Top 5 Digital Advertising Stories of 2016

Written by Tim Edmundson

This year has been very eventful – a tumultuous election, more celebrity deaths than seemingly possible, and even a new Star Wars movie. Digital advertising has been no slouch in the news-making department either, and has seen its fair share of big news stories as well. With this year quickly coming to an end, let’s take a look back at some of the major stories that made waves in 2016.


Google made big news in February by removing the right hand ad placement from its SERP (Search Engine Results Page) on desktop. These are the ads that sat on the right hand side of the search page results, offering goods and services tied to users’ initial search query. And while they never really performed as strongly as the ads above the organic search results, they made up a sizable chunk of available inventory on the first page.

This caused a huge panic amongst advertisers, with skyrocketing CPCs the expected result. The concern did follow a sort of logic – less ad placements meant more demand for what was left, thus resulting in higher prices. But what actually took place was different than what was expected – according to research done by Acquiso, CPCs only rose 3% on average. But hidden within that small percentage change, around 30% of CPCs went up by more than 10%, while 30% of CPCs went down by more than 10%. So while the average change was minimal, two thirds of campaigns saw larger changes – just not the expected skyrocketing costs.

In the end, the results weren’t as game-changing (or game-breaking) as most marketers feared, showing that Google knows what they’re doing when tweaking their SERP. That might mean when the next SERP change goes into effect it won’t cause as much panic, but don’t bet on it.


Nothing puts a scare into digital marketers more than ad blocking. For the uninitiated, an ad blocker is software users install to prevent ads from loading on web pages, making for a cleaner, more user-friendly experience. Facebook decided to alleviate marketers’ concerns by tackling ad blocking software head on, and disabled its ability to block ads on their site.

The way they went about it was quite simple – they keyed in on the signifiers in digital ads that ad blocking software use to determine whether a piece of content is an ad or not. To circumvent the ad blockers, they made the signifiers indistinguishable from all other content on their site, thus keeping the software from doing its job.

The key takeaway from Facebook making this move is that they feel like eliminating bad content isn’t the job of a third party, but rather their own. It’s in their best interest to ensure a good user experience for site visitors, as well as maximize ad revenue. The way they are satisfying both needs it is to ensure the ads served in their walled garden are useful and a benefit to their users. We support this way of thinking, and have long advocated combatting the use of ad blockers by creating better content. So if you’re nervous about ad blockers, follow Facebook (and our) lead and provide your potential customers with media that is useful to them – everyone will benefit.


Even if you wanted to, you couldn’t ignore the rise of Pokémon Go this year. The augmented reality mobile game was a phenomenon for a few months – in any major city, you could spot hordes of both the old and young staring at their phones, running across intersections in hopes of catching elusive virtual Pokémon.

And while the fad died out over time, it carried with it some very important lessons for marketers that still apply. Its success was born out of a few key moves that apply to any marketer looking to run successful campaigns.

Pokémon Go’s success wasn’t just blind luck – they took the time to figure out what works and what doesn’t. Through testing their audience (A/B test your ads), creating a good user experience (create an intuitive buying experience with strong landing pages and a smooth checkout process), and taking advantage of the mobile revolution (create a good mobile experience), they created a product that was tailor-made for success. If you’re looking to create successful campaigns, take a note from Pokemon Go.


We all know that video is a powerful medium on the web, but 2016 saw it get a bit stronger with the popularization of livestreaming. While livestreaming first emerged before 2016, this year showed its true potential, with dozens of companies (including AOL, Tumblr, Facebook, YouTube, and Instagram) jumping into the fray.

With a new video medium with a lot of potential for user engagement, this gives advertisers a new opportunity to reach their audiences. SteelHouse’s own chief monetization officer Chris Innes told Adweek “What interests me is how advertisers are going to leverage vertical video for everyday advertisers. I anticipate that we’ll see some interesting platforms—platforms focused on the full campaign and platforms solely focused on creative—develop over the next year.”

Cisco predicts that more than 80% of all consumer internet traffic will be livestreaming by 2020, so with that many users engaged, advertisers would be foolish to pass it up. The dust hasn’t settled yet on how ads will function in this new medium, but chances are there will be a lot of creative approaches in the new year.


The digital advertising industry has struggled with transparency issues for years now, and 2016 showed that it was more of the same when it was announced that Facebook had miscalculated video performance on its site. Facebook has promised to make good on the transgression, which is positive news, but the revelation is just another reminder that the industry is in desperate need of complete transparency when it comes to reporting, media buys, and viewability.

The ANA put out their latest report on industry transparency, and it’s not good. Despite the attention transparency has received, there hasn’t been too many positive steps forward. We have touched on the subject of transparency before, and with 2017 right around the corner, this is sure to be a hot-button issue next year as well.

Still, there’s cause for optimism – as the market calls for more transparency, its only a matter of time before solutions are put forth by industry players to help remedy the situation.

So as you’re making your New Year’s Resolutions to actually use your gym membership, watch less reality TV, or drink less than a bottle of wine a week – think of how you can decide to take advantage of all the industry changes that will come in the next year and ultimately create better, more relevant content for your audience…. now that’s a resolution worth keeping.