As a model for this transition, we can look to an industry that has felt the effect of do-not-track sentiment since the inception of behavioral targeting: pharma and medical. In trying to avoid warnings from the Food and Drug Administration about possibly inappropriate use of targeting, this industry has learned how to survive without relying on cookies.
For pharma and medical marketers, contextual targeting and context-based keyword matching are the answer. Matching an ad to the content of a web page, as opposed to the consumer's history of web viewing, gets the information to a user who is more likely to respond to it. Health-focused digital ads in health content often produce far better return on investment than traditional cookie-based targeting. A Type 1 diabetic, for instance, is more likely to interact with a diabetes ad on a website focused on Type 1 diabetes than while viewing the same ad that reaches him, via behavioral targeting, on a sports or news site.
Page-level contextual analysis is how you add value to inventory that is not tied to a cookie. This means looking beyond keywords to factors like historical page performance, engagement and brand-safety metrics on a page level to find the most relevant audiences, ideal environments and highest performing ad-placement opportunities. Technology can help get advertisers closer to identifying the specific content on the page via semantic or natural language processing and then score those pages based on relevancy. This analysis can often lead to the discovery of niche-content sites that attract more engaged audiences -- many times at a lower cost than cookie-targeted sites.
But what about reach? Smaller, content-specific sites typically attract much smaller audiences. If you are measuring the success of display based on reach and impressions, direct buys from premium publishers might be the way to go. But consider this other lesson from the pharma industry. Major health portals like WebMD attract large audiences of consumers interested in health and medical conditions. An allergy-drug company may purchase advertising directly through such a portal on the allergy section of the site. But think about how many times you've casually searched symptoms on a site like WebMD. A case of the sniffles might suggest an allergy article, but quickly bounce to flu, then to a piece about dust bunnies, then to the dangers of household cleaning supplies on the Health & Parenting section of the site.
The point is , while the audience is larger than at niche sites, and the reach greater, pharma marketers are less likely to reach audiences diagnosed with particular needs on major health portals.
Practically speaking, advertisers need to qualify contextual targeting, not only with semantics, but with additional layers of data such as performance, social trends, geographical trends and more. Performance and engagement metrics must be measured alongside reach and impressions. Ultimately, uncovering the most relevant audiences will drive the highest return on investment.