This spring, brands and publishers were hit with the one-two punch of algorithm changes at Google and Facebook. Even the most powerful players in the digital world have been caught by the rapid evolution of consumer behavior on the internet. While they often take advantage of their positions, this time Google and Facebook moved to create better user experiences. And at a time when consumption shifts so fast, these are the changes brands and audiences need to keep up with consumers.
Putting consumers first
Platforms, publishers, and advertisers have been slow to adapt to changing behavior -- whether it's the adoption of mobile or the rise of time-shifted television viewing. And for years, they've struggled to balance the needs of their audiences with the needs of their advertisers. With their latest moves, Google and Facebook have shown they understand that positive user experiences will yield better advertiser experiences, too.
Earlier this year, Google launched an algorithm change that gave priority to search results for mobile-optimized sites. This change, popularly referred to as "Mobilegeddon," hurt the search rankings for websites that had enjoyed prime search placement, even though their sites had sub-standard functionality on mobile.
Users expect to be driven to the best results for their search -- if they're searching on mobile, they expect their top results to work properly on their devices. Google took a user-centric approach when it changed the search algorithm to prioritize mobile-optimized sites. And it was necessary. According to SimilarWeb, 54 percent of Google's traffic came from mobile devices in November 2014. Research from Merkle says as many as half of Fortune 500 companies have not optimized their sites for mobile, and a report from BaseKit says 91 percent of small-medium businesses don't have mobile-optimized sites. By prioritizing companies that have embraced mobile, Google can accelerate the adoption of mobile-first development, thus serving its users.
Facebook doesn't have the same mobile challenges as Google, but it faces consumer dissatisfaction nonetheless. Facebook has earned notoriety for its past algorithm changes, filling users' feeds with sponsored posts and making organic reach disappear. As the experience changed, Facebook users raised their voices -- they were seeing everything on Facebook except for content from their friends. Perhaps most tellingly, Facebook declined in importance to the teen audience relative to other social platforms, according to Kleiner Perkins' annual Internet Trends report in May. By changing its algorithm to prioritize content from friends, Facebook is putting its users first. As it evolves its platforms by adding more video to the News Feed and allowing more brands to buy ads on Instagram, Facebook will reap the benefits of an engaged and contented audience. This will inevitably mean better results for advertisers and therefore stronger revenues.
Why drastic change is good for brands and publishers
These changes aren't exactly benevolent -- both Google and Facebook will be able to charge more for ads as a result of their algorithm changes. But they also pave the way for brands and publishers to adopt customer-centric digital approaches. When industry leaders enforce audience-centric shifts, it forces advertisers and publishers to look at their customers with fresh eyes. There's a small segment of brands and publishers who will always stay ahead of their audience, but most need to be pushed to keep up with the industry's rapid rate of change. Brands that stay innovative and anticipate these shifts will always be hedged against big platform changes; the remainder will be forced to either adapt or perish in the face of changing consumer preferences.
On Twitter? Follow iMedia at @iMediaTweet.