Now that we have finished the rollercoaster year of 2020, it’s time for publishers to brush the dirt off and take a hard look in the mirror and repeat: This is your year. It’s time to be in control. You’ve got your own first-party data which is worth its weight in gold, now you just need to create a game plan to monetize cookieless traffic and to differentiate your programmatic inventory. Complicated? Maybe. Impossible? No. If there’s one thing we’ve learned in 2020 is that mastering new ways to become more efficient will take your business further. Here are a few ways that I think smart publishers can gain more control over monetizing their inventory in 2021.

Don’t lose focus on the 90%

Watching the industry scramble to come up with a substitute for the disappearing cookie has been perplexing at best. Oddly, the industry is hyped about authenticating users and 1st party identifiers which accounts for maybe 10% of most sites’ traffic. So how should publishers plan for the remaining 90% of unauthenticated users? I’m not saying to scrap any sort of authentication plan but it just seems impractical to solely focus on that initiative. For example, retargeting is not all of online marketing. Including a cookieless solution using probabilistic data alongside deterministic will not only help publishers earn revenue for the majority of their traffic but it will also set them up for success as the cookie makes its likely exit. Without the cookie, publishers need to build more accurate and addressable assumptions about their users to sell their inventory. We’ll see publishers lean in harder to monetize authenticated and unauthenticated traffic in big ways in 2021.

Supply gets smart with supply-side optimization

2020 highlighted the problems the industry faces with creating efficient and trustworthy connections between the behemoth of inventory and its potential buyers. Advertisers continue to adopt (demand) initiatives like sellers.json, SChain, ads.txt, and supply path optimization (SPO) to help put controls in place to manage inventory however, it’s a huge struggle. Sifting through massive amounts of inventory to find what’s valuable inline with thousands of divergent campaign initiatives is both difficult and very costly to manage. We will see smart publishers creating and packaging their own supply-side signals cultivated from their first-party data. Audience segments based on actual bid data, interests, and business goals will make it easier for buyers to recognize and access valuable, outcome-likely inventory. Intelligent supply-side filters will also decrease waste on less valuable impressions and in turn improve the quality and fidelity of each programmatic access point.

Make an Impact

Almost 85% of all digital media spend was transacted programmatically in 2020, and it’s slated to grow even more in 2021. With advertiser budgets having to perform more than ever and user behaviors changing from the effects of COVID-19, buyers will invest more in programmatic for efficient and effective inventory. Greater programmatic investment and a continuous focus on SPO means publishers will need differentiated inventory to compete for premium demand. While traffic increased for publishers in 2020, CPMs lowered due to the lack of demand. Political uncertainty and the coronavirus will continue to drive publishers to hustle to get the most out of their inventory. We saw publishers adopt more high-impact formats in 2020 and we can expect to see this trend grow more in 2021 with programmatic video leading the charge. Making a positive impact matters, now more than ever.

2021 is going to be a big year for publishers since they have many keys to help advertisers reach and engage consumers. First-party data reigns supreme, putting publishers back in control as the cookie dissolves, but make sure you have an aggressive, hybrid approach on how to bring value for both authenticated and unauthenticated traffic to truly reap the rewards for your inventory. It will be critical this year for publishers to create a strategy that differentiates their inventory while preparing for a cookieless future, Lastly, publishers who position their inventory as trustworthy and aligned with marketer outcomes will improve the overall value of their inventory. Here’s to a fantastic year!!

By: Eric Wheeler | CEO & Co-Founder at 33Across