Audience Engagement Digital Publishing Top Stories
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“Browsers are now blocking 40% of publisher traffic”: First-party data is the new currency as publishers prepare for a cookie-less future

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Publishers are looking beyond third-party cookies as regulations and anti-tracking measures by browsers get more stringent. “Browsers are now blocking 40% of publisher traffic, and the privacy-driven anti-tracking movement isn’t showing signs of slowing,” notes a recent whitepaper from Permutive and Digiday. 

This has had an immediate impact on revenue with publishers standing to lose 52% of their programmatic ad revenue without third-party targeting.

“Works to the publisher’s advantage”

However, the anti-tracking trend is potentially beneficial for publishers in the long run. It gives them a huge opportunity to boost data-driven revenues and gain prominence in the advertising ecosystem.

The ‘death’ of the third-party cookie is a driver for evolution that works to the publisher’s advantage. If advertisers can’t buy audiences with data on anti-tracking browsers, a potential solution is a direct relationship with publishers to access audiences. First-party data is the new currency; publishers can benefit by focusing on this advantage and seeking out collaboration with buyers wherever possible.

Data matters: Why publishers are missing out on data-driven revenue

“The inevitable dismantling of privacy-unsafe third-party data across the web will eventually leave publishers as the only source of privacy-compliant data – rich, first-party data wilfully provided by users. This will put the power (and revenue) back into publishers’ hands,” adds Alexandra Bannerman, Sr. Product Marketing Manager at Permutive.

Moreover, according to the paper, “The market for third-party data hasn’t historically set up publishers for success. In fact, it’s left publishers at a significant disadvantage, unable to drive real revenue from their own data as third parties make it widely available across the web.”

According to Josh Peters, Director of Data Partnerships at BuzzFeed, third-party targeting has never made sense. “It never actually describes you as a person. You’re in every gender, you’re in every age demo, you’re in every income bracket. You are included in every single third-party bucket possible,” and that raises questions about the reliability of third-party data, he explains.

How publishers can “thrive as the third-party cookie crumbles”

Bannerman suggests, “the best course of action for publishers is to focus on first-party data strategy and find the tools to help them do so. This way, publishers can navigate this privacy-focused future, separate themselves from the effects of the crackdown on third parties, and take the opportunity to not only survive, but thrive as the third-party cookie crumbles.” 

Many publishers are now trying to commercialize their first-party data. They include News Corp, Immediate Media, and Insider Inc.

News Corp, the publisher of The Wall Street Journal, and The Times and The Sun in the UK, has created single new IDs for individual readers. The company has created 590M global anonymized user IDs. It allows the publisher to identify them without using third-party cookies. 

The single ID enables News Corp to understand the type of content an individual reader consumes across its sites. This helps it anonymously establish a set of insights around the readers’ habits and preferences. 

We’re the holders of the [reader] relationship. That spans our journalistic properties from the Times of London to The Wall Street Journal but also the tools we offer through a site like Realtor. The [data privacy] regulatory environment and the moves of the browsers have highlighted how important it is to embrace that stewardship and ensure our users come to us.

Chris Guenther, Global Head of Programmatic for News Corp

Insider Inc., which publishes Business Insider, has also created hundreds of millions of reader IDs. It maps first-party data against these IDs to get in-depth insights into reader behaviors, interests and intents. 

These go into creating effective targeting segments for marketers. The data isn’t personally identifiable, making it compliant with data privacy-regulations such as the General Data Protection Regulation, and the California Consumer Privacy Act.

The strategy has helped the publisher recover its ability to monetize browsers like Safari that have blocked third-party cookies. Insider is seeing a rise in its average Safari yield, where other publishers have seen significant drops in revenue on such browsers, according to Pete Spande, CRO at Insider Inc. He did not share figures though.

Unlock a larger set of audience data

To make the most of its first party data, Immediate Media, the publisher of Radio Times, Top Gear magazine and BBC Good Food among others, replaced its legacy data-management platform. The new DMP by Permutive doesn’t rely on third-party cookies and can identify fleeting visits from readers who come for a specific piece of content, and leave. 

It has helped the publisher unlock a larger set of audience data. With the earlier DMP the publisher could only identify 20% of its audience, that has risen to 80% now, increasing the amount of targetable inventory that can be sold by a factor of seven.

The whole point of quality content is to generate really good behavioral insights. We are the owners of the content and, therefore, that data. It is something we can build out more than any third-party data segment and be very transparent on what that data segment looks like.

Dominic Perkins, Digital Advertising Strategy Director at Immediate Media

The publisher can now give a stronger pitch to agencies looking for first-party audiences. They can offer insights at a scale that they could not offer before. For example, on BBC Good Food, data on what ingredients and recipes users are viewing can help create new segments, like vegans.

The publisher has created single user IDs for individuals, and gathered an additional 120 new data points per user to get deeper insights into their behavior, according to Digiday.

Immediate Media also wants to reduce reliance on first-party cookies over time by getting readers to provide email addresses in exchange for valued products.

“It’s getting more clear that first-party cookies won’t cut it either. It has to be email addresses, people signing in via apps, paywalls, logins and IDs. We just don’t know what else we will get from the browsers,” says Perkins.

“Educate the buy side as much as possible”

While that will happen over the course of time, the immediate challenge is to convince agencies about the value of first-party data. Many of their own ad transactions are still based on the third-party cookie. 

According to Perkins, the driver for buyers is not always better data, and there are barriers. He says, “For me, that would be more of a financial gain and an efficiency gain for the agency, but that is driven by an agreement rather than by them wanting to use first-party data. The thing that restricts us, because we know we’ve got really rich data, is the fact that buyers don’t want to pay for it.” 

Matthew Rance, Commercial Audience Manager at Immediate Media says, “We have to adapt because it’s having an impact on our revenue right away. But the buy side can wait longer. We need to educate the buy side as much as possible to show them that what we are doing means we are fit for the future.” 

In fact, Business Insider organized a major agency roadshow in September to pitch the capabilities of their first-party data strategies to agencies, and educate them about the opportunities. 

“Focus on building a foundation with the right stakeholders”

According to the whitepaper, agencies are looking for openness and clarity on the makeup and source of datasets. They want to build strategic partnerships with publishers, to open the flow of communication and gain more detailed insights. 

It suggests, “publishers should focus on building a foundation with the right stakeholders within buyer organizations by communicating differentiating nuances in data. Transparency into how buyers are buying, insight into KPIs, and learnings about buyer strategies help publishers work out how to align — a good niche fit can bring amazing value. 

Publishers can only achieve this alignment by also understanding their own audiences in rich detail, so that they can then communicate clear, transparent descriptions of each audience to buyers through confident sales teams.”

Publishers should prepare for questions about how datasets have been created and provide as much transparency as possible to help buyers understand choices and offerings. Buyers can hold preferences for demographic data, finding it more objective. To encourage trust in interest and intent data, publishers must be open about the composition of these segments and reassure buyers of quality and relevance.

Data matters: Why publishers are missing out on data-driven revenue

Duane Thompson, Executive Director, Global Programmatic Lead, AMQ at OMD EMEA adds, “It’s a dual responsibility, in terms of the agency understanding the data capabilities of each and every individual publisher, as to what sits within their data stack, and for the publisher themselves being forthcoming with any new developments with their data.

“If we can get a much deeper level of detail into the data itself and how it’s put together, that would probably promote us to spend more.”