbox
  • New feature alert!! No dumb questions
  • Other news in short
  • Wrapping up

The results from last issue's poll on first-party data is worrying. 80% of respondents not only say they are not yet building first-party data, but that they don't know what do to about it.

PoweredByAds readership may still be quite modest, but we already have a really good mix of publishers represented from one-person passion projects to larger publications with names you will know. It's concerning then that there wasn't single response from a publisher who feels they are on top of this challenge. I'm not shocked though: It's a difficult challenge that the mammoth AdTech industry is yet to provide many practical solutions to.

It's an interesting topic that is going to become all the more important. If you are one of the 80% definitely stay subscribed. I'll come back to this topic after new year and think how I give some practical support to change the look of that pie chart.

Poll results: Don't panic... you are not alone

Read on for this months Question of the Month.

Millions of WordPress sites admin credentials exposed

A number of hosts offering Managed WordPress installs have been involved in a data breach affecting millions of WordPress installs. The breach resulted in the site's original admin credentials, sFTP credentials, account information and user logins being obtained by unauthorised users.

The breach was first reported by GoDaddy who said that an astounding 1.2 million website could be affected. It has later been reported that tsoHost, Media Temple, 123Reg, Domain Factory, Heart Internet and Host Europe were also similarly affected.

Publishers who used their hosts systems to install WordPress are advised to update admin credentials and sFTP logins and be extra vigilant for Phishing attempts or changes that may have been made to their sites.  More from Wordfence.

AdSense Matched Content to be retired

Matched Content is Google's slightly-odd mix of content-recirculation and monetisation. With one code snippet Google would encourage users to explore other targeted content on your website and monetise it with an additional ad unit that definitely didn't blur the line between ad and content. The product is now being retired, with end of life scheduled for March 1st.

The good news for publishers is that you don't have to change any code if you are currently using matched content. After March 1st the code will show a Multiplex ad unit instead. Multiplex is similar in appearance to matched content, but includes only ads. This gives it more of a feel of a Taboola/Outbrain style unit rather than internal content-recirculation. If your matched content unit showed 5 internal links and one ad, it will now show 6 ads.

This might seem like good news from a revenue perspective, but don't expect 6X the revenue. AdSense only pays on a click and users are only going to click one of those 6 ads (and rarely do that). When I've tested Multiplex I have not been bowled over, even when utilising it through AdX where you are paid per impression rather than per click. I've found the creative quality to be preferable to other "chum box" offerings, but the performance lacking. I'd love to hear from anyone who feels differently.

Google continues with the Q4 surprises

In Issue#2 I discussed two major search updates from Google that were being rolled out in the Black Friday build-up period. Determined to seal it's position as the digital Grinch, we've now been told to expect another key change to be rolled out in the critical Christmas shopping period.

This change will impact product review articles, particularly those that Google perceives to exist solely to push users through an affiliate link. New best-practice guidelines suggest that product reviews should show evidence that the product was actually used by the reviewer and multiple purchase options. Search Engine Journal cover this well. That sounds sensible, but round up posts and meta analysis are common strategies for publishers.

AMP loses further favour

AMP, the Google-backed initiative for a faster web is facing further challenges with Twitter now announcing that it will stop supporting AMP links by the end of this year. Sharp-eyed marketers have spotted that this may have been in motion since October.

This is a big blow for the project. Twitter was always the "other big name" rolled out when AMP was accused of being a Google project. This also gives publishers one less reason to use the difficult-to-monetize / difficult-to-maintain format that has always faced a PR challenge.  AMP still offers massive speed advantages, but it isn't the only way to deliver a fast page. As AMP is also no-longer a requirement to appear in Google top-stories, you can't help but wonder for the future of the project.

Question of the month: AMP

Given the reduced benefits of AMP, my Question of the month for December is :

"Will you be investing in AMP content in 2022?"

Click to answer

Triopoly hoovers up 2/3 of all US digital ad spend

Emarketer have released new forecasted US digital ad spending figures for 2021 and they make interesting reading. Overall spend is up 38% year on year, and past the $211 billion mark, which is good news for all in digital publishing. However 64% of that spend continues to flow through the pipes of the Google / Facebook / Amazon advertising triopoly. Read more on eMarketer

Google gives ground to EU over privacy sandbox

Google has conceded to more EU oversight of Privacy Sandbox, it's response to the Cookie crisis. This comes in response to a 125 page document from the UK Competition and Markets Authority about its investigation into Privacy Sandbox (linked here for the insomniacs). The new commitments from Google seek to reassure the watchdog that Privacy Sandbox will not be developed in a way that impedes competition. Most interestingly, Google has said that if the commitments are accepted they will apply the same standards globally.  

This is a dull but important change. Those looking for a quick catch up would do well to read this piece from Ad Exchanger.

New feature alert!! No dumb questions

I thought I would try something new: The button below takes you to a Google form to submit any question you like relating to ads and/or web publishing. If any questions come up that I think might be interesting to the readership here I'll either try to answer them myself or find someone else who can. Your question can be completely anonymous if you wish. Go ahead... hit me with your best.

Click to answer

Other stories of interest that I have run out of space for.

  • WordPress 5.9 release delayed after "red flags raised" More
  • TradeDesk's answer to the cookie problem, UUID2.0 faces GDPR hurdles. More
  • Substack hits 1million subscribers - Good news for those looking for channels beyond ad monetization (although apparently all the cool kids run their newsletters on Ghost!) More
  • Apple App tracking changes cost publishers and platforms an estimated $9.85 Billion in revenue. More
  • Cloudflare enables easy IndexNow for search engine inclusion. Turn on once and ping search engines (not that one) automatically when your website updates. Love it. More

Wrapping up

That's it for now. I'm off to laugh at all my agency friends who have been told to add snowflakes to websites before the weekend. Expect another issue towards the end of the year. Any thoughts or feedback? I'd genuinely love to hear them or on LinkedIn here.

If you enjoyed this issue of Powered by Ads, please feel free to share the web-version on your favourite social media.