Why Publishers Need to Grasp Contextual Data as Cookies Grow Stale

By Anthony Reda, Publishers Director UK, EXTE

Data privacy is a pressing issue, with policymakers tightening regulations and honing laws to protect consumers’ data. Numerous important data privacy regulations are expected to be finalised globally in 2024, including new state-specific regulations in the US and the EU’s proposed ePrivacy Regulation relating to electronic communications.

The growing desire for greater data privacy has undoubtedly fuelled Google’s plans to eliminate third-party cookies on Chrome and, despite its repeated deferments, a cookieless future remains imminent. With Google now citing ‘early 2025’ as the latest deadline for depreciation,  publishers and advertisers should be using the time to explore and test viable alternatives for reaching their target audiences, while meeting the increased demand for transparency, privacy and data control.

Third-party cookies, after all, have long been the mainstay for brands’ digital advertising, enabling them to track users across multiple sites and platforms, enabling key audiences to be targeted with ads tailored to them based on browsing behaviours and preferences. The deprecation of these cookies on what is the world’s most popular browser is forcing advertisers to rethink how to resonate with the right people at the right time.

Advanced contextual targeting

This presents an opportunity to shine a spotlight on contextual advertising, but not as we know it. Contextual advertising might traditionally be synonymous with less refined targeting based on broad keywords — for example, simply serving a generic ad for shoes on a fashion website — yet technology has moved on significantly.

In particular, Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Natural Language Processing (NLP) have proved to be game changers in boosting the potential of contextual advertising. They allow the analysis of the text, images and quality of content on a page, gauging the sentiment and tone, to deliver hyper-relevant ads spanning multiple creatives and formats.

By analysing web pages, AI can ensure the content and values align with the brand before placing the ad. This deeper understanding of the context heightens the relevance of the ad to the user, as well as ensuring that it is featured in an appropriate and brand safe environment that doesn’t compromise the integrity of the advertiser.

This enables advertisers to reach engaged users in a privacy-compliant and non-intrusive way. It means brands can focus on the environment in which the ad is served, instead of chasing users across the internet. It also maintains the quality of the user experience by only serving ad content which complements the content they are engaging with.

However, not all contextual targeting is created equal. As the discipline grows in sophistication, publishers need to understand the nuances of different techniques in order to make the right investment.

A new era of precision and relevance

The importance of contextual advertising technology lies in its ability to create connections and serve ads beyond the obvious. This technology can interpret the type of user on the other end, enabling more personalised and relevant ad experiences. By understanding user context, advertisers can deliver messages that resonate more deeply, ultimately enhancing engagement and conversion rates. This advanced interpretation goes beyond basic demographic information, considering behavioural patterns, interests, and real-time context to ensure that the right message reaches the right audience at the right moment.

For example, ‘cream’ is a keyword that has different meanings depending on the context, as it could be a food derived from milk or a product used for cosmetic or medical purposes. Entities can identify the various possible meanings of such a keyword and grasp the correct context. This technology allows advertisers to optimise the ad’s placement in front of the right audience, as well as ensure that it isn’t shown in an inappropriate setting, eliminating any risk to brand safety. What’s more, in a cookieless world entities’ deeper contextual understanding also ensures that wider opportunities for ad placement can be tapped.

Google’s cookie deprecation might continue to edge further into the future, but publishers and advertisers should take advantage of the delay to test and optimise the fast-evolving power of contextual data, readying themselves to hit the ground running as cookies fast approach their use-by date.