The Powerful Ramifications Of Removing Link Blockage In China

Humphrey Ho, US managing director, Hylink Digital

"Data-Driven Thinking" is written by members of the media community and contains fresh ideas on the digital revolution in media.

Today’s column is written by Humphrey Ho, US managing director of Hylink Digital.

Link blocking has long been a challenge for many advertisers in China when interacting with the nearly 1 billion internet users in the country. 

For the uninitiated, link blocking is the practice, often engaged in by large internet companies, of blocking links from rivals on their properties.

Until recently, link blocking was possible because a few dominant tech giants control large yet insulated sections of the internet. We’re all very familiar with the concept of walled gardens.

Rival payment, ecommerce, social and/or content-sharing apps were readily stifled by link blocking, preventing the flow of traffic between sites.

Users on Alibaba’s Twitter-like site Weibo, for example, would be prevented from linking out to Tencent-owned content giant WeChat, or Tencent would restrict users from sharing content originating on Douyin, TikTok-parent company ByteDance’s short video app, across Tencent-owned instant messaging apps, such as WeChat and QQ.

But now, the Chinese government has implemented regulations that prohibit link blocking, a move that allows for the free flow of traffic between rival platforms. Undoubtedly, this move has powerful ramifications for marketing and advertising agencies.

What does this mean for advertisers?

In a nutshell, the media power has shifted from the tech giants back to consumers and advertisers. In the past, the complex linking rules, as dictated by the tech giants, had forced marketers to create content tailored to the experience on each platform, often requiring separate budgets.

Now, advertisers can finally focus on larger cross-platform strategies and execution. This newfound freedom will allow advertising agencies to create and implement marketing strategies focused on their objectives for success.

But APAC marketers and global marketers will have to change their traditional approach to Chinese markets by asking the right questions. For example, do we divert users to the WeChat chatbot to talk to the correct agents or do we redirect them to the WeChat mini program where they can buy the products ... or do we simply allow them to continue to browse?

Focusing on the quality of conversions and sources of traffic will increase competition and force publishers to up their game.

From an advertiser standpoint, the government’s crackdown on link blocking could also  increase adoption of the China Advertising ID (CAID) because of the need for a cross-platform standard.

Although tech platforms each currently have their own advertiser IDs for marketers, and that will continue, the removal of link blocking will lead advertisers to implement the CAID as a standard mechanism for data collection.

And with a standard in place, regulators will more easily be able to enforce the newly passed Personal Information Privacy Law, or PIPL, leading to increased privacy protection for users.

The bottom line is link unblocking creates a level playing field for global, regional and local marketers alike. After years of being stymied, they can now take their marketing approaches from other markets and apply them in China with far more strategic fluidity.

Follow Hylink Digital (@hylinkdigital) and AdExchanger (@AdExchanger) on Twitter.

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