Escaping the Walled Gardens of Facebook, Amazon & Google

Brad Tollefsen - Best Looking Digital Marketer in Vancouver

This is a recap of my presentation at the Vancouver Web Design Meetup.

I was happy to be the token digital marketer presenting at the meetup. The audience is a mix of programmers, designers, & students, but I it’s important to keep marketing in mind when you are developing your site.

If you ask a digital marketer what they do they could go on and on about their roles and responsibilities…

What does a digital marketer do


But when it comes down to it, role of the digital marketer is fairly simple. They need to find out where your target market is online, then drive them to the website where they take some sort of action.

What does a digital marketer REALLY do.jpg

This action can be to purchase your product, call about your services, sign up for a newsletter etc. In most cases, your website is the place where these conversions happen. This is where you have complete control.

Typically this is what a good marketing mix will look like. Lots of different marketing assets sending visitors to the website.

But when these marketing tactics are taking place on assets that you can’t control, there are often barriers preventing visitors from getting to your website.

website marketing hub model

If you create business pages on multiple social media platforms, they don’t necessarily want their users leaving their site. They have their own marketing goals that don’t always align perfectly with yours.

What I want to go over in this post is the concept is the concept of “walled gardens” and how that applies to your digital marketing goals.

So what are walled gardens?

Social Media Walled Gardens

*yes this illustration is a bit dated – imagine instead of myspace it’s snapchat*

A walled garden typically refers to a controlled environment where the company imposes the rules of the content engagement. Generally you will be logged in to participate and the user experience is customized for each user.

As a marketer this can be a double edged sword. Walled gardens can give you highly targeted data to identify your market. But you also have to play within the gardens rules, often paying the gardener.

Here is another way of looking at it:

Walled gardens can go fuck themselves

In most cases it’s not this harsh. It’s more like the relationship of an employer who will pay you enough to stay, but you know they are still getting more of out of your labour.

I am going to go through some examples of Facebook, Amazon and Google to show how this affects marketers and best practices to get people through to your site.


Everybody should be aware of Facebook’s loyal user base and reach:

  • 1.23 billion monthly active users
  • 945 million mobile users
  • 757 million daily users
  • 71% of Canadians login to FB every 2 weeks

And Facebook has an enormous amount of data… on you. They know who your friends are, your age, sex, relationship status, interests, location, schools you’ve been to, level of education, device you’re viewing on and much more.

As individuals, I am sure a lot of us feel very uncomfortable with the amount of information Zuckerburg has on us. And that information isn’t going anywhere.

As a marketers, I am sure a lot of us are shamelessly excited about this. We can use all your information to get you to do stuff online! Yeah it’s a bit creepy, but that’s another presentation all together…

So back in 2010, when Facebook’s garden was still sprouting, it was the golden age for digital marketers. It seemed like a free way to drive people to your site.

If you had a business selling Canucks merchandise like flags for your car, life was simple. You’d set up a business page, a couple Luongo & Kelser fan groups, post some links back to your website. Those Johnny Canuck flags would sell themselves.

canucks 1

This was because people who were in your group and liked your page were almost all seeing your posts.

The garden was vast and the walls were low.

Then around 2012 Facebook’s walls grew overnight. This was bad news for your Canuck’s fan store

Facebook update 2011

It became a pay to play environment. If you wanted your fans to see your posts, you would have to boost them. Businesses that were based on Facebook’s traffic were crushed overnight by this. Even big brands considered moving their marketing efforts completely off of Facebook.

But of course they didn’t. Facebook’s user base was too large for people to ignore. Marketers need to get in front of people where they are, and where they are is on Facebook.

Facebook is still an excellent way to effectively target your market. I have a client who does a name change service and they target women who are engaged or recently gotten married.

Since it is currently wedding season in Australia, we set up a landing page on their site for a targeted FB campaign. FB allows us to target geographically and FB users are updating their status to engaged. You can’t get that type of targeting through LinkedIn!

The Facebook update is a great lesson about the walled gardens. You cannot put too much of your marketing efforts into a platform that you cannot control.

There are very few elements online you can have complete control over, and your website is one of them, another being your email list. When building up your marketing plan, make sure you diversify which platforms you are on so you don’t get burned.

Protip: Building an email list is another way to have complete control (email isn’t going anywhere)


This was a smaller part of the presentation, but one that couldn’t have been ignored as a lot of us are building ecommerce sites and Amazon is by far the biggest player.

  • 244 million active users
  • 54 million prime users
  • Sells 4x as much as biggest Canadian rivals

As a user, I love Amazon. 3 weeks ago I was skyping a friend who was doing a puzzle. Fueled by my jealousy, I logged into amazon prime and bought this bad boy

Boba Fett

Overall it was a great experience. It was shipped to me the next day. And now every time I log into Amazon I get offers on other similar Star Wars puzzles. Of course I will never buy another one because this was damn near impossible…

When businesses choose to sell their products on amazon they subject to the wall for their garden.

  1. You’ll be shown side by side against your competitors
  2. You can’t remarket
  3. You don’t get the buyers information

This last one being one of the most important.  Most ecommerce websites benefit from a large percentage of repeat business. When people buy through your site you get their email address reminding them to restock, upsell on related items, or other promotions.

If you are selling through Amazon, you don’t get any of these benefits.


The last walled garden I am going to touch in this article is Google

  • 1 billion active gmail accounts
    • Google Search
    • Youtube (second largest search engine)
    • Google Display Network
    • Google+ (yes it is still around)
  • 40,000 searches every second

Like Facebook, Google has a creepy amount of data on you that marketers should get excited about. And like Facebook, Google has been increasingly becoming more of a pay to play environment.

This shouldn’t be news to most of us as we see the increase amount of ads being shown on the search results page and even ads in our gmail accounts. Unless of course you have ad blockers installed in your browser, which means you really know that Google has a lot of ads.

But my focus isn’t going to be on Google’s paid environment, it is going to be how Google is changing they way they are displaying their results based on new searching behaviour.

People have been increasingly using voice search to ask Google their questions.



This is done through Siri, android devices, and the new smart speakers like Google Home & Amazon Echo.

In most of these cases the device is directly answering a question back to the user instead just directing them to a website.

When I search “What time is costco open until” a featured snippet pops up on the SERP. This is what the voice search will repeat back to me.

What time is costco open until

In this case it is scraping this information from the Google My Business location. Google knows where I am making my search from and also what day it is.

The searcher is never leaving the Google’s garden to get the information they need.

As a marketer I am okay with this because they are getting the information they need to get into the store where the real conversion will happen.

Other searches will piss marketers off.

how long does it take to cook a turducken 1

SEO is hard. Getting to the #1 spot for any search term takes a lot of effort in creating great content and promoting it through social and backlinks.

Sites like “What’s cooking America” make their revenue through advertising and affiliate marketing. So even though they are at the top spot with their snippet, a large % may not even click it because they have gotten the information they need.

Your website being featured in a snippet is often referred to as the #0 spot, as it sometimes doesn’t include a link back to your site and is separated from the rest of the results.

Underneath the snippet is the “People also ask” section, which is filled up with more snippets that are used for other searches.

The #1 spot actually shows up beneath the snippets. This company actually sells turduckens, so you can imagine they aren’t happy with the changes on the results page.

how long does it take to cook a turducken 2

What’s cooking America actually shows up in the #4 spot again.

So given this new layout would you rather be ranked in the #1 spot or the #0 and 5th spot? As a marketer, you are more likely going to get people to click through your site if you are featured in the snippet than buried on the rest of the page.

How to get featured in the snippets.

STAT Search Analytics did some great research last year on what type of snippets are being shown.

how often did we see each of the different snippet types

Paragraphs were the most common type of snippet being shown, but lists and tables show they are increasing in the past year.

there are two types of how queries

There are no easy answers to what type of questions trigger what types of answers, you need to ask yourself – can this be answered in a table or list, or does a paragraph make the most sense?

One of the more interesting findings in their research is that often one landing page would be cited for multiple questions. When Google finds a trusted source they like to stick with it.

So if you are looking to get featured in a snippet, make sure your page addresses potential questions a search might have in a clear and concise way. Use the People also ask box to make sure your content addresses everything.


  • Know the limitations and risks of the platforms you are using
  • Diversify your marketing efforts (don’t end up like 2011 Canuck fans)
  • Always drive traffic to your site (that’s where the magic happens)

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