Audience Engagement Digital Publishing
5 mins read

Why great content beats third party cookies

2022 will mark the end of an era: the death of the third party cookie. After Google announced they would be phasing out this cookie, which gathers user data across platforms and makes it available to advertisers, the marketing and online publishing industry has been on a state of high alert.

What will happen when they can no longer rely on third party cookies? How will it change their workflow? And, is there an alternative?

What are third party cookies for, anyway?

The main use of the third party cookie is for personalised advertising and retargeting, so the most obvious change will be that retargeting will get very difficult.

You know, those creepy ads that pop up on your Facebook timeline showing you exactly the pair of shoes you’ve been eyeing? Those rely on retargeting. Extremely useful for marketers and businesses, but you can imagine that they don’t feel very privacy-friendly. Your online surfing behaviour is sold through a network that puts the right ads in front of the right people. And, let’s face it, those ads are often pretty inefficient: shoes are one thing, but if you’ve just bought a new TV, are you really going to want another tv?

The average internet user probably won’t miss those, and the ‘death of the third party cookie’ is mostly beneficial to them. It’s a different story for the advertiser and the website displaying those ads:

  1. The advertising brand will lack sufficient data to connect relevant ads to website visitors and needs to spend its marketing budget differently to reach their target audience.
  2. The ad-hosting website will miss out on this income (as personalised ads do bring in more money) and needs to look at different ways to generate revenue – or alternative ways to provide audience information that’s attractive for advertisers.

Without information about people’s online behaviour, this type of advertising is going to be practically impossible. It requires a reallocation of marketing budgets, as well as a reconsideration of strategy.

Will there be an alternative?

Unfortunately, Google has already announced that after phasing out the third party cookie, they “will not build alternate identifiers to track individuals as they browse across the web, nor will we use them in our products”. After all, we’re trying to make the web more privacy- friendly here, and not just finding a workaround to still track people online.

However, many different technical solutions have been proposed, such as fingerprinting and edge computing, a Privacy sandbox, and making use of AI to enrich first-party data. Most of these just sound really complicated, and not something that the average content creator wants to be involved in.

Fortunately, the best alternative is something that most marketers and publishers are already familiar with: great content on your owned channels. A well-thought-out online content marketing strategy could be better than all the personalised ads in the world.

What’s so great about content marketing?

It allows you to attract the right visitors to your brand in a different way. People looking for a solution to a problem may stumble upon your blog and find that your product is exactly what they’re looking for. The best part is that all the lead generation takes place on your own platform, where you’ll gather first party data that’s perfectly legal, and super relevant, to use to your advantage.

After all, instead of relying on the info you get through those third parties, you now need to start collecting your own data in the shape of first party cookies, or information that visitors leave behind after they log in. You can only get those if people visit your own platforms. In other words: with content marketing you can attract your target audience to visit your own website, where you can measure and understand their behaviour.

How brands can leverage content marketing

The marketing industry is shifting its focus from campaign to content, and that’s not surprising. Imagine this: you run a campaign, spend lots of time, energy and money on it and once it’s done, it’s over and you need to do the same for a new campaign. Content however could last you for years.

Rather than a marketing company, you need to become a media company, providing your visitors with all sorts of content experiences that get them excited about your brand and products. The best way is to attract them with SEO optimised content, in an ‘inbound marketing’ strategy. You attract them with the content, and convert them because of your great products (that they now can’t live without because the content convinced them they need it).

But how do you make the right content for your target audience?

This part is easy really; every brand has a story to tell. Go back to the basics and start writing about who you are, what you do, why you do it and what you believe in. Or, even better, write about your customer and the problems you are solving for them. Connect it to your brand, mission, vision and target audience. Where these all come together is your content marketing sweet spot.

Let’s take a shoe brand, for example. They could write about the best hiking trails in a certain area, and post ads of their best hiking shoes next to it. You know that the people who read the article are interested in hiking, so you’ve already attracted the best possible audience for your ads. Your visitor has intent; they’re already interested in a subject related to your brand, and are therefore more susceptible to any ads you have placed next to the content.

It’s good to focus on the long haul. It will take a while to grow your authority, but once you have it, it will serve you well. Of course it’s smart to join the conversation and respond to news and events within the parameters of your brand. If you’re a bottled water company and – let’s say – a pretty well known soccer player clears the press room of anything that’s not “agua”, you’d most likely jump on that little incident. Sure, these pieces will date, but if most of what you write about your brand is longtail, it could be a traffic-driving content machine for years to come.

What’s the alternative for online publishers?

We’re of the opinion that the decline of the advertisement model based on third party data is not a bad thing. And we’re not alone. As Thomas Baekdal mentioned in his recent article ‘The future of advertising for publishers is first-party data’, the sheer volume of advertising on the web means that the reach of a couple of ads on your page is now worth so little that it hardly delivers any revenue. Additionally, if these ads have nothing to do with the content they’re placed next to, they could more likely harm the brand, especially if what you’re writing about isn’t so rosy.

What you want to have is ads that create impact because they are so well aligned with the message of the content.

This could go two ways. You either handpick relevant ads to match your stories, or you create user profiles of registered visitors and sell ad space based on their interests and behaviour. Some brands are experimenting with this already, creating their own advertising network. This is a complicated and labour-intensive process, however, and certainly not for everyone. Content marketing on the other hand addresses core user needs profiles, and may be a better use of your time and resources. The user needs approach is great for this. If your readers find exactly the kind of content that they’re looking for with you, or feel especially connected to your message and topics, they are more likely to pay for a subscription. That would allow you to let go of advertising altogether and explore the possibilities of reader revenue.

by Jacqueline Woudstra

Republished with kind permission of smartocto, the world’s most actionable editorial analytics system offering a bird’s-eye view on The Story Life Cycle©.