Publishers Need an Opt-Out Strategy in 2023

By David DiAngelo, VP, Global Marketplace Development, Emodo

As digital professionals know very well, the trend toward increasing users’ control of how and when they share their data has been accelerating in recent years. Apple’s App Tracking Transparency (ATT) measures, the EU’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) and similar data privacy laws being signed or considered in the US – all of these actions are forcing a shift from users being opted into data sharing by default, to being opted out by default.

While this is a plus for user privacy, it’s a serious minus for addressability. The share of EU users who have chosen to reject all cookies, since Google started offering that option, may be as high as 50%. And since Apple enabled users to opt out of app tracking, addressability has plunged to only 30% of audiences. Most publishers have found themselves behind the eight ball in ensuring proper monetization of their audiences and inventory into the future.

ID loss is an immediate concern for publishers

The user opt-out era is effectively already here. With continued ID deprecation on the horizon, publishers need stronger, more sustainable strategies for encouraging opt-ins and customization of user preferences. Concurrently, they need to develop strong first-party data strategies to enable personalization going forward, and to find cutting-edge technology solutions like artificial intelligence (AI) that can maximize the value and utility of that data.

It takes some amount of digital sophistication and trust in the media ecosystem for a user to understand the value in taking a minute to register or configure preferences. But it’s an extra step many users simply don’t think to take. Publishers would be served well by developing clear, user-friendly consent management tools that inform users of the value of opting in – but such tools require publisher resources and cross-functional collaboration. The alternative, though, is not a good one – lacking sufficient first-party data to satisfy advertisers, or risking non-compliance.

Publishers can expect most users will remain essentially anonymous by simply opting out of sharing their data. This is a particular concern for smaller publishers in the quest for attracting programmatic ad spend, they’re up against the publishers with the largest audiences in the business. To maximize their first-party data resources, publishers – small and large – are compelled to do what they can to incentivize users to register – offering exclusive content, newsletters, free trials of the subscription tier or other value-adds. Logins on multiple devices are key to cross-device targeting, and in giving publishers an accurate count of unique users.

Caught between audiences, tech partners, and regulators

When it comes to getting well-informed opt-ins from users, there’s an education gap to navigate. Users need to understand that “reject all cookies” does not mean “reject all advertising.” Publishers are charged with making users understand that opting out will actually make the advertising they see less relevant, leading to degradation of the overall user experience. According to Forrester, under 10% of users say they care about personalization. This underscores how commonly users misunderstand the relationship of opting in to improved UX. Publishers need more immediately actionable strategies for ensuring optimal monetization.

As an added complication, though, publishers are responsible not only for their own compliance, but for that of their ad tech partners. Publishers with strong first-party data resources will have more leverage to hold those partners accountable for staying above board with privacy: Only if the partner is compliant will they have access to these valuable, addressable inventory and audiences.

Time to maximize data value today

In preparing for a reduced intake of opted-in user data, publishers have an imperative to extract the most value from the data they currently own. This is where AI tech can deliver the goods. AI can extrapolate audience insights, and enable modeling to allow the continuation of effective personalization and relevant targeting. This tech is difficult and expensive for publishers to build, so they’re very likely to need a hand from tech partners who are keeping up with AI advancement. Publishers should look to partners that allow them to efficiently onboard their own first-party data for AI modeling – which will help publishers deliver scale to advertisers, in turn allowing them to keep their CPMs up. Mobile app publishers – who have user logins, but are impacted in scalability by Apple’s ATT changes – should look to partners whose AI tools can provide the predictive insights that allow advertisers to scale campaigns across apps.

In this rapidly changing digital environment, publishers are actively seeking new revenue streams to help them thrive through data loss. Incidentally, advertisers are exploring new channels to help them ensure relevant targeting at scale under these same conditions. Retail media networks (RMNs) have emerged as an appealing channel for advertisers, but the lack of high-quality inventory poses a challenge for RMNs. Integrating with SSPs offers a solution for incremental scale. This is a compelling opportunity – however, publishers only with compliant user data and opt-in strategies will be best positioned to gain RMNs’ trust and leverage this opportunity, along with other lower-funnel cost per acquisition partners.

In confronting the realities of data loss from changing regulations and standard industry practices, publishers need to look beyond quick fixes and to think long-term. Understanding what compliance means for them and their partners’ businesses, educating users on the benefits of opting in, and finding the tech partners who can optimize the value of their opted-in data are all essential pieces of a long-term strategy. Earning more opt-ins is an ongoing process. Making the most of the opted-in data at a publisher’s fingertips is a process that can begin today.