By now, you’ve probably heard the news that third-party cookies — the technology that underpins online advertising as we know it today — are going away.
In January 2020, the Google Chrome team announced this earth-shattering change for digital advertising, due in 2022.
Most of modern digital marketing is based on third-party cookies, allowing advertisers and advertising technology companies to understand more about users and deliver ads based on that information.
And today’s ad-funded content model is centered on the value of this information exchange. Users “pay” for free content on publishers’ websites with information that allows advertisers to serve them targeted ads.
But in an increasingly privacy-conscious world, concerns about companies tracking users without their knowledge have become the driving force behind Safari, Firefox, and now Chrome removing this functionality entirely.
Unfortunately, independent publishers feel the biggest impact of these changes.
The removal of third-party cookies has a limited impact on advertising within large platforms like Google, Facebook, Microsoft, and Pinterest — walled gardens where users log in to accounts and accept detailed terms and conditions that permit extensive user data usage.
Large publishers with paid subscriptions and many logged-in users (for example, The New York Times) also have less to lose when third-party cookies go away.
Independent publishers face the largest obstacles in figuring out how to sustain content creation once the foundation of online advertising crumbles.
That’s where AdThrive comes in
To support the open web and make sure that publishers can continue to run their dream businesses in the future, we’re building a future without third-party cookies.
With tightly-intertwined tracks that cover every angle, we’re developing solutions for publishers in four critical areas:
We’ll unpack those all in today’s post!
We’re advocating for AdThrive publishers across the industry.
Across the online ecosystem, marketers, advertisers, ad tech companies, and publishers alike are facing a monumental task: how do you rebuild digital advertising from the ground up?
We’ve seen firsthand what happens when third-party cookies are shut off without any alternative.
In 2017, Safari introduced Intelligent Tracking Prevention, and ultimately blocked all third-party tracking in 2020. In 2019, Firefox followed with Enhanced Tracking Protection. Neither browser provided a viable alternative targeting method for advertisers and as a result, publishers saw CPMs and RPMs plummet for site visitors using those browsers.
As the last major browser that still supports third-party cookies, Chrome’s announcement in 2020 finally sparked urgency across the advertising industry to evolve.
The Privacy Sandbox
Thankfully, the Chrome team is at least working to offer a replacement for third-party cookies with the Privacy Sandbox, a raft of proposals intended to give advertisers the same capabilities as today but in a privacy-preserving way.
While this sounds promising in principle, we’re not in the clear yet.
The team working on Google Chrome and the Privacy Sandbox is intentionally kept very separate from the Google Ads team. They don’t directly talk to advertisers or publishers, so they represent a huge company’s perspective and don’t necessarily understand how smaller companies or the rest of the ecosystem operates.
To help bring in additional perspectives and feedback, Google is using the W3C (World Wide Web Consortium) as a neutral forum for browser teams, advertising technology companies, large publishing firms, government entities, and one ad management company — AdThrive/CafeMedia.
We’re representing independent publishers within the W3C, IAB, Prebid.org, and PRAM
As the only ad management company in the W3C, AdThrive/CafeMedia team members like myself and Don Marti actively participate in a number of the subgroups, contributing feedback to the proposals and putting forth our own proposals as well.
We’re not just waiting to adopt what Chrome decides with the Privacy Sandbox. We’re actively engaging with them to create standards to help independent publishers.
The W3C is just one of four major organizations shaping the future of digital advertising, along with the Interactive Advertising Bureau (IAB), Prebid.org, and PRAM (Partnership for Responsible & Addressable Media).
We are closely involved in each organization to make sure independent publishers have representation and visibility — they have very different needs from major media companies, and it’s critical that the solutions that come out of these discussions are wins for the entire industry.
And as Google puts new Privacy Sandbox proposals to the test, we’re right there helping with the real-world trials, so AdThrive publishers can benefit from advance insight into how the technology works.
As we advocate for your interests, you can have confidence that AdThrive publishers will be best placed, by far, to thrive in a world of digital advertising that relies on the Privacy Sandbox.
We’re implementing leading identity solutions for AdThrive publishers.
We’re not content to leave solutions in the hands of other industry groups — we’re also pursuing another path that keeps much more control in YOUR hands.
In a world without third-party cookies, email addresses can form the basis for a unique and privacy-conscious identifier that advertisers can use to target users.
When a user types an email address into a website using this type of identity solution, the system hashes their email address, using an algorithm that converts it into a unique identifier.
The identifier can’t be reverse-engineered back into an email address — the ID is now a completely anonymous way to associate a user who types an email address on one site to a user who types the same email address on another site.
If the hashed email addresses match, the system knows it’s the same user.
For example, if a user buys a pair of shoes on ExampleShoeStore.com, they input their email address as part of the purchase experience.
If a fictional AdThrive publisher, ExampleShoeBlog.com, has the same user signed up for a newsletter, the system finds matching identifiers — and ExampleShoeStore.com can buy an ad targeting that user via AdThrive.
We’re partnering with dozens of major technology companies to build the foundation for these hashed email systems for AdThrive publishers
We have integrations with numerous highly-respected identity partners today, like Verizon Media’s Connect ID (AdWeek covered this news here), ID5, and LiveRamp’s Authenticated Traffic Solution, and we’re continually adding new identity partners.
For email identity to become a viable solution in the long run, we’re focused in two key areas:
- Publishers with thriving email subscription lists
- Advertising partners who want to buy ad inventory based on this form of user identity
Publishers are already capturing emails in tons of effective ways (e.g., for newsletter signup, commenting, forum login, etc.), and our ad code is able to hash and securely share the identifiers with our partners to use to match with advertisers.
You always own your email subscriber list and can continue to use it exactly the same way you do now — to build that direct connection with your readers. The personal connection is critical, since bringing identified subscribers back to your site is just as important as capturing their email address in the first place.
AdThrive publishers can turn on AdThrive Email Identity inside their ad preferences in the AdThrive dashboard!
AdThrive & Identity in 2021
Identity is far from the only solution, which is why it’s just one of our four initiatives to build a future without third-party cookies. In fact, for most publishers, identity will make up even less than 25% of the solution.
It’s unique, however, since it’s one approach to third-party cookies that you as an independent publisher can control through your relationship with your audience.
We view identity as a great complement to the work you’re already doing to engage your audience, and we have big plans to bring you lots of resources on this front this year — stay tuned!
We’re focused on advertiser relationships to secure higher spending for AdThrive publishers.
When third-party cookies go away, the pendulum between automation and custom advertiser programs is primed to swing back towards more tailored ad products, requiring a talented ad sales team.
Direct publisher buys will look even more attractive in the future, because they help overcome some of the capabilities advertisers will lose without cookies, like frequency capping ads (e.g. only show an ad to a consumer 3 times per day) and substituting first-party targeting and insights for intent signals like purchase behaviors.
We’ve got a running start on other ad companies in the industry, with a sales effort that’s already scaled and making a big difference in ad revenue! Our large (and growing!) sales team enables AdThrive publishers to compete for advertising dollars against the largest publishing conglomerates like Meredith, Conde Nast, and Dotdash, thanks to the unique ad products and advanced data capabilities we bring to the table.
While we already have a robust contextual targeting system, we’re adding even more capabilities to it this year with more data sources, more ways to integrate our data with advertisers’ data, new platform features, and new ways to package everything for our buyers!
We’re helping publishers turn valuable first-party and contextual data into higher ad earnings.
Far beyond just emulating the way third-party cookies enable advertisers to target people, we’re focused on helping advertisers reach the right audiences through other, privacy-conscious data methods.
As advertisers renew their interest in contextual targeting, our own first-party data systems (like Marmalade) allow them to reach people who aren’t just in the right audience but also in the right mindset. With innovations in areas like content clusters that map semantic data and behavioral data, we can target a reader’s mindset with high accuracy, without knowing any personally-identifiable information about them. Contextual clusters based on behavior can replicate (or improve!) the experience that advertisers are looking for when they use third-party cookies.
We’re continuing to refine our cookie-less data capabilities in areas like:
- Marrying contextual advertising with SEO keywords, so advertisers can reach the most relevant and impactful traffic hitting your site.
- Creating data bunkers and clean rooms, creating a secure “warehouse” where a user’s data is first disguised and then matched with the advertiser’s data, helping the advertiser target the perfect audience for their ad, without knowing specifics about users.
- Supplementing Marmalade data with primary research, using proprietary survey data to help advertisers (and AdThrive publishers) better understand readers and gain a competitive edge.
The ad industry has a lot of work to do, but we’re helping drive results for independent publishers. As we invest heavily in the future of independent publishing, AdThrive publishers will continue to reap best-in-class revenue, regardless of the ups and downs of the advertising world!