What the Repeal of Net Neutrality Means for Digital Marketing

A year ago, a conservative family member asked me who I voted for, and I’m 95% certain they asked even though they knew the answer. After I replied they said, “I thought you’d be for Trump, being a business owner and all.” Ethics and potential constitutional crises aside – which are some major things to set aside, but there’s a lot going on right now – I explained that there was no greater threat to my business than the Trump administration.

In addition to demonstrating a complete lack of knowledge when it comes to the Internet, President Trump said nearly a year before his election:

…maybe in certain areas, closing that Internet up in some way. Somebody will say, ‘Oh, freedom of speech, freedom of speech.’ These are foolish people.,

My mentioning of this quote was met with rolled eyes, as if to say “Yeah, but he wouldn’t do that,” because why should we take the guy we voted for; the President of the United State of America, for his word </sarcasm>?

Well, that turned out to be some awful foreshadowing, because yesterday, the Federal Communications Commission unveiled a plan to roll back Obama-era regulations on net neutrality. Now, if the words “net neutrality” make your eyes glaze over – and I get it, there’s been a lot of misinformation about it – take just 3 minutes and watch the video below; I’ll wait…

Now ask yourself, who is this actually good for? With the exception of the cable, broadband, and wireless companies such as Verizon, Comcast, and AT&T, the answer is no one. That isn’t hyperbole; that isn’t partisan bias; that is a fact. Your information will now have gatekeepers.

Yes, Internet Service Providers (ISPs) could throttle your Internet so that Netflix is a pain to watch but Xfinity streaming is “blazin’ fast,” but think deeper. Trustworthy news sources could be devalued while special interest sites could gain an advantage with untold consequences. At that point your information isn’t only being withheld or discouraged, it is being manipulated.

Quite simply, this is the most disgusting, blatant anti-consumer and pro-corporation act of government I’ve ever seen. The only counterargument I’ve heard from people that claim the repeal of net neutrality regulations is a good thing for consumers is simply that it is in and of itself, anti-regulation; and that the “free market can speak for itself.” Well, in the words of the President: These are foolish people.

The free market is speaking for itself through the open, level playing field of the Internet in its current form. Without net neutrality, the free market cannot speak for itself in an informed way.

Digital Marketing on an Uneven Playing Field

Yes, the market that consists of a handful of cable, broadband, and wireless companies will benefit, but the much, much larger market of online businesses and e-commerce will suffer. The behemoths of the tech world, such as Google, Amazon, and Facebook, will be okay because they can afford to “pay-to-play;” possibly striking deals with the ISPs to be in the most accessible plans or lobbying their way out of any significant disadvantage, but the little guys will be fighting uphill battles like never before.

Let’s suppose your company or client sells a few brands of shoes through a mid-sized e-commerce site and is already struggling to compete with Amazon and Zappos. You’ve worked tirelessly on an search engine optimization (SEO) strategy that targets the longtail, less competitive keywords and you’ve been able to pick up some organic search traffic. You’ve been hard at work on pay per click (PPC) advertising, and you’ve managed to run some campaigns that don’t break the bank and have achieved some good conversion rates.

But now, for reasons completely outside your control, users cannot access your site at full speed. Page load times on average slow down, bounce rates increase, average time on site falls and… wait, aren’t those factors that affect organic search rankings and Quality Scores?

Your organic search rankings fall, your cost per click in AdWords increase, traffic and conversions start to plunge and… you know the rest. It’s like the road commission decided to build a highway right alongside the big box stores and left you with a hidden dirt road.

In the digital marketing realm, accessibility and speed means everything. Decisions on where to look and where to click are made in less than a second, and the companies with the deepest pockets invest hundreds of thousands of dollars to make their platforms even slightly faster. A minor disadvantage in accessibility could amount to millions in lost revenue across small to medium sized sites.

Defenders of this deregulation and ISPs themselves say they won’t give preferential treatment to certain websites or ban others, but remember, they’ve been caught doing it before.

What to do

While this is being projected as a done deal, it isn’t until a December 14 meeting that the Republican-led FCC could approve it. Until then, spread the word and make your voice heard to your congressional representative and senators. To do so:

  • As the video above mentions, you can go to Battleforthenet.com and enter your phone number. You will receive a call where you’ll be prompted to enter your zip code and they will connect you (Note: When I did this, it took about 30 minutes to receive the call and my phone flagged it as a spam number, so keep in mind you may not receive the call immediately).
  • A quicker option may be to download the app Stance, which after entering your location will set you up to leave a voicemail with your representative and your senators in a very quick and easy way (this took me maybe 5 minutes to do).
  • Spread the word. The waters have been muddied on net neutrality to make it a topic people either get confused about or sounds so boring they don’t bother to learn about it. Videos such as the one above make the intentions of this repeal clear. Share what this means, and share how to take action.
  • Vote. In every election. Find out where your congressional representative stands on net neutrality and if they aren’t for it, vote for someone who is.
  • When it comes to digital marketing, move speed and accessibility to the top of your priority list, because in the coming months you might be starting half a lap back from the big tech competition. Even without the repeal this is good advice because these are already organic search ranking factors. Analyze your site using Google’s PageSpeed Insights and Mobile-Friendly Test. Comb through your analytics reports to find out where people are stumbling or leaving the site, and test, test, test to improve their experience.

When our livelihood in Internet business and digital marketing is directly threatened, it is hard not to get angry at the people that continuously put us in this position, but it is essential to keep fighting for an open Internet.

 

David Veldt

David Veldt is a digital marketing consultant specializing in building online businesses and growing brands. He writes on a variety of topics within SEO, PPC and analytics, as well as the occasional ode to baseball.

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