Personalizing the cookieless web: rethinking user experience and monetization

computer security

René Plug, chief business development officer, 1plusX

The cookieless web is just around the corner, with the run-up to third-party cookie deprecation reaching its finale next year.  

The trend toward the unraveling of personal identifiers extends far beyond cookies and web browsers, however. In the mobile environment, which has been relatively trackable until now, Apple’s Identifier for Advertising (IDFA) will soon require users to opt-in. Android IDs are likely to follow suit. Additionally, the fragmentation of devices and platforms is making the creation of addressable audiences (as opposed to devices) much harder, with users rapidly diversifying away from single web-based screens such as laptops to app-based mobile, IoT and CTV experiences. 

Publishers need to consider how these challenges will impact personalization, which is key to creating relevant, engaging user-centric experiences from a content and an advertising perspective. An appropriate personalization and monetization strategy for the cookieless web will not only help publishers maintain revenues but will enable them to deliver tailored user experiences and increase content-driven value.    

Content personalization versus personalized monetization

The personalization of content on publisher sites will remain largely unaffected by the deprecation of cookies as publishers will continue to be able to use publisher-specific identifiers such as first-party cookies or log-in information. Disruption of content personalization will only occur when publishers want to use the full breadth of their available cross-domain data to optimize personalization profiles and maintain a consistent user experience across all of their properties. 

Depending on the acceptance of first-party sets — a mechanism that allows marketers to link a user’s ID across related domains — first-party cookies may or may not operate across multiple domains. Regardless, the development of more sophisticated ID solutions will inevitably have a positive knock-on impact on content personalization. 

Personalized monetization strategies will, however, be significantly impacted. The inability to buy or sell third-party audience segments requires new methods of delivering personalized advertising to maintain and grow publisher revenues. The loss of addressable identifiers for personalized monetization will drive the acceptance of persistent IDs, boosting publisher personalization efforts. 

Creating scale on top of first-party data strategies 

First-party data strategies provide a logical answer to the deprecation of third-party identifiers. What’s more, Google’s recent announcement that it will not support alternative ID solutions for cross-site tracking on its properties puts even more emphasis on the importance of creating addressable audiences using first-party data. 

Publishers should look at their addressability strategy as a multi-layered menu of approaches and apply it dynamically based on data and identifier availability. 

For starters, publishers can create basic reach among the users they know and can then syndicate their users and profiles through ID solutions or identity networks on the open web. Similarly, within Google’s ecosystem, publishers will have connectivity solutions that can also be integrated into a publisher’s addressability strategy. This method ties first-party data to a wider identity connectivity layer and builds larger first-party-based addressable audience segments.  

But with these approaches, addressable reach will remain low until identity solutions that support first-party authenticated users (about 20% of traffic) can develop what analysts describe as “the other 80% of anonymous traffic” with other kinds of data and approaches.

Anonymous users pose a two-faceted problem: They cannot benefit from publishers’ investments in personalization, and they represent a much lower value to advertisers. With this in mind, for most established publishers, the creation of addressable audiences beyond the 20% is a major priority — one that has to balance, in a bid to achieve healthy digital revenues, introducing a log-in screen or paywall (to secure addressability and subscription income) with visitor attractiveness and visit volumes. For the most part, publishers will need to create scale on top of their first-party strategies for effective, personalized monetization and to improve user content experiences. 

The good news is that technologies that include predictive modeling — using machine learning and artificial intelligence — to enable high-quality addressable reach extensions against customizable and verifiable accuracy rates do exist.

Predictive modeling can subsequently be combined with real-time data that uses context and content profiles to make an impression addressable, even when there is no user signal available. In a third step, this can also be combined with clean-room technology to match audiences directly between publishers and advertisers based on similarities rather than a one-to-one connection. This allows for retargeting as well prospecting strategies at scale. 

The additional benefit is that these technologies are privacy-first, as they rely on logical rather than declared user attributes and are fully compatible with user trends and preferences. They enable publishers to apply audience insight to enhance user engagement and ultimately boost loyalty and drive monetization potential at scale. 

Publishers can drive a user-experience agenda 

As stewards of increasingly scarce user data, publishers will be central in providing access to addressable audiences within the cookieless web. As a result, more agency purchases will be based on publisher deals and discussions rather than on the open market. Ahead of this trend, investment in open exchanges is already slowing, while spending in private exchanges shows double-digit growth rates.   

This shift to private marketplaces means publishers are in a strong position to increase their influence on ad value and drive a stronger user-experience agenda. This will result in fewer open-market formats such as retargeting ads and more high-value, publisher-driven, context-specific ads. These ads will be measured according to user-experience-driven KPIs such as engagement and qualitative interaction, boosting transparency around publishers’ proof points.  

With the loss of the addressable identifiers on which the digital advertising industry was built, first-party strategies will be required to support personalized monetization. Publishers should explore new technologies to achieve scale on top of their first-party data strategies and apply the resulting insight to both monetization and content personalization. 

As gatekeepers of addressable audiences, publishers are in a strong position to influence personalization use cases for their content and advertising assets, making the imminent arrival of the cookieless web a very positive development for user experience.

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