• Michael Manoochehri

Are publishers prepared for life beyond the cookie?


As we draw nearer to the end of the third-party cookie as a means for reaching and engaging audiences, we ask our CTO, Michael Manoochehri: Are publishers prepared for the changes ahead? What alternatives should they use? And crucially, have they left it too late?


Q: With Apple, and now Google, culling the cookie, are publishers beginning to discover the flaws of using third-party data?


A: Traditionally, the hypothesis in the media industry was that publishers and advertisers could use third-party cookies to serve the right ads to their audiences. But today, as they realize there are better alternatives out there, there's a growing sentiment in the industry that third-party targeting was never that accurate to begin with. Not only were these cookies inaccurate, they simply didn't give publishers enough control over their campaigns. So that's kind of the baseline that publishers are working from today.


In addition, more and more publishers are conceding that there are a great many problems with privacy when it comes to third-party cookies. After all, that's the main reason they're going away.


Q: So are publishers shifting their focus towards first-party data?


A: Yes. The reality for the publishers we work with today is that when you have first-party data, you have a lot more control over it. But also, you can use it in ways that you can't with third-party cookies. You can include your own subscribed users, and you have real data about them. You can mix and match data that you own, that a) has fewer privacy concerns, and b) lets you tailor your reporting to your own data.


So the key thing about third-party data was that publishers and advertisers were expecting it to be just as reliable as first-party data. But by using cookies to track online users, they were making really strong assumptions about the demographic of the user they were targeting, which in many cases, were simply wrong. With first-party data, you don’t need to make any assumptions - it’s right there waiting to be analyzed.


Q: How easy is it to glean the insights you need from first-party data?


Even today, with customers realizing the importance of first-party data, there is an expectation that first-party data will be just as “magic” as third-party data was thought to be, and that all you have to do is analyze your data and draw the insights you need. However, first-party data is not a like-for-like replacement for third-party cookies. You still have to put in the work to make sure data from your CMS, GAM, ad server or marketing platform is aggregated, normalized, and accessible in the way your business teams need it to be.


Q: Is first-party data enough on its own, or should publishers still continue to augment with third-party cookies while they can?


A: Yes, first-party is enough, if you put in the work, because we’re seeing that third-party data was never very effective. Meanwhile, a publisher usually has many ways to monetize their content using first-party data.


The primary goal is to serve a relevant ad next to an interesting article that readers will click on. But relying too heavily on following user profiles around the internet based on their cookies has never been an accurate way of determining all of a user’s interests. It’s just too easy to make false assumptions and serve an ad that detracts from the user experience.


Also, if you're a publisher, you don't want to violate readers’ privacy. That's why you have all these pop-ups, especially in Europe, that ask for consent, because government bodies need to intervene for privacy reasons.


That being said, some of the publishers we work with augment their data with lookalike modeling technologies that use AI to add a layer of insight to first-party data without using third-party cookies. But this insight has to be backed up with data from their own CMS, logged-in users, etc.


As third-party cookies come to an end, publishers will get better and better at unlocking the potential of their first-party data. It’s never too late to look towards first-party data solutions. After all, that‘s exactly why we built Switchboard all those years ago.


In our next post, we’ll describe how Switchboard helps publishers build out an effective first-party data strategy that eliminates the need for third-party data altogether. In the meantime, to find out how you can make the most of your first-party data, connect with Michael and the team at sales@switchboard-software.com.

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