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VPNs can make life much easier for marketing professionals, but they can also impact reporting and targeting. Here, we explore the most important considerations.
VPN technology has undoubtedly entered the mainstream. If you are new to this, you would have a number of questions: do VPNs really work? Is it true that private internet access won’t connect? How secure are VPNs? Does VPN use data? Most users understand that multiple services are available to protect their privacy, even if the choice usually comes down to one of the biggest industry names like NordVPN and SurfShark. At the most basic level, some browsers even come with basic VPN functionality built-in, with Opera serving as a prime example.
According to Surfshark, 31% of all internet users utilize a VPN. In practice, that means that almost a third of individuals on which digital marketing professionals potentially rely have protections in place for their privacy and general online security.
1. What is a VPN’s role in Online Marketing?
Online marketing ranks among the most significant professions in the world today. Two of the largest sites in the world, Facebook and Google, make more money from digital advertising than any other source.
Google’s parent company, Alphabet, made $147 billion in advertising revenue in 2020, accounting for more than 80% of the company’s total profits. Meanwhile, advertising accounted for 98% of Facebook’s revenue in the same year.
Of course, there is much more to digital marketing than just advertising. Content and copywriting, social media management, reporting and analytics, and much more also play a crucial role in promoting brands and websites, with plenty of crossover between different disciplines.
The success of online marketing depends heavily on access to as much data as possible, spanning personal information, browsing habits, location data, and more. As more web users take steps to protect their online privacy, professionals in the online marketing space face more and more challenges.
Above all, it is crucial to adapt and evolve as older techniques become less reliable and new opportunities emerge. Virtual Private Networks (VPNs) represent one such challenge but also involve opportunities.
2. How the Rise in VPN Usage Impacts Digital Marketing
There are numerous practical applications for a VPN diagram on the part of everyday users. They can hide their browsing data from their ISP and anyone on the same network, change their perceived location, prevent tracking across multiple websites, and much more. While online privacy is to be lauded and promoted, it can make some more traditional online marketing techniques more challenging.
While online privacy is to be lauded and promoted, it can make some more traditional online marketing techniques more challenging.
Here are some of the ways in which the rise in uptake of the technology can have the most significant impact on marketing efforts:
Skewed Reporting and Analytics
From Google Analytics to Matomo, reporting tools can only produce data based on what they see. While every visitor counts, there is always a chance that they are not necessarily who they appear to be. There is no way for analytics software to see past a VPN, and it will only report on the information presented.
The most considerable impact involves the purported location of visitors. Generally speaking, traffic from the likes of the US, UK, and Canada is considered the most valuable. Marketing specialists may also have specific target audiences at a continent, country, or even city-based level.
This, in turn, can affect decision-making. A brand in one country may consider increasing its investment in another due to a surge in traffic. However, if that number is inconsistent due to heightened VPN use, it may require a variation in approach.
Site Speed and SEO Considerations
Most VPN connections are fast enough to stream video, and end-users will not notice a substantial difference in connection speeds. However, a VPN is capped by the user’s standard connection speed and adds further steps to reaching websites and apps, such as rerouting traffic and adding encryption.
As such, while often minor, VPN connections are inherently slower than direct ones.
Page speed has always been a consideration for digital marketers as part of the user journey. Google has also indicated that the ranking algorithm considers site speed.
Marketing professionals in the SEO space may go to great lengths for even relatively minor speed increases as they can differentiate between one or two crucial ranking positions. If many visitors utilize a VPN diagram, those minor improvements may be wiped out entirely.
Issues Targeting Ads and Search Results to Specific Locations
Online marketers must often account for international, multilingual customers, especially when working for more prominent brands. Virtually every major advertising network relies on location information to determine which ads to display to which visitors.
The above image displays search results for “web design” when made using Opera’s European VPN, even when the search was initiated outside The Netherlands. The same applies to ad targeting – there is a higher likelihood of seeing text and video ads in Dutch, counting as a paid view for the advertiser, even though the viewer does not speak the language.
Difficulties Retargeting Potential Customers
Retargeting has evolved from a marketing buzzword to a mainstream part of the online marketing toolkit. It involves ‘following’ a visitor around the internet so that when they see an ad, it can serve as a reminder of a product or service in which they have already expressed an interest.
An almost global crackdown on cookie use has served to make retargeting more challenging. One of the most effective alternatives, utilizing IP-based retargeting, is also rendered useless by a VPN.
An almost global crackdown on cookie use has served to make retargeting more challenging. One of the most effective alternatives, utilizing IP-based retargeting, is also rendered useless by a VPN. The active window for targeting with ads is often limited until the user disconnects from their private network. In most cases, upon reconnecting, they will have a different IP address entirely. In general, private internet access won't connect.
Targeting based on location data also becomes more difficult. While most users will choose a location near their own for speed purposes, even this minor tweak can render a previously valuable marketing technique completely useless.
3. The Solution
There are numerous ways to address these challenges, not least by leaving behind dated techniques that are destined to be unsuccessful as privacy awareness increases. However, among the most robust recommendations for overcoming the challenges outlined above is to shift focus to first-person information provided directly by potential customers.
The opportunities that face the most significant challenges are disappearing, in part, due to their relative disdain for individual privacy. Most mainstream users were, until recently, unaware of the sheer amount of information available to sites they visit.
Automated data collection makes life easier for marketers. However, a focus on adding value to the core website experience, encouraging visitors to share their information, and potentially incentivizing them to do so may replace surreptitious collection methods.
4. Benefits for Online Marketers Using VPNs
As with most widely adopted technologies, while there are potential downsides for marketers involving VPNs, there are also opportunities. Online privacy should matter to everyone, whether using the internet personally or professionally, but the potential benefits extend much further than this. So for those who wonder “do VPNs really work?”, this would be a great plus!
International SEO and Social Marketing Improvements
Just as potential customers can claim to hail from anywhere they so choose, the same applies to marketers. Such is the extent of information collected by the likes of Google on users that some might feel like the search engine knows them and their habits better than they know themselves. The display of search results depends not only on the SEO efforts of websites but numerous other factors, including:
- Previous searches in the same session.
- Clicks to specific sites from previous searches.
- Location of the searcher.
- The Google account used if any.
- The type of device on which the search is done.
Two completely independent people can do the same search at the same time and receive wildly varying results. In effect, search results are personalized just as much as ad targeting.
A VPN diagram can aid a digital marketer in being someone, somewhere, even when that is not the case.
Larger marketing agencies operate internationally with multinational clients, and a VPN allows the marketing team to be where their customers are and see what their searchers see. This means a more authentic insight into the competition and a real-time view of local trends, and a better understanding of the search habits in the target market.
Closer Competitor Monitoring
As Sun Tzu once said, “If you know the enemy, and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles.” Even smaller companies have individuals and teams dedicated to monitoring the competition and identifying when they themselves are being monitored.
Repeated visits from a single IP address, which happens to resolve to a competitor’s location, is an inevitable means of being blocked from a site. A VPN enables marketers of an investigative persuasion to modify their location every time they visit a site.
Identification relies on patterns, and when no pattern forms, marketers can continue to monitor their rivals undetected.
One common question that arises is “how secure are VPNs?”. Successful marketing requires robust and regular communication. This could conceivably range from contacting a competitor’s to link building across other sites.
Generally speaking, anything online that limits activity utilizes IP addresses, and a high-quality VPN results in a virtually unlimited supply. Proxies are often the go-to tool for automated systems, but a VPN can provide the anonymity that marketers require to achieve the best results when operating manually.
Improved Online Privacy
In practical terms, online marketers are every bit as deserving of privacy and online security as anyone else. Remember, private internet access won’t connect and beyond the reasons outlined above, it makes perfect sense to take advantage of a VPN for the same reasons anyone from another industry would do.
This means greater protection when working remotely, impenetrable security on public WiFi networks, and easier access to internal communication tools within your organization. If you are wondering how secure are VPNs, this is your answer
So do VPNs really work? Well, yes. After all, one of the most enjoyable aspects of being an online marketing professional is that there is always more to learn. It is far from being a role whereby someone learns or discovers the best way to achieve something and repeats it day in and day out.
New techniques and technologies emerge all the time, and those that boast continued success are the ones that adapt and take full advantage of the fresh opportunities afforded to them.
There may come a time when VPNs become as ubiquitous as antivirus software, and there is no time like the present to prepare. What may have seen success in the past will not necessarily guarantee it in the future. Still, the skill of capitalizing on the benefits and overcoming the challenges is what sets the best marketing professionals apart from the rest.
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