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The ending of third-party cookies: Next steps for publishers

This article is an extract from our free-to-download report, Which Way Now? Publisher Options For The Ending Of Third-Party Cookies

To prepare for a future without third-party cookies, publishers should take action in the following three areas: 

1. Combine data sets as a safety net

From speaking to a cross-section of the publishing industry, it seems the advice remains to continue with a portfolio approach for the time being and focus on combining data sets. As Switzer advises, “smaller publishers should consider combining data assets and advertising operations with other publishers so that advertisers can buy their audience data at scale. Data is now firmly controlled by the publisher, and giving that control to another party would likely sustain the publisher-unfriendly ecosystem that we have today.”

If it is normal practice for tech giants (and even marketers are starting to build their own ‘brand gardens’), there is nothing to stop publishers creating their own walled gardens. As Fosci suggests, “publishers should build and enrich their first-party data to drive behavioral and contextual targeting on their site. The next step is to join a publisher walled garden, with companies federating their first-party data so as to create bigger and better audiences that are more attractive to advertisers. Their vision should include building and selling premium audience segments through PMPs and programmatic guarantees without privacy shortcuts.

2. Focus on first-party data wherever possible

While combining datasets is a logical next step for publishers, in the medium term it is also worth continuing to build a focus on subscriptions (as per our last report) and other first-party data. As Munchbach concludes, “Making first-party data a strategic business asset is critically important to mitigate against the loss of third-party cookies”.

Publishers who are unsure how prepared they are for the demise of the cookie can use BlueConic’s aforementioned tool, which provides ‘readiness scores’ based on data confidence, access, and utility – along with detailed steps for how companies can prepare to move away from third-party data.

3. Add a layer of contextual to behavioral 

It seems most industry players are largely sticking with what they know – behavioral targeting. However, they’re now using first-party data (whether authenticated logins or first-party cookies), enhanced with DMPs and other technologies such as contextual, AI and/or machine learning. It is worth bearing in mind, however, that some audiences could become invisible to these methods, most significantly a proportion using Apple devices.

The exact size and nature of these audiences remains to be seen, but they will likely require a different approach to attribution. And, with probabilistic matching not without its challenges, this may be where edge computing flourishes.

Fosci predicts that “contextual targeting will grow, but behavioral targeting will stay, because if it doesn’t, the ROAS gap between Facebook/Google and the open web will be too large for anyone to bear. Those who can successfully combine contextual with an ethical, sustainable behavioral strategy will thrive.” 


And, as Jules Polonetsky, CEO of the Future of Privacy Forum, sums up, “we’re going to see a bifurcated world: hyper-targeted identity-based advertising in places where the channels support it, and then big data-driven advertising – via Google, Apple and the others.” 

In a time of huge change, it is worth remembering that brands still need to advertise – and publishers are critical to enabling them to reach their audiences. The future of targeting will be multi-dimensional and savvy publishers need to understand and test out the different approaches now. Only then will they be able to grasp the opportunities available and offer advertisers effective solutions before the end of Google’s reprieve.

Hazel Broadley
Author, Which Way Now? Publisher Options For The Ending Of Third-Party Cookies

This article is an extract from our free-to-download report, Which Way Now? Publisher Options For The Ending Of Third-Party Cookies