Online viewership has peaked across the world wide web, and the marketers who want a larger share are best off focusing on platforms they can customize such as social media and email, according to a new study by the research arm of Adobe Systems Inc.

Released on Sept. 26, Adobe Digital Insights’ inaugural North America Advertising Demand Report found that while overall North American website traffic grew by only 0.1 per cent over the past 42 months, by incorporating multiple channels 62 per cent of websites were able to increase their viewership by an average of 51 per cent.

Adobe Digital Insights manager Becky Tasker
A comprehensive marketing survey indicates that consumers are drawn to personalized content, Adobe Digital Insights manager Becky Tasker says.

“Marketers and websites are no longer getting free traffic from a net number of new people accessing the Internet,” Becky Tasker, a manager of Adobe’s Digital Insights division, told ITBusiness.ca. “So they basically have to steal from the competition, because if they aren’t doing it, somebody else will.”

To compile the report, the Adobe Digital Insights team used anonymous and aggregated data from Adobe Marketing Cloud to analyze more than 800 billion visits to 800 North American (including Canadian) websites between January 2013 and June 2016. It then divided the results into websites that saw viewership grow during that period, and websites that saw it shrink, before analyzing which advertising channels they were using.

Overall, Tasker said, viewership grew far more on websites that relied on a mix of paid search, email, display ads, and social media than those relying on branded tactics, pay-to-play referrals, and natural search.

“Based on what we’re seeing, social and e-mail are the top two channels that our growing websites are getting more traffic from,” she said. “So websites that want to grow should really start thinking about how to leverage those.”

In addition to relying on big data, the Digital Insights team conducted a survey of 4000 consumers in the U.S., U.K., Germany, and France regarding perceptions of advertising, and though Tasker admits Canada was not included in the survey, she believes that similarities between the four countries means certain insights can apply to Canada as well: For example, the power of personalization.

“In all of the countries we surveyed consumers said they were open to personalized ads,” she said. “It just has to be done in a way that’s effective and not intrusive in order to resonate.”

Tasker believes this is why email and social channels in particular are growing: they offer marketers the opportunity to send personalized messages at the right moment.

“Social especially is interesting because in our consumer survey, we asked our respondents when they thought they saw the most interesting advertising coming from a website, and they told us it was either while they were browsing the web in general, or while they were on social media,” she said.

According to the U.S. survey, 78 per cent of consumers like personalized ads, but only 28 per cent feel they are being appropriately customized. However, 68 per cent of U.S. felt that overall, ads have improved or stayed the same, with 57 per cent saying that marketers are running interesting ads.

One final component of Adobe’s study was the impact of ad blocking software, which the team accounted for by blending their research with ad blocking data from analytics firm PageFair Ltd.

Here, unfortunately, correlation between Canada and the four countries surveyed was weakest, with PageFair data indicating that U.S. (18 per cent), U.K. (17 per cent), and French users (12 per cent) were all behind Canadians (24 per cent) when it came to installing desktop ad blockers. Germans, however, were slightly more likely than Canadians to install ad blockers (27 per cent), making them roughly on par with Denmark and Sweden (26 per cent and 28 per cent, respectively).

The researchers also noted that desktop ad blocker use had increased four times over the past three years, to 220 million, and that 89 per cent of Americans who were using ad blockers said they planned to continue doing so.

“I would say that based on some of the statistics we’ve seen, particularly the ad blocking information from PageFair, our Canadian customers are more like (Scandinavian customers) in terms of their usage,” Tasker speculated.

“One interesting correlation we found is that as people use more desktop ad blockers, their share of traffic for social advertising increases,” she said. “So maybe they’re not open to an intrusive experience where they don’t want ads popping up, but they are interested in a relevant news feed or Facebook feed advertisement that is tailored to them.”

Tasker said that if there is a message for Canadian marketers to glean from the survey, it’s that they need to figure out how to personalize their messages, rather than relying on the strength of their brand to drive results.

“I would say that all signs point to consumers showing us in analytics data that they are interested in channels that can be personalized and tailored,” she said. “And so marketers need to actively participate in building a strategy that resonates with them, otherwise they risk turning into one of these websites that are shrinking across the board and becoming somebody else’s lunch.”

You can check out the full report below, or download it here.

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