Digital Publishing Guest Columns
3 mins read

The publishers’ guide to navigating the cookieless future

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If we’ve learned anything by now, it’s that the cookie conundrum is a tough one to crack. In the years following its much-publicised declaration to deprecate the third-party cookie, Google has announced FLoC, scrapped it, and proposed a new solution: Google Topics.

Such a last-minute U-turn from the tech behemoth might come as a surprise to some, but more twists are sure to spring up as we get closer to 2023. It’s a puzzle with many dimensions, and uncertainty throughout.

At the centre of it all are publishers, whose digital properties form the web destinations consumers flock to for information and entertainment. Without their content, the internet would be a far less vibrant and useful resource than it is today.

The publisher predicament

Much has been made about the deprecation’s impact on advertisers, but they aren’t the only ones to be affected by this landmark shift. If anything, publishers will bear the biggest brunt as it puts their business model at risk. To generate sufficient revenue (and keep their content free), publishers must be able to monetize their audiences by way of inventory. Any impact on ad addressability will impact them head-on.

It therefore comes as no surprise that some publishers are reluctant to see the third-party cookie crumble. More surprises may emerge as it gets down to crunch time, because the slow death of the cookie has exposed one critical truth – balancing privacy and audience intelligence is hard.

Yet, we need to let the cookie crumble. The reality is that a significant share of internet activity is currently taking place in Safari and Firefox, which deprecated third-party cookies years ago. What’s more, there are plenty of users who use ad blockers and browse in Incognito Mode, shielding themselves from reach. This means our understanding of audiences, as it stands today, is patchy at best.

The third-party cookie is an outdated solution for an internet that no longer exists. We should aim to do better.

Doubling down on the basics

While uncertainty lies ahead, I encourage publishers to focus on what they can do – which is to go back to the basics and exert control where they can. For a publisher, your audience is your most valuable asset, and that’s not going to change. To retain and grow a loyal base, publishers need to continue creating valuable, outstanding content. Granted, not all publishers have the same resources available, and succeeding at this requires creative ingenuity. However, when your audience is your lifeline, you need to do what you can do to keep them engaged. Quality, brand-safe content and reliable readership will always keep advertisers calling.

It’s also time for publishers to rethink their relationship with their audiences. Ultimately, publishers own a direct relationship with the end consumer, and it is well worth mining potential ways to increase their understanding of them to enlarge their pool of first-party data. This is also the moment for contextual solutions to step up to the plate. With the advances in AI and machine learning, today’s contextual technology is able to more precisely match ads with relevant content. Publishers can work with technology partners to uncover a more nuanced understanding of their audiences.

Don’t procrastinate

While all the stops and starts can make it difficult to plan a course of action, the reality is that inaction will leave you at the mercy of last-minute decisions. It’s important for publishers to take matters into their own hands and strategize for the future now. Third-party cookies will go away and there’s no changing that; instead, it’s time to get serious about future-proofing your business for the post-cookie world.

Allan Tinkler
Head of Platform Business Development, Quantcast EMEA

Quantcast is an audience intelligence and measurement company headquartered in San Francisco. Combining machine learning, a privacy-by-design approach, and live data drawn from more than 100 million online destinations, Quantcast provides software, information and advertising services for marketers, publishers and advertising agencies worldwide. Founded in 2006, Quantcast has employees in 20 offices across 10 countries.