By Jackie Lee, publisher of Similarweb and head of the media industry
The free and open internet, as we know it, is not free at all: someone is pushing the bill somewhere so that publishers can finance the creation of that “free” content.
Before publishers did this with high-margin print and linear TV ads, those revenue streams were replaced by technology underpinned by third-party cookies. Now, cookies are disappearing from the biggest platforms – probably within the next year.
With the depreciation timeline change, advertisers have valuable little time to build first-party data warehouses, scale up subscription programs, develop new strategies, and implement cookie-free solutions – but no silver bullet. The success of advertising in the future without cookies will depend on the balance of the solution, weighed by what each publisher is able to do.
Prosperity without cookies
With huge resources to test the new revenue model, we can assume that the biggest market leaders will work properly if cookies are phased out. But what about brands whose legacy publishers don’t have powerhouse resources?
The good news is that first-party and relevant data is beginning to emerge as a promising solution that all publishers and media brands can use to run the money train in a more ethical, brand-safe way. Even better, they are not dependent on the decision of Google or Apple.
However, both options come with an underlying trade-off. First-party data can be rich in details by itself but is difficult to scale and move. Relevant data, on the other hand, is super scalable, but lacks specificity.
The key is to find the best combination of the two, informed by the right cookie-free tools to enable that process. Major brands such as Condé Nast and New York Times Is investing in first-party data, leaning towards subscription models and creating smart relevant audience segments.
How can publishers respond?
There are a number of ways to replace cookies, such as Google Topics and Unified ID of the Trade Desk, and we hope that more will come on the market before Google finally discontinues cookies. But these solutions also rely on major third-party providers who may (and will) change direction at any time and make their publishers liable.
Instead of putting all their eggs in another basket, publishers need to invest in balanced solutions that allow them to take the slack cookies left behind. Cookless Web Analytics Solutions allows publishers to identify and model naturally emerging traffic patterns (both within and across domains) that they can use to sell ad space – without being tied to cookies and subject to a huge third-party rule-changing will. .
While the industry is losing its most efficient insights into creating a “who” audience, it is possible to create a proxy audience by focusing on “where” traffic groups spend their time online. As such, it will become a balanced work of advertising targeting solutions that brings publishers closer to both “who” and “where” (with competitive analytics features such as voice sharing and conversion skills). The future of online advertising lies in that balance.
For more than two decades, cookies have underpinned digital advertising targeting. Their ubiquity is exactly what creates such accountability for their audience and third parties, so it is unlikely that a single point solution will emerge to solve the challenges around targeting, attribution and measurement. The flaws in individual solutions – such as loss of specificity, lack of data portability and lack of user match – mean that brands will need the right mix of point solutions to succeed in the cookie-free world.