The balance shifts: how first-party data empowers publishers

sovrnmarketing // January 28, 2021

how first party data empowers publishers sovrn

Whatever blend of fear and confusion you feel while reading headlines about the upcoming “cookiepocalypse” is understandable: web advertising is currently built on third-party cookies, after all. But take heart: above all, this is an opportunity. Publishers will soon find themselves with far more power post-3PC than they have now. Advertisers will become even more dependent on publishers to provide them with audiences and data they can use to reach their customers, which means that the more information you can provide them with, the more you stand to benefit.

Know your audience

There are countless identity resolution proposals in discussion across the industry today—but the market hasn’t spoken yet. As talks continue, advertisers are seeking solutions that provide them with audience data that is privacy-centric, transparent, and that can outlast any future fundamental change to the web advertising ecosystem.

Publishers already have solutions at their fingertips, whether or not they’re aware of it: first-party data, which is information collected by publishers directly from the audience on their websites, and contextual data, or information on the topics and keywords that describe the contents of a particular webpage. 

Know what you have

Within every site you own lies a treasure trove of first-party and contextual data that buyers are eager to utilize for advertising: you have audiences that may actually want to buy their products! More importantly, you can use your data to understand who your audience is, how they engage with your content, and what they like seeing the most. 

What you can do now

Universal IDs

It’s time to consider adopting a UID. A UID is a shared and persistent ID that recognizes individual readers across different platforms, many of which are driven by encrypted and/or hashed emails. Again, there are many, and right now there’s no single “market leader” you need to throw your weight behind. We currently support all UIDs supported by Prebid, so adopting now will give you plenty of time to do your own research and testing.


Continuing to focus on the quality of your content will inevitably produce more engagement on your site, but if you can tie that engagement to an email address willingly provided by the reader, you enhance your data even more. 

The way in which you obtain email addresses may come in many forms and be as creative as your content itself, it all just depends on what you find will work best with your readers. You can do something as simple as having them sign-in to your website to access premium content, or you can delve into new territories like email newsletters, downloadable content, polls, and surveys. 

Where the industry is going

Using first-party data

Generally, this involves dropping a first-party pixel on your website that will gather information such as clicks, scrolls or any number of events that track reader behavior. Once collected, this data can be organized and segmented into groups that you can learn from and/or activate for buyers to act on. If you have the resources, this second step can be done in-house. For the vast majority of publishers, the likelier option will be to outsource this work to a data management platform (DMP) or to an SSP that has similar capabilities. 

Contextual data

Contextual data isn’t new to digital advertising, but it’s back on people’s minds. Contextual data comprises information on the topics and keywords that describe the contents of a particular webpage, which can then be used for advertising purposes. As a publisher, you might not know a user’s name, but you can understand what they’re looking at and how they’re interacting with your site. That’s valuable information for advertisers.

Right now, first-party and contextual data can be used for deals, but it can’t be passed through the bidstream in a standardized way. However, the first step towards using first-party data is to collect it and understand what it means. The sooner you do that, the better you’ll be prepared for the future.

Why it matters

Don’t forget that third-party data as it stands is important because it lets advertisers micro-target readers with advertisements they believe will be relevant and tailored to their interests. The more information an advertiser has on a unique reader, the more valuable that reader is to them. That won’t change—but without third-party cookies, advertisers won’t have a single, ubiquitous, and shared way to identify readers and track them across the internet. They’ll need to find new ways to get the most value out of their campaigns.

And remember, reader data is cumulative, not a “pick one” system. The more data you can layer for your advertisers, the more signals you can pass on, the better you’ll be able to communicate with buyers about who’s in your audience and why it’s valuable. That’s good for you.

Power to the Publisher

This is new terrain for many publishers. Getting the most out of your data will require more work than the “set it and forget it” approach to your ad stack that 3rd-party cookies allowed. With that said, by effectively extracting and activating the first-party data that you own (we can’t emphasize ‘YOU OWN’ enough), you can begin to find new ways of connecting with your audience. Every touchpoint, whether it’s an article, app, video, or email, creates new opportunities to get closer to your readers—and, in turn, to your advertisers.

Ultimately, the balance of power in online advertising is beginning to shift. While publishers will have more responsibility to provide advertisers with the data they need, they’ll also hold sway over web advertising’s currency. Preparing yourself to leverage your first party data now will set you up for success in the future.

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