Net Neutrality has become a very big topic on the minds of digital marketers in recent months. Net Neutrality refers to the idea that all internet services providers should treat all data the same, regardless of content or who created the content. This means no preferential treatment, or discriminatory treatment, to any websites or types of content.
Some countries have Net Neutrality laws in place, and the United States created laws in favor of it in 2015. However, in late 2017, United States Net Neutrality laws were reversed, creating a lot of fear and confusion among digital marketers. Many wonder how the digital marketing industry will survive when Net Neutrality is not on the books.
Common fears of Net Neutrality’s repeal are wide. Rumors have spread that the internet will now be treated like a cable service, with multiple tiers of services and extras. Some believe that we will need to pay for a social package, an entertainment package, a sports package and others. These costs could be added in addition to the base price on internet access, making monthly internet bills even higher.
However, there is another problem that is more likely and will more directly affect the digital marketing landscape. A “pay to play” model could be put in place where whoever spends the most money will gain preferential treatment. If a company wants to rank high in the search engines today, they can utilize many tools, including search engine optimization and link building between websites. However, in a pay to play model, the largest companies can simply buy their way to the top of the results.
This is different from the current advertising model. Today, anyone can buy their way into the search results through advertising, but you still have to have relevant keywords in your ad, as well as compete with others who have purchased ad space. Without Net Neutrality, every part of the search engine will be a paid model and whoever spends the most will always win in every scenario, no matter what.
This system presents major problems. Small businesses and new companies will have a much harder time rising in popularity, as they won’t have the marketing budget to compete with their larger competitors. Large companies will stay ahead of their industry, leading to better finances, and lobbying the government to keep the laws beneficial for them. For digital marketers in all fields, this will limit the need for search engine optimization and studying the interests of the audience.
The best way for digital marketers to deal with the changing laws is to keep using the same tools for the time being. As Net Neutrality has been recently repealed, and there has been much backlash against the decision, the laws could be changed again in the near future. Digital marketers should keep an eye on legislation as it is proposed and passed into law. It would also be a good idea to focus a bit more time, energy, and money towards paid search, such as PPC and social advertisements.
The end of Net Neutrality could lead to some major changes. Most marketing efforts could be forced to shift to a “pay to play” model and away from search engine optimization. On the plus side, none of these problems are guaranteed to occur. In fact, one internet service provider could become the one “Net Neutrality” ISP, making them the most popular in the industry and forcing the hand of their competitors. When it comes down to it, the best way to handle your digital marketing is to balance between the free and paid tools and strategies for all of your promotional work.