What John Oliver's Net Neutrality Rant Means for Digital Marketing

By Kevin Klein | @kkwrites | Former PPC Hero

Late Sunday Night, former Jon Stewart fidus Achates and present host of HBO’s Last Week Tonight, John Oliver, delivered a rousing excoriation of the pending decommitment to Net Neutrality to an audience of some 1.1 million Game of Thrones hangers-on. In doing so, Oliver fanned new life to the flames risen from the May 15th vote to pass new Net Neutrality rules.


Net neutrality, in layman’s terms, is data equality. By law, information on the Internet must be presented by your Internet Service Provider— such as Comcast or Verizon— to your home with the same priority/efficiency as it would for any other entity.


The looming legislation alteration would change this. The ramifications of this change are popularly presented as a metaphor of a two-lane highway, on which one lane allows high-speed traffic for a hefty toll— probably you’re seeing a lot of Mercedes, BMWs, and Lamborghinis on this hypothetical speedway— and the other lane, the one clogged up with your everyday sedans and minivans, for everybody else unable to afford the high-speed premium.


This isn’t the sort of topic that we normally cover on PPC Hero, but the breadth of the subject, and the far reach of its consequences dictate that we address it. The portending fate of Net Neutrality will rock the core of the Internet. Think about that for a second. The Internet has become as ubiquitous a part of our daily lives as food or oxygen (and let’s be honest, that’s not nearly as much of an exaggeration as we’d like to think it). As digital marketers, our vitality is intrinsically linked to it, and we stand in a position to be greatly affected. The repercussions of doing away with Net Neutrality could be enormous, yet the complexity and abstract nature of the issue have relegated it below the fold.


One of the fascinating elements of pay-per-click marketing is that small businesses and major corporations compete on a level playing field. Sure, corporations have considerably deeper pockets for marketing initiatives, but the nature of search engine advertising allows for the smaller guys to roll up their sleeves and dish out their best shot anyway.


A fat wad of cash will help earn a big player the top advertising spot on a SERP to go along with presumed brand recognition, but in paid search a smaller business with more compelling messaging or appeal can steal clicks and conversions in that same venue. Ceasing net neutrality would terminate this advantage, tilting the proverbial playing field drastically in favor of the big spenders.


Let’s revisit that metaphorical high-speed lane on the information superhighway. Yeah, it’s got a saturation point. Even if a small business pinches pennies to the point they can afford to cruise on this digital Autobahn, might be they’re not even allowed, like would-be happily paying customers turned away from a restaurant at fire capacity. Filled to capacity, mind you, by a corporate party that those customers very specifically were not invited to…

‘Scuse me, pardon me, just trying to access my e-mail if you don’t— watch your elbow there— if you don’t mind. There’s this Nigerian Prince, you see, and…. (Michael Loke/Flickr)


So what happens? It means that all small business content is choked with slow load times while their fiercest competitors get to serve up landing pages that appear in an eye blink’s time. Hello exorbitant bounce rates, goodbye conversions, and sayonara to the just and fertile landscape of search engine advertising. As things presently stand, smaller-moneyed advertisers aren’t literally being shoved out of the picture, but if the future setting for digital marketing is an offroad course, the big spenders are first in line for the all-terrain tires, and there’s nothing stopping them from depleting the entire stock.


So, what now? The FCC has opened a 120-day comment window for us faceless digital denizens to decry their designs. The full impact of a Net Neutrality change on advertising platforms such as AdWords isn’t entirely clear, but we do know that Google, Facebook, and Twitter are all vehemently against the change. And why wouldn’t they be? It was on an open Internet that these companies were born and nurtured to the behemoths they are today. Point being, the open Internet fosters innovation and forward thinking. So on behalf of your clients, add your voice to chorus, because before too long that voice might be lost inside a screaming corporate windtunnel.