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With the recent killing of the Obama-era net neutrality regulations, many law firms are probably wondering what is going to happen to their online marketing campaigns. More enterprising attorneys might even be wondering whether they can ride the dark side of the non-neutral net to get preferential ad placement.
If net neutrality is left to die, the internet as we know it today could become a vastly different place where internet providers can manipulate speeds and access to certain content online. When it comes to online marketing, it could really create serious problems not just for internet users, but also for the marketers and the companies that rely on marketers (like many small to mid-size law firms).
What Is Net Neutrality?
Basically, net neutrality is the idea that internet service providers cannot discriminate as to how a person uses the internet. For instance, an internet provider should not be allowed to slow down internet speeds because a person is searching non-mainstream content. However, legally speaking, the series of Obama-era regulations that were recently repealed by the FCC prevented ISPs from manipulating data speeds in that regard. Sure, you have to pay more to get the highest internet speeds, but under net neutrality, your ISP couldn't limit those high speeds based on content.
If the repeal actually goes through, we could very well see a whole new style of internet where websites and various content is essentially sponsored by companies in order to get high speed data and the ISPs start raking in dough not just from consumers and but also all the businesses looking to reach consumers online.
What Happens to Online Marketing?
Depending on what the ISPs do, online marketing will more likely than not become even more of a pay to play game. This is due to the fact that an ISP might not allow access to regular law firm websites unless users pay a premium for full access to the internet. That means that unless law firm websites advertise with the ISP directly, or through a channel working with the ISP, then their website and ads could get lost in the digital ether (or just not reach nearly as many people).
Interestingly though, small firms might not suffer as much if net neutrality's death cannot be reversed. This is because of things like social media providing a platform that would likely get passed the non-neutral net. So, law firms may want to start thinking about increasing their social media presence, and their local media presence (think Yelp and GoogleMaps) ahead of the non-neutral crackdown.