Closing the data gap for web publishers

Duane Kinsey writes, "For Publishing Companies, The Problem Is Publishing Companies." He suggests,

Publishers can voluntarily choose to leave the current ad tech landscape behind just as quickly as they decided to partner with many of the companies currently running the industry into the ditch.

Good goal. That is where we're going to have to get to in order to save the ad-supported web. Yes, the current web ad system is a dumpster fire. It's no secret that adtech intermediaries can leak user data from high-reputation sites to low-reputation ones. Right now the web is a good match for advertisers that want to do targeting-based, low-reputation strategies, but terrible for signaling-based, high-reputation strategies. Third-party tracking is a bad deal for publishers, too. For example, chumboxes are currently good for quick cash, but can leak user data and motivate users to install ad blockers.

TrustX: a better way, or same broken system with new owners?

(I have contributed several items to the Digital Content Next blog.)

Jack Marshall at the Wall Street Journal reports that Digital Content Next is launching a new ad marketplace called TrustX.

With no outside investors and no profit motives, TrustX will focus on driving long-term benefits to marketers and publishers, DCN said.

Are publishers just getting a piece of a low-value ad system, or really changing things?

Here's how we'll be able to know.

Who is in the tracking-protected audience? Tracking protection is fundamental to web publisher value. From the high-reputation publisher's point of view, DNT is more like "Do not leak data" or "Do not commoditize." But it's hard to measure accurately, because there are many different kinds. What works for detecting AVG Crumble might not work to detect Privacy Badger. Any project to fix web ads depends on getting good numbers on site audiences that are protected from third-party tracking, and so harder to track from high-value to low-value sites. (You can do this with the Aloodo un-tracking pixel and scripts.)

What does the market for competing low-value ads look like? Who else is selling impressions that claim to reach the TrustX audience? Get on one or more DSPs and buy some. Right now, conventional adtech can make a lot of bold claims about quality. (Ever notice that web ad impressions overall are about 30% bots, but every individual adtech company claims 2% bots? Somebody's math is wrong.) Buy the cheapest impressions that claim to be "your audience" that you can, and check them out. Part of that is comparing their tracking protection rates. If you have an early adopter audience that's well-protected, then a competing site that's full of bots will really stand out.

How can publishers refine the data-driven case for Flight to Quality? Real, high-quality sites have branding advantages over generic eyeball-buying, and adfraud is becoming a mainstream concern. The complex adtech that tracking protection protects against is also the place where fraud hides. But conventional adtech has a lead in data collection. Higher-reputation publishers need more and better data to take to numbers-craving CMOs. Much of that data will have to come from the tracking-protected audience.

This thing could really work.

If TrustX can do things right—CNAME support and EFF-flavored DNT would be solid choices—then ad blockers start to be less of a concern. Legit publishers can deal with the ad blocker the same way that MailChimp deals with the spam filter. Accept that it's there, carefully get around it, and comply with user norms. It would be counterproductive for MailChimp to get email newsletter subscribers to turn off the spam filter entirely, but they can get their own newsletters through without paying anybody off.

Facebook showed that you can beat the pattern-matching of Adblock Plus with fairly simple HTML changes. If TrustX can keep the privacy developers on the sidelines by respecting DNT, then that gives high-reputation sites some options. Refuse to pay into the "Acceptable Ads" racket, do some careful adblocker workarounds, advocate responsible tracking protection, and keep the four-currency price of accepting magazine-style ads on the web lower than the four-currency price of blocking them.

Don Marti · #