New Age Cloaking

Historically cloaking was considered bad because a consumer would click expecting a particular piece of content or user experience while being delivered an experience which differed dramatically.

As publishers have become more aggressive with paywalls they’ve put their brands & user trust in the back seat in an attempt to increase revenue per visit.

Below are 2 screenshots from one of the more extreme versions I have seen recently.

The first is a subscribe-now modal which shows by default when you visit the newspaper website.

The second is the page as it appears after you close the modal.

Basically all page content is cloaked other than ads and navigation.

The content is hidden – cloaked.

That sort of behavior would not only have a horrible impact on time on site metrics, but it would teach users not to click on their sites in the future, if users even have any recall of the publisher brand.

The sort of disdain that user experience earns will cause the publishers to lose relevancy even faster.

On the above screenshot I blurred out the logo of the brand on the initial popover, but when you look at the end article after that modal pop over you get a cloaked article with all the ads showing and the brand of the site is utterly invisible. A site which hides its brand except for when it is asking for money is unlikely to get many conversions.

Many news sites now look as awful as the ugly user created MySpace pages did back in the day. And outside of the MySpace pages that delivered malware the user experience is arguably worse.

Each news site which adopts this approach effectively increases user hate toward all websites adopting the approach.

It builds up. Then users eventually say screw this. And they are gone – forever.

Audiences will thus continue to migrate across from news sites to anywhere else that hosts their content like Google AMP, Facebook Instant Articles, Apple News, Twitter, Opera or Edge or Chrome mobile browser new article recommendations, MSN News, Yahoo News, etc.

Any lifetime customer value models built on assumptions around any early success with the above approach should consider churn as well as the brand impact the following experience will have on most users before going that aggressive.

One small positive note for news publishers is more countries are looking to have attention merchants pay for their content, though I suspect as the above sort of double modal paywall stuff gets normalized other revenue streams won’t make the practice go away, particularly as many local papers have been acquired by PE chop shops extracting all blood out of the operations through interest payments to themselves.

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