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InContext / An inside look at the business of digital content

To win in the digital ad game, focus on the end (user)

October 19, 2020 | By Eddie Lee, Head of Publisher Account Management – Nativo @nativo

Lately, every week brings more news of sweeping changes from the media world’s tech titans to their platforms and ad policies. And none of them are more alarming than the end of the third-party cookie — if you believe the headlines.

However, this tectonic shift in how advertising operates on the open web today does not need to be a death knell for publishers and their ad supported revenue models. Publishers will win if their focus is on the end game: their users. Let’s start with a quick recap of the changes undertaken by the largest browsers and device owners.

The third-party cookie & data privacy

In January,Google declared the retirement of third-party cookies from Google Chrome by 2022. This gives the industry only two years to completely rework technology fundamental to the operation of the internet. 

Not long after, Apple announced enablement of its Intelligent Tracking Prevention (ITP) by default on all browsers on iOS, not just Safari. 

Advertising creative & traffic changes

In May, Google rolled out a feature designed to block ads it deems use too much network or battery power (also known as “heavy ads”). 

In August, Apple announced the iOS 14 feature that automatically redirects from News+ publisher links to the Apple News app. 

How publishers can win

Let’s briefly level set the real-world context behind these Google and Apple updates. 

Forty percent of online US audiences currently access the internet through a third-party cookieless environment such as Safari or Firefox. What does this mean? It’s likely a significant portion of your traffic already has third-party cookies disabled.

Once Chrome joins the ranks of Safari and Firefox, another 45% of online US audiences will no longer be trackable with third-party cookies. That means 85% of US online audiences will be untrackable by third-party cookies by 2022. This could seem like the end for your ad supported revenue model. But is it really all gloom and doom?

Not even close. The elimination of third-party cookies is a good thing for publishers. That’s because your first-party data and onsite cookies just skyrocketed in value. 

Step 1: Prioritize data security to protect your users. And yourself.

If onsite users consume your content (or media), they value your property and their relationship with you. Don’t let precious user data leak from your site for targeting on other sites.

Rather than spending the next 12 months on the hunt for a perfect cookieless solution, lock down your data today. Update your security terms and conditions. Determine which of your technology partners enable secure and cookieless targeting and matching – or who they are considering for this solution. Why? You can then deliver unique and proprietary first-party data for onsite targeting – for a premium. Recognize the unique value that you deliver brand advertisers by coupling your media and data. With the right configuration of content, data and unique ad formats, publishers can decrease the number of ads onsite and still increase revenue and performance. 

Next let’s tackle the ad creative and traffic changes. Google and Apple aren’t blocking “heavy ads” and redirecting users to the News+ app simply for the sake of undermining publishers’ businesses or thwarting audience traffic to your site, though it may feel that way. Rather, long page load times and barriers of entry like paywalls are terrible for users. Apple and Google (and Facebook and Amazon) know their value is their user base. Publishers must prioritize the end user, too.

Step 2: Optimize the user experience. Optimize the revenue potential.

We live in a world of instant information and gratification. This point has been punctuated by the pandemic’s ongoing surge in digital content consumption. With each wasted second on page load or obstacle to information, publisher bounce rates increase exponentially.

Alternately, a decrease in latency inversely correlates to revenue, with RPMs increasing as high as 70%. To accommodate, the industry is witnessing monetization solutions shift server-side, like Prebid, or even closer to the CDN in some cases. Explore these options when investigating or assessing monetization partners. Moving server-side has added benefits for first-party cookie persistence that can also enable a higher premium for your first-party user data. 

It’s easier said than done, but this technology exists today. I’ve witnessed its results firsthand. To prepare for the death of third-party cookies, double down on your most valuable asset — your users — and bullishly safeguard their experience. The result? Happy and returning users, a future-proofed business model and positive impact to your bottom line. 

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