Here’s a hopeful prediction for 2016: It will mark the point at which the sheer quantity of junky adtech encrustations on publishers’ sites will start going down rather than up. To put it another way, we have reached Peak Adtech.
2016 is certainly going to smash 2015’s record for the number of news stories read in-app, which deliver a fast, clean, beautiful experience. Apple News and Facebook Instant Articles and Snapchat Stories are all growing fast, and pretty soon almost everybody with a smartphone will have come across at least one of them at some point. Once the public knows what’s possible, popular patience for the cruddiness of the mobile web will go very quickly from limited to zero.
As a result, publishers will start facing real pressure, for the first time, to clean up their acts, by which I mean their web pages. Doing that is going to be very easy, thanks to Google’s AMP protocol. And because it’s so easy, publishers aren’t going to be able to resist a bit of A/B testing.
The results of that A/B testing are going to be clear: Fast, clean web pages cause people to stick around longer, read more stories, and generally build up much more loyalty to any given site. Sure, they also mean lower marginal ad revenues. But with the costs and benefits easy to see, some publishers (not all) will decide to take the plunge and give their readers what those readers clearly want.
But once readers have a choice, they will increasingly start flocking to the AMP web, rather than the crappy old mobile web we all know and hate. The costs to publishers of giving their readers a dreadful experience will only go up, and, slowly, more and more of them will capitulate. They might not like it, but they will recognize that they realistically have little choice in the matter.
This won’t happen quickly. Ads have been getting increasingly annoying for years; they’re not going to suddenly become demure and well behaved overnight. But, for the first time since the web was invented, 2016 will be a year when adtech is forced into retreat. It’s going to be great to see it on the back foot for once. The change is going to be wonderful not only for the mobile web, but also — eventually — for creativity in the online ad industry. When brute force and invasions of privacy don’t work any more, that’s when creatives start to really show their value.