How publishers can fill the keyword data gap

Some endeavors should not be undertaken blindfolded -- driving, brain surgery, or operating a chainsaw -- for starters. While ad targeting may seem like an odd companion to that list, "blind" targeting can be a perilous undertaking in the absence of contextual and behavioral signals. And yet advertisers and publishers are finding themselves in this very position -- due to seismic shifts in the ad landscape.

While on one hand the consumer privacy debate rages on, and data ownership is becoming competitive currency on the other, the standard cookie -- once the bedrock of the targeting ecosystem -- seems a likely candidate for the endangered species list. Browser and platform providers are moving away from the ubiquitous cookie as a universal identifier in favor of platform-specific audience identity codes. Recent announcements from Mozilla, Microsoft, Facebook, and Apple are likely just the tip of the iceberg.

Whether search and ad tech companies are motivated by the goal of empowering consumers to take charge of their online data, or are looking to build a valuable, proprietary repository of audience profiles, audience information is destined to become increasingly siloed.

Another formerly unassailable ad-targeting data fundamental in line for an untimely demise, is the search keyword. Marketers and content owners are increasingly facing the "keyword (not provided)" obstacle since Google, and now Yahoo, have started to obscure keyword-referral data. For ad tech businesses and site owners seeking intent data for targeting purposes, that's a big deal. Search-query keywords are critical data points for optimizing a website, a site's content, and its monetization strategy.

As a publisher, if you and your ad partners can't discern what brought a reader to a page in the first place, how do you know how to engage with them once they arrive? Until recently, publishers' ad partners could monetize keyword referral data by displaying relevant ads on the resulting editorial page. Without that info, however, there's a missing link between query and content.

Mobile advertising, our third pillar, is yet another channel in search of ways to decipher intent signals. Mobile now accounts for more than 30 percent of search traffic. It's also ostensibly a cookie-free zone leaving advertisers and marketers heavily reliant on demographic, location, device, and proprietary operating-system identifiers in the absence of search-referral data.

Independent of the channel or the participant, targeting intent without the necessary data is the equivalent of flying blind. It's high time to fill the keyword data gap, which is where the idea of concepts as a proxy for search-based intent targeting comes in.

In this context, concepts are the associations between words and ideas that form naturally in the human mind. They are a level or two (or three) deeper than simple search keywords when it comes to removing the ambiguity of language, and are able to discern intent from content. Concepts can be algorithmically defined to unearth the strongest signals of intent from the content of any page. In essence, concepts are high-performance proxies for search-referral data and cookies that operate at a level of accuracy that delivers an uptick in click-through and engagement rates.

Concepts offer publishers and their ad partners the benefit of highly relevant intent-based signals for search monetization. So what's the good news? Concepts remain intact even as the search giants become more tight-fisted with keyword referrals. Ad platform providers across any channel can access concept signals to attain a richer level of relevance, with the critical benefit of delivering an engaging and effective ad experience for readers.

In other words, targeting by concepts is the equivalent of taking off the blindfold and donning night-vision goggles that illuminate audience intent and insights that have gone dark.

Dennis Clerk is president of monetization at Netseer.

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