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Google’s SameSite Upgrade Reinforces Why Publishers Need to Move Beyond Cookies for Audience Targeting

The launch of Google’s SameSite Upgrade in Chrome 80 on Tuesday, Feb. 4 signals yet another nail in the coffin for third-party browser cookies. Following on the heels of Firefox and Safari, which have already blocked third-party cookies by default, and Chrome’s existing cookie warning, the SameSite upgrade further clamps down on the use of effective third-party cookies for audience targeting.

Impact on Publishers

The change will obviously impact ad tech vendors who rely on third-party cookies the most, but publishers who don’t adjust their site settings to comply with the new attributes will also be affected. It will not only hinder monetization with third-party programmatic services, but failure to comply will also stymie efforts to track the user behavior that’s extremely valuable for serving up relevant, personalized content. 

This is especially true for publishers with multiple sites—same company does not equate to same site. That means, with the new upgrade, cookies used across multiple properties (cross-site) would be considered third-party, and therefore blocked without the proper settings. 

Change Drives Innovation

While publishers will obviously need to make sure their sites are updated with the proper attributes, this simple change by Google should also make publishers think twice about their reliance on cookie-based user targeting. Why? For two reasons:

  1. Consumers are increasingly concerned about how companies are using their data.
  2. There’s a much more accurate way to build an identity graph. 

When it comes to data privacy, publishers face a double-edged sword. New data shows that consumers overwhelmingly want personalized content recommendations that can only be delivered by collecting and analyzing their behavior data. Yet, consumers are extremely skeptical about sharing that data. But, as publishers know, they can’t have it both ways. Free content comes at a cost, and short of a paywall, the only way for consumers to pay is with their data. 

They’re willing to do so – 82% would rather see ad-supported content than pay for a subscription. That means the onus is on publishers to be more cautious and considerate with how they handle user data.

A Better Alternative: Email

But, it turns out, there’s a much more effective, trustworthy and accurate way to build a user identity graph than relying on cookies: the email address. Rather than dropping cookies, which gives users the impression they’re being spied on, tracking registered users via their email address, and tying that address to a specific, known identity is a much more reliable and trustworthy method of audience engagement. Here’s why:

  1. Email is opt-in – Users have signed up to receive your newsletter or other communication, giving their permission for you to communicate directly with them. They’re in control and can opt-out any time. 
  2. Email is more accurate – Cookies can only give you a rough idea of the user persona based on behavior—an approximate age, location, search and click behavior. And, they can also become easily muddied if more than one person uses the browser. For example, if the whole family shares the laptop, mom, dad and the kids’ behaviors are all jumbled into one, which is a targeting disaster. But, an email address is tied directly to a specific individual, and it works across devices. If you use more than one device, or get a new device, email still works as a persistent identifier. That persistence and ability to link click and search behavior to a known user profile allows publishers to build a richer, much more accurate picture of the user’s preferences and interests. 
  3. Email is trusted – When a user signs up with their email address, they do so fully aware they’ll be added to your list. It’s overt—they’ve knowingly given you consent, unlike cookies which feel more like you’re sneaking a peek at their behavior over their shoulder. And, studies show that users are 2/3 more likely to click on content—even ads—that come from a publisher they trust. Moving to email-based targeting can help publishers maintain that trust, which is extremely valuable in today’s fake news, highly skeptical environment.
  4. Email opens the door for other one-to-one channels – Once you’ve established a strong relationship by knowing the user and demonstrating you’ll deliver content that’s relevant and personalized to their interests, it’s easier to engage them over a new channel, like push notifications. Once users trust your content, cadence and recommendations, they’re more apt to expand their relationship with you, providing new opportunities for engagement and monetization.

While updating sites to comply with the SameSite change might be a pain right now, and may cut directly into publishers’ revenue, the truth is reducing reliance on third-party cookies is a good thing. Not only are they becoming less valuable when it comes to tracking individual user preferences, but consumers are growing increasingly skeptical. 

Transitioning now to a more reliable, trusted method like email to identify and target users provides a future-ready solution that puts publishers in control of their audience relationships and traffic, rather than relying so heavily on third parties.

Jeff Kupietzky

Jeff serves as CEO of Jeeng, an innovative technology company helping companies monetize their email newsletters through dynamic content. A frequent speaker at Digital Media conferences, he has also been featured on CNN, CNBC, and in many news and business magazines. Jeff earned an MBA with high distinction from Harvard Business School and graduated Summa Cum Laude with B.A. in Economics from Columbia University.

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