Digital Publishing Guest Columns
4 mins read

Two truths and a lie: Helping publishers prepare for the cookie’s collapse

Getting your Trinity Audio player ready...

Google Chrome’s decision to remove support for third-party cookies, now scheduled for the end of 2023, threw the digital ecosystem into a state of uncertainty. In Q4 2021, the tech giant plans to progress with testing its FLoC (Federated Learning of Cohorts) solution — and the industry is following suit with trialing its own cookie alternatives.

To mitigate the disruption of the approaching ‘cookiepocalypse’, publishers must continue exploring available technologies. Between FLoC, contextual, and programmatic, they have many options to consider, but what should they keep top of mind as they build their post-cookie strategies?

Publishers cannot depend solely on FLoCs: TRUE

The main reason behind Google’s stay of execution for third-party cookies is to allow more time for finessing its FLoC solution, along with ensuring its efficacy doesn’t rely on outside partners. This solution has driven a lot of contention among industry players, however. The dispute stems from the fact that Google has shared results from only one test, as well as been remarkably — but perhaps unsurprisingly — opaque about its methodology. Moreover, FLoC’s ability to protect data privacy with anonymised, interest-based cohorts has been a matter of discussion, with some voices questioning the extent of how much user information Google will collect, store, and utilise.

Publishers would be wise not to pin all their hopes on Google’s offering. More rigorous testing is still needed to determine how effective, sustainable, and ethical the solution actually is.

Context isn’t a silver bullet for cookieless targeting: TRUE

Although contextual technologies have improved, content-based targeting alone isn’t enough to bolster publishers’ bottom lines. As contextual solutions chiefly operate using exclusion tactics, for instance keyword and URL blocklists, publishers risk minimising the availability of their inventory and missing out on opportunities to boost ad revenue.

Contextual tools present challenges to small or mid-market publishers as well. Media owners such as the New York Times have reported success when pivoting from cookies to context, but it boasts eight million subscribers from which it can form an in-depth, comprehensive understanding of its authenticated users. Publishers that want to keep their editorial content accessible, or don’t have extensive subscriber bases, will struggle to replicate this.

Advocates for contextual methods also overlook the reality that third-party data won’t disappear with cookies. There is a growing selection of open web IDs, both probabilistic and deterministic, that can help publishers leverage valuable data in a privacy-sensitive way. To make the most of Google’s extended timeline, they can lean into testing identity solutions that maintain and enhance their business models.

Programmatic only benefits major publishers: LIE

For independent and smaller publishers, dedicating the resources to set up a sales team and competing with media giants’ traffic volumes and scale is no easy task. These publishers especially benefit from programmatic, as it offers them a viable means to monetise their audiences based on what they do outside of their web pages.

Programmatic has come under scrutiny, however, for data leakage in the bidstream, which enables ad buyers to own a clearer view of publisher traffic than publishers themselves. But it’s important to note that due to the amount of impressions surfaced in the auction, sellers have an innate defence against selective ad buying. Counter to common belief, programmatic is indeed advantageous to independent and smaller publishers.

Top tips to prepare for the post-cookie era

Champion interoperability: Google has postponed cookie deprecation to improve its alternative solutions, but it’s unlikely that these improvements will include interoperability with third-party IDs. In March 2021, Google announced it will not build or allow alternate identifiers to be used in its products, so publishers must proactively open conversations around their right to leverage technologies of their choice.

Start testing solutions early: There are multiple identifiers available on the market, but publishers must experiment to see if their chosen solutions are truly interoperable. Achieving this is a complex undertaking, so publishers should look for partners with the most scale and partnerships.

Use Safari and Firefox as test beds: While Google Chrome takes the lion’s share of the browser market, the industry can find great value in other environments such as Safari and Firefox that have already removed third-party cookies. It’s vital that publishers begin testing their strategies in these conditions and ask their identity partners to support them in doing so.

Don’t hold on to the cookie: New, cookieless technologies are ready for adoption, so publishers shouldn’t hesitate to implement IDs to maximise yield. Third-party cookies come hand-in-hand with syncing costs, privacy risks, and significant delays to quantifying ROI when compared with newer tools. Going cookieless ahead of time will streamline operational changes when Google pulls the plug in 2023.

Leverage all available data: Although contextual insight won’t sustain publishers’ business models by itself, it is still a valuable element of their monetisation strategies. It should be used in combination with — but not in the place of — more modern and advanced tools. To progress beyond cookies, publishers should prioritise innovation and keep their eye on the future, rather than the past.

While Google has granted the industry a reprieve, publishers mustn’t squander it. The next two years will be essential for them to solidify their preparations and seize the chance to build a better ecosystem. When assessing new solutions, publishers must focus on those that deliver scale, interoperability, and of course, lucrative results.

Mike Woosley
Chief Operating Officer, Lotame

Lotame is the world’s leading unstacked data solutions company, helping publishers, marketers and agencies find new customers, increase engagement, and grow revenue through audience data. As the pioneer DMP thirteen years ago, Lotame has become the trusted data solutions company for global enterprises such as Bloomberg, IBM and Omnicom Group. Lotame is headquartered in New York City, with offices around the world, including London, Singapore, Mumbai and Sydney.