CEO at Jeeng, a company helping publishers create automated & personalized messaging which fuel engagement and monetization.
In recent months, Google has walked back two key data privacy initiatives, which has left publishers wondering, “What’s next?” In June, it announced the delay in the demise of third-party cookies, now pushed off until late 2023 — or until Google has devised an alternative. Then, in July, the company abruptly ended its controversial Federated Learning of Cohorts (FLoC) trial amid harsh criticism from ethics and privacy advocates, indicating that FLoC, in fact, was not the cookie alternative Google had hoped — at least not yet.
While Google insists that its aim is to protect consumer privacy, make no mistake: It’s also protecting its own business interests. With its market power under scrutiny in both the U.S. and the U.K., it’s clear to me that the company is maneuvering carefully to maintain its dominance while also trying to demonstrate that it cares about privacy and competition to avoid regulatory repercussions.
For the last two years, I’ve been working with publishers to help end their reliance on the whims of Big Tech platforms by adopting a first-party data strategy — not because Big Tech is inherently bad, but because being entirely dependent on a third party for both traffic and revenue is just a risky business model, as the slightest shift can threaten an entire media enterprise.
As an outsider, I’m fascinated by how Google is navigating the PR and regulatory landscape, walking a very fine line between trying to show regulators it’s working to level the playing field, while also defending the moat. The reality is, with so many publishers and advertisers tied up in its Google Ad Manager/AdX systems, Google can’t afford to pull the rug out from under them without an alternative in place.
The genius of the company’s strategy is impressive, frankly: build a solution to the problem that it has created. If Google can devise the standard for audience behavior tracking and targeting and simultaneously protect the largest advertising platform in the industry, the company still wins.
But publishers will continue to lose. They’ll remain beholden to Google for audience targeting data and traffic.
All of this uncertainty solidifies the fact that, for publishers, having your own first-party data strategy is absolutely essential. Without it, no matter what Google does, the result will be the same: You’ll still be entirely dependent on the company for traffic, targeting and revenue.
Instead, the smarter move is to invest in your own data strategy now so that you can control your own destiny and be prepared for whatever the future holds. Here’s how:
• Start by connecting with subscribers over channels you can control. Encourage sign-ups for email newsletters and browser-based push notifications. This allows you to track each subscriber’s behavior and identify their interests and likes. And because these are opt-in, there are typically fewer concerns over data privacy. Just be sure to give subscribers the option to opt out at any time.
• Once you understand subscribers’ likes and interests, you can personalize their digital experience. By tracking their engagement — click-through behavior, specifically — you can then curate and send content that’s most relevant to their interests. That personalized experience keeps them engaged and coming back because you’re not wasting their time with stuff they don’t care about.
• Use artificial intelligence to accelerate the process. By using an AI platform to track audience behavior, curate content and distribute it to subscribers automatically, even the smallest publishers can leverage a powerful data strategy to drive subscriber engagement and end their dependence on Big Tech for traffic.
• Connect over multiple channels. In addition to tracking the content audience that members like most, you should also track which channels resonate strongest and elicit the most response. Perhaps some subscribers prefer email for entertainment and lifestyle content but want breaking news delivered via push notifications. By tracking which method drives engagement with what types of content, you can optimize the distribution to cater to their preferences.
• Monetize the messages. Through our own research, we’ve found that many consumers are open to ads in email and push notifications, as long as they’re also personalized based on their likes and interests (along with the messages themselves). And they may be more likely to buy when ads are personalized, which has a direct effect of driving more revenue for publishers. Not to mention, monetizing email and push notifications turns them from a cost center into a revenue driver, so you can profit from something you should be doing anyway.
For publishers, owning your own audience and growing engagement through channels you control is essential for cultivating audience trust and business growth. After all, no matter what Google says, it has a business to protect. But so do you. A first-party data strategy is the only way to shield your business from being dependent on Google’s every whim.