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September 20, 2021updated 20 Oct 2022 2:02pm

How publishers can become kings of the cookie-less future in advertising

By Press Gazette

Partner Content*: As publishers prepare for the end of cookies, Press Gazette takes a closer look at website personalisation tips and opportunities.

The death of third-party cookies is already well underway, with a number of browsers – including Apple’s Safari – blocking them entirely. Google has only delayed their end on Chrome until 2023 while it works on building an alternative online framework that puts privacy first.

The UK’s data watchdog, the Information Commissioner, has called on fellow G7 countries “to work together to overhaul cookie consent pop-ups, so people’s privacy is more meaningfully protected and businesses can provide a better web browsing experience”.

Exactly what the post-cookie internet will look like is not yet clear, but we know that it will be key for publishers to build closer, direct relationships with their audiences in order to thrive.

Publishers who are still heavily reliant on programmatic advertising, which is served by third-party cookies, should begin switching to “first-party data” and “zero-party data” now to prepare for the change.

[Learn more: What publishers need to do now to protect online advertising revenue (partner content)]

What is first-party data and how do I get it?

First-party data is collected from observing users’ behaviour as they interact with content on a website or app, whereas zero-party data is freely given by a user. In both cases the relationship is direct between publisher and user, with no third party involved.

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The four most common ways to obtain first-party data are through registration (e.g. requiring users sign up for access to newsletters), a subscription paywall, surveys and quizzes, and “progressive profiling”, where a profile of a user is built up over time through collected data.

Rupert Knowles, UK general manager at customer behaviour platform Piano, said it was important for publishers to convert “anonymous users into known users” by building trust and engagement. He said this will create data that is “even more valuable” than that gained through third parties.

“It’s a deeper engagement with the customer, built on privacy” said Knowles. Publishers can use the “rich information” they acquire from users to build a clearer profile of their audience, who they can then target with personalised content tailored to each users’ unique interests.

Knowles advises publishers to start gathering first-party data about their audiences and build an understanding of how to segment as well as driving users as much as possible to register.

Personalisation Insights: How to improve website targeting, content monetisation and advertising revenue using zero and first-party data. Read research, insight and tips from Piano.


Registration and audience segmentation

“Registration should be a relatively straightforward low friction process” advises Knowles.

“We don’t want to ask visitors 50 questions to sign up, they’re not going to do it. There’s a direct correlation between the number of questions you ask and the conversion ratio. We have the option of progressive profiling – asking questions later on in the relationship and gathering a little bit more information to help build up that profile.”

One clear benefit is that registered users are not constantly confronted with the cookies consent pop-up that is now the focus of Information Commissioners across the developed world.

Once publishers have segmented users based on shared patterns and characteristics, they can use these to create effective formulas for how to position content on their websites. “Lookalike segmenting” is another useful tool, where an anonymous user that exhibits the same behaviour as a known user can be assumed to have a similar profile.

“Once you do have an understanding of a certain cohort, you can then create segments for targeting purposes,” said Knowles.

Piano’s senior vice-president of strategy, Michael Silberman, offers three tips for publishers to start to harness data in the “era of personalisation”.

1. Take inventory of your zero- and first-party data: How much zero- and first-party data do you have? How are you collecting and storing that data? Can you easily create segments? Can you activate it for both onsite targeting and within the advertising ecosystem?

2. Collect more of the right data with the right customer journey: Now you’ve identified your gaps in data, how are you going to fill them? Users need a value exchange for parting with their precious information, such as giving post codes for local news and weather, preferred content topics for newsletters and surveys about interests. “Consider the moments in the logical flow of a user’s journey where it makes sense to ask for data.”

3. Use your data to refine targeting and find like users: “Once you’ve determined your strategy for orchestrating the customer journey across users, you need to find technology that can help you collect zero- and first-party data, segment it and activate it to offer segments to advertisers, or target users for your own marketing initiatives.”

Creating trust with an audience is also key to maintaining a mutually beneficial relationship, given publishers will take on users’ data. Tied to this is the need for publishers to make sure that they have the right partners in place to create an environment that not only adds value but also respects the privacy regulations coming into law.

Making the right choice now is fundamental to making a success of the post-cookie world.

*This article was produced in association with Piano, one of Press Gazette’s trusted commercial partners.

Piano also sponsors Press Gazette’s Future of Media Technology webinar series. Read the highlights from our first panel, on content syndication, and book a place to watch the remaining two live hour-long sessions for maximum insight and the chance to ask questions.

Picture: Shutterstock

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