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InContext / An inside look at the business of digital content

Here’s how publishers are preparing for the cookie-less era

June 16, 2021 | By Eric Shih, Chief Supply Officer - Teads @Teads

Apple’s June iOS 15 announcement was the latest in a series of initiatives from large tech companies focused on consumer privacy. For a long time, consumer trust has eroded due to data leaks and murky practices by bad actors. However, the demise of the third-party cookie will impact all businesses across the digital advertising spectrum. Unfortunately, premium publishers will be hugely affected by these policy changes. At the same time, they have minimal control over what the changes are and when they’ll come into effect.

Survey says

We recently surveyed our publisher partners, of which 419 participated from all over the world. The results offer a fascinating look at where we stand on the cookieless future, halfway through 2021. Significantly, more than 50% said they were unclear as to how new cookieless identity solutions would impact their business models.

A good deal of weight and attention has been placed behind unique ID solutions, namely Unified ID 2.0 spearheaded by The Trade Desk and Liveramp’s Identity Link. Thus, it’s no surprise that they are seen as potential ways forward to solve the issue. In our survey, almost half (47%) of those considering adopting logins indicated their intent to work with one of these two solutions.

But, given the high volume of interest given to first-party data solutions, it’s more surprising that 65.3% of respondents said they were not planning on increasing usage of logins to specifically combat deprecation of third-party cookies. This is predominantly due to the potential disruption of user experience for readers. Logins could negatively impact site traffic.

Not flocking to FLoC

Google’s Federated Learning of Cohorts (FLoC) claims to give advertisers the ability to target groups of users without giving away identity information. It does this by placing users within cohorts according to their interests. However, this will only be available within Google’s Chrome browser. It has a significant market share but is by no means comprehensive. Publishers are also still uncertain how it will work in practice.

At least Google has started work on the technical details of its Privacy Sandbox model. However, other key browsers such as Safari and Firefox have yet to announce their plans. When it comes to these Privacy Sandbox solutions, the approach for publishers and advertisers should be the same. A cookieless tool to be included in the mix rather than treated as the basis for a whole strategy. 

Technical details and dominance

The devil will be in the details with FLoC. But the key concern is that such an update will be limited to the open web and give Google further competitive advantages in market. Publishers haven’t had the easiest ride in monetizing premium editorial content. So, it’s critical they are supported in ensuring precise targeting isn’t only possible within walled gardens.

Unfortunately, many publishers are choosing to play a waiting game to see what further privacy protocols will be introduced and, therefore, which targeting options remain and are viable solutions for advertisers. This leaves the industry heavily reliant on – and beholden to – updates from the tech giants. Our survey results reflect the lack of clarity that publishers already face when it comes to these potential new solutions. Just 23.7% say that they fully understand the implications of the various industry initiatives.

With such uncertainty and lack of transparency, how can publishers get ready for the cookie-less future that is fast approaching?

Change your targeting perspective

While criticism can be levelled at the lack of transparency for these updates, we must remember that a privacy-focused internet is what users, and government regulators, are asking for. So, relying on a single, one-size-fits-all solution isn’t a good long-term strategy for anyone in digital.

The credibility and feasibility of multiple approaches will need to be understood, tested, and combined to maintain the same levels of ad effectiveness. Publishers will need to stay aligned to various industry initiatives as they evolve, which takes deep technical knowledge and resources. Most of the cookie-based replacements are unavailable to all, and worse than that, are not testable yet, and time is running out.

Consider critical context

But it’s not all doom and gloom. Contextual targeting has been a viable and reliable revenue source for publishers. It provides solid strategic results across all markets around the world. When integrated with a good media plan to ensure proper actionability, publishers can use their first-party data, cutting edge tech tools and insights to learn which contextual signals can be used (as well as when and how). Where contextual targeting wins is that it has never required the use of cookies. Contextual allows publishers to stop chasing precise audience targeting and consider their natural advantages and differentiators: the power of their content.

Whatever happens though, there is no doubt that publishers need answers to be fully ready for 2022 when third-party cookies will take their final bow. Publishers will need support from monetization partners and advertisers alike to find the right balance. It is essential to run concreate tests with partners that offer actionable – and not theoretical – cookieless monetization capabilities. This is critical in order develop reliable revenue streams. It’s not enough just to be ready for the death of the cookie. Publishers need to be positioned to profit within a privacy-first ecosystem for many years to come.

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