Last Updated: February 13, 2020

There once was a time when the cookie was all-powerful, drastically changing the advertising and media industries. But the cookie’s time is passing, and publishers are in search of other tools to monetize their readers.

Even Chrome is now officially joining in on the cookie crackdown.

Starting February 17th of 2020, Chrome will require web developers to set tighter restrictions on cookies. More specifically, cookies must be defaulted to first-party access the kind that collects a small amount of user information and stores it directly on the website that the user visits. Companies that use third-party cookies the ones that follow you around, reporting to an often-anonymous home base that re-targets you with ads will need to tweak their website code to restrict them to secure websites.

“Only cookies set as SameSite=None; Secure will be available in third-party contexts, provided they are being accessed from secure connections,” states Google on the Chromium Blog.

If developers fail to add the necessary code, or don’t have a secure website, their cookies will be deleted without hesitation by Google. In some cases, websites may even break if the proper cookie code isn’t added in.

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Although this update won’t completely eliminate third-party cookies from Chrome yet, the company is limiting their use to secure websites and eventually plans to phase them out altogether by 2022.

While this change could bring about yet another period of dread and uncertainty for media companies, we think it actually marks an opportunity for publishers to reclaim authority as the shepherds of engaged audiences. All it takes is quality journalistic content and a connection with readers. Just like the good ol’ days.

How it Crumbled

Consider the events that led to the crumbling of the almighty cookie: Its fall from popularity started when Safari — often the most-used browser on North American mobile devices — began limiting third-party cookies. Firefox and Google followed suit, blocking more and more tracking with every product update.

End users benefit from this shift because being tracked across the internet feels creepy, so any step away from that is a good one. But while many online publishers currently rely on ads served using tracking data, the Great Cookie Shift will be a boon for them too.

Cookies have devalued the context of where a given ad appeared. Because cookies have been able to find someone anywhere it doesn’t always make sense for an advertiser to pay a premium to serve it on a site producing quality journalism. That has, in turn, disincentivized publishers from producing high-quality content in exchange for sheer volume.

But if third-party cookies are de-powered as a result of browser changes and ads can no longer easily heat-seek their way to a reader in any ol’ corner of the internet, advertisers will have to shift their approach to find the quality audience they seek.

Why Quality Matters More Than Ever

The selling of quality context is going to matter more and more and advertisers, agencies, trading desks and everyone in between will be thinking more about that. Instead of chasing the New York Times’ audience to cheaper third-party sites with retargeting, it will mean advertisers must simply advertise on the actual New York Times.

However, capitalizing on this opportunity will rely on engagement with audiences. 

As Martin Pietrzak, Viafoura’s VP of Marketing put it, “If you can no longer target anonymous, single-visit users, quality connections with audience members will need to be the focus. Converting anonymous users to registered users will be key, and the faster a publisher can do that, the better off they’ll be.”

The big win is that publishers can profile their registered users on the server side, gathering rich behavioural data in a way that’s immune to cookie restrictions.

Dan SeamanDirector of Product

The big win, in this case, is that publishers can profile their registered users on the server side, gathering rich behavioural data (pages visited, dwell time, ads clicked etc.) in a way that’s immune to cookie restrictions. That behavioural information — matched with declarative demographic info — is valuable first-party data that publishers can offer to brands who advertise directly on site, or to exchanges who want inventory.

First-party data has always been incredibly valuable, and publishers could become the gold standard for that once again, Pietrzak added. 

Before the digital revolution, news organizations marshalled large audiences for advertisers, offering little data beyond the size of readership and overall demographics to help with content adjacency. At a time when cookies are giving way to privacy concerns, those same organizations are positioned to lead the pack again, this time rich with user behaviour information given willingly by an engaged audience.

Read more about how media companies can drive retention, loyalty and trust in our guide.

Please note that this article was last updated on February 10, 2020. 

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