Advertising Guest Columns
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61% of users trust the open web. So too should advertisers.

Where do people go when they want high-quality and trustworthy digital content? This is an important question at the best of times, but it has been thrown into the spotlight by the current coronavirus pandemic. Now more than ever, people recognise the value of good content – whether that’s accurate and timely news reporting, or simply high-quality entertainment and escapism.

So, which sites do people trust and appreciate? The commercial success of online ‘walled gardens’ like Facebook, which also owns Instagram and WhatsApp, and Google, which owns YouTube, may make these platforms seem the obvious answer. They certainly attract huge numbers of subscribers – but does this mean their content is highly trusted and valued?

New research, which we conducted in partnership with The Harris Poll, suggests not. We found that 61% of web users looking for high-quality content will first turn to ‘open web’ publishers (i.e. online sites not owned by one of the large internet platforms).

Conversely, just 39% would first go to Facebook, YouTube and Instagram. The open web is also viewed as much more trustworthy: 77% of respondents said they trust articles on these sites more than those on walled gardens.

These findings are great news for open web publishers. The message is clear: people trust your content and value it. The key now is to get the message out to advertisers. This is because, at present, total ad spend is weighted massively in favour of the walled gardens: 63% compared to just 37% for open web publishers – despite the fact that people spend much more time on the open web (66% vs. 34% on walled gardens).

For many publishers, the obvious answer to this challenge is to seek other forms of revenue such as through paywalls. While some publishers may find success with implementing a paywall for all — or portions of — their content to eliminate the need for ads, doing so may not necessarily be the best approach for all publishers. In our survey, just 18% of people said they would be happy to pay to remove ads from their favourite websites. What’s more, 69% said that if all sites and apps started charging for access to content, they would refuse to pay even for the sites or services they currently use.

Our survey goes further and suggests that the open web is in fact the natural home for ad-funded models. 40% of the people we surveyed said that they most usually find relevant ads on the open web – highly significant when you consider that only 18% said the same for Facebook, 20% for Amazon and 10% for Instagram.

Respondents were also much more likely to feel that open web ads are impactful and effective compared to those on walled gardens. Indeed, taking out Amazon, nearly twice as many people selected the open web as the place where they are most likely to see an ad that would drive a purchase than Facebook, Instagram and YouTube combined.

Today, the open web is often the most cherished and trusted part of the internet. However, unless the ad revenue is there to support these sites they will disappear behind a paywall and only be seen by a fortunate few who can afford premium content and are willing to pay – a minority of web users as our research shows. As one marketing expert puts it, marketers are at risk of ‘blocking the best parts of the internet.’

Our research has revealed a clear win-win. Advertisers need to reach people in trusted spaces where they’re receptive to ad messages, while people want access to high quality open web content without having to pay for it. Channelling an appropriately high share of ad spend to the open web therefore seems a measure that will help consumers, advertisers and publishers equally.

Rich Ottoy, VP of Publisher Development, OpenX

About: OpenX powers highly relevant advertising at global scale, delivering quality and value to brands, publishers and consumers across every type of connected screen and ad format. The company’s leading technology aggregates, curates and values consumer interest in real-time on one of the world’s largest and highest quality ad exchanges to ensure marketers reach exactly the audience they want. OpenX serves more than 30,000 of the world’s most recognized brands, more than 1,200 publishers and more than 2,000 premium mob.

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