Because the goodbye to cookies is good news for publishers

Because the goodbye to cookies is good news for publishers

There is no peace between Google and European publishers. For the latter, the relationship with large digital platforms has always been a love-hate relationship: on the one hand unprecedented opportunities to reach ever larger audiences, on the other an unprecedented loss of profits, and above all of power.

Now the rules of the game that they have been forced to adapt to to survive in the advertising market are changing again. All the fault of third-party cookies. Google's announced removal of these small pieces of code that track users' online browsing and show them personalized ads is wreaking havoc. Maybe more than it should. Because, paradoxically, it could turn into an opportunity, precisely for those who oppose it the most.

Publishers on the attack The first to move against Google's decision were the German publishers. As reported by the Financial Times, hundreds have appealed to the European Commissioner for Competition Margrethe Vestager, denouncing an abuse of a dominant position by the US company and the risk of huge economic damage for online publishing. In the United Kingdom, the antitrust directly intervened: the Competition and Markets Authority assigned itself the absolute supervision of the changes relating to the user tracking system by Google, which in the meantime agreed not to delete third-party cookies. without the approval of the relevant UK authorities.

In this wake, the European Publishers Council has also intervened to put pressure on the European Commission, which includes among other names of the caliber of News Corp, Condé Nast (publisher of this newspaper), New York Times , Axel Springer and The Guardian. "A flurry of illegal tactics to foreclose competition in advertising technology": this is the summary of almost 15 years of Google's history, which since the acquisition of the DoubleClick platform in 2008, would have squeezed publishers and the entire advertising market into a "lethal grip". Thus, the first openings arrive from the Mountain View headquarters, including the definition of an alternative to the late cookies. But how did we get to this point?

Google is ready to replace cookies The giant has announced Topics, a new system to limit online tracking but continue to provide data for advertisements Read the article third-party cookie sunset The password is one: privacy. Privacy Sandbox, in fact, is the program launched by Alphabet (the holding company to which Google is a part) to make user profiling less invasive and data processing more respectful on all its platforms. Thus began a run-up to the competitors who moved much earlier on this front. Recent is the announcement of a squeeze on the Android operating system, active on 85% of smartphones in the world: "new, more private advertising solutions will limit the sharing of user data with third parties and will work without cross-identifiers with respect to apps", such as already done by the competitor iOS starting from version 14.5 of 2021. But the most important news dates back to the distant 2020 and had to become reality at the beginning of this year: it was the generalized panic that shifted everything to 2023.

From that moment Chrome, Google's official browser and the most used in the world, will no longer accept third-party cookies, following Safari (owned by Apple), Mozilla Firefox, Microsoft Edge and DuckDuckGo. For the Californian company, this is a revolution that will also shake its reference market, the advertising one. Yes, because cookies are the pieces of code that, within a website, signal to the server that it can send some user data to the browser to be stored. Tracking and storing information such as login credentials, products added to a cart and history allows the browser to recognize a certain user from time to time and to follow him / her in navigation: this is what happens when you do not need to log in to enter a reserved area. Cookies, however, in addition to the host site, can also allow this data storage to so-called "third parties" for the most diverse purposes. Such as programmatic advertising platforms, which use them to catalog users' browsing interests based on the pages they view. In this way they are able to profile them and automatically select the most suitable banner to show them. About a year and the party will be over.

The rules on cookies in Italy have changed The Guarantor of privacy updates the guidelines on cookies. It will no longer be enough to scroll down a site to accept the data tracking policy. New addresses also on analytics cookies Read the article Tracking alternatives From 2023, advertising platforms will no longer have enough information to profile users as in the past and create truly personalized ads. Media centers and agencies will have less efficient suppliers to entrust their clients' advertising investments. Publishers, who host the spaces occupied by those ads, will have less chance of selling them and perhaps will be forced to lower their prices further. With its decision, in short, Google risks discontenting an entire supply chain and, in addition to postponements, is looking for alternatives that hold together the privacy of users and the needs of the advertising market.

After a first hypothesis, called Floc (Federated Learning of Coorts) and soon shelved, the latest solution proposed by Google is called Topics (topics). Basically, Chrome will identify some topics of interest for each user, based exclusively on the last week of browsing and without considering sensitive aspects such as age, religion and sexual orientation. The browser will communicate to the sites that adhere to the protocol (and to their advertising partners) three of the topics among those identified, which can be exploited to show relevant advertisements. With Topics we are facing a paradigm shift for online advertising that Google has accustomed us to. No longer based on the history of activities and personal information, or on the user's identity, but on browsing interests in a short period of time, or on what the user is doing.

The platforms advertising are losing ground “It is not certain that the solutions proposed by Google will have a good outcome for publishers. We are quite prepared, but for now it is a question of waiting. Advertisers, moreover, are not interested in purchasing non-cookie solutions as long as cookies exist, ”said Stephanie Layser, vice president and data controller at News Corp. According to a survey by the advertising platform Teads, who questioned about 450 editorial executives, information on cookies in the industry has improved significantly: 30% say they have a deep understanding of the changes taking place. Only for 78%, however, something has changed in the business model. Although precisely this critical scenario can bring great benefits.

Let's start from an assumption: brands will never stop advertising. If the rules change, they will adapt, not by closing their portfolios but by distributing their investments differently. The duopoly of Google and Facebook will only be partially affected, because it will continue to have the data of billions of users who use their services, from YouTube to Messenger, via Gmail and Instagram. Unless the Topics system works great, however, it is reasonable to think that the most penalized actors will be advertising platforms that place banners on third party sites.

The idea that programmatic advertising is more profitable, among other things, is highly questionable: already in 2019 an American study estimated that it was worth just 4% more, equal to about 0.00008 dollars per ad. With these assumptions, publishing has all the credentials to gradually resume a relationship with advertisers long mediated by programmatic companies, shifting attention from ROI (Return on investment) to trust. And there is more.

The cookie war that divides Europe Read the article The challenge of first-party data Third-party cookies will die, but not so-called "first-party" cookies : those that, as we explained at the beginning, allow a website to remember who its visitors are. Even all the data that a user consciously decides to give to the site (therefore also first-party) such as name, email address and telephone number, will remain available. Each site will therefore continue to have full visibility on what users do within it, with the ability to analyze their activity, understand their interests and create targets to be presented directly to advertisers. It is time for publishers to appropriate data that they have let others control for too long and profit from it, working to attract more users to their sites, to keep them staying as long as possible and to keep them coming back frequently. The question is whether they are ready. Are they doing data mining? And do they have the necessary technologies? In short, how well do their readers know?

Requests for registration to the site, newsletters, diversification of the editorial offer, premium content, restricted areas and everything that requires the release of information by users, are the basic elements of the new strategy based on data that publishers should build. And that should not be demonized: the information - even more so if there are no third-party cookies - will be released voluntarily by readers and can be used both to build an advertising offer and to refine the production of content, so that it is more adhering to the interests of the public.

A win-win approach which, in order to work, however, needs solid technological foundations: web analytics systems, correctly set tracers, functional taxonomies, data aggregators and processors (such as Customer data platforms), production of data-driven content, recommendation engines, automated CRM (Customer relationship management) mechanisms.

Let me be clear: it is not for everyone. Giants like the Washington Post and Vox Media have even created a proprietary advertising platform that advertisers can use independently, like others, to show ads on the various sites of the two groups. For small publishers it will be more difficult: they will have to rely on so-called contextual advertising, their niches of public and the trust placed by advertisers in them. In both cases the difference will be the contents, whether they are articles, photogalleries, films, podcasts, video games or virtual reality experiences.

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Arrow The importance of editorial content To encourage a user to enter a restricted area or subscribe to a newsletter, you need to offer content that interests him . Only then will it be possible to trace the nuances of his interest: what he likes best, in what moments, with what exceptions, and perhaps exploit this information to offer him even more targeted content. To continue to feed the mechanism, then, it is necessary to reach new potential subscribers with ever new, diversified and frequent content. If they are of value and are based on adequate technologies, the contents bring traffic, loyalty and therefore data, which also translate into commercial opportunities. They will be needed in ever greater quantities and, to put it in a similitude, they will no longer be conceived as a hook with which to catch users, but as the bottom of a tank in which to navigate more and more.

This could encourage quality information and publishing, more than it has been in the past. The challenge for the creation of ever better materials will also affect agencies and marketing professionals who, being able to count on less accurate profiling in the absence of third-party cookies, will have to work on richer and more captivating creatives (stories, copy, videos). Even many brands that want to increase their notoriety and can afford it, in the presence of potentially less reliable advertising partners than in the past, will choose to speak directly to their audience and acquire first-party data with the aim of getting to know them better. Thus companies will be more open to content marketing and brand journalism on their websites, for which the use of external editorial skills will be decisive. In short, the cookie-less era may be more prosperous than the one we are leaving behind. It all depends on the ability to innovate. Dear editors, are you ready?

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