‘Death by a thousand paper cuts’: Publishers fret over alternative ID overload hurting site performance

Illustration of a broken cookie jar.

As publishers continue to deal with the demise — or at least diminishment — of the third-party cookie, they are feeling compelled to adopt virtually every identity technology seeking to replace the cookie, but they are increasingly concerned about how overloading their sites with IDs will impact page-load speeds and search rankings, according to publishing executives who attended the Digiday Publishing Summit in Key Biscayne, Fla.

“[Site] performance issues is death by a thousand paper cuts. Every single one of those adds up,” said a publishing executive during one of DPS’s closed-door sessions, in which publishers were granted anonymity in exchange for candor.

A further frustration, publishers have yet to see adopting alternative IDs significantly impact their ad revenue. “At a certain point, it becomes the fastest way to make $300 a month: You can set up a deal, do all this tech work and then you sit and stare at the ticker and it slowly moves,” said a second publishing executive.

Publishers’ ID overload concerns echo the issues that media companies dealt with several years ago after cramming code from supply-side platforms and ad exchanges onto their sites in order to sell their ad inventory across as many programmatic marketplaces as possible (or at least practical). The problem then was that the code affected their sites’ performance. The surplus of scripts slowed the speed with which pages loaded, frustrating site visitors and lowering sites’ search engine rankings. Publishers have spent the past few years reducing the amount of programmatic code on their sites in order to improve site performance.

“It’s the same conversation [as publishers needing to remove SSP tags from their pages]. We figured out a way to move that tech debt off of the page. These identity solutions, inherent in their value is to be on page. It’s very similar,” said the second publishing executive.

Compounding matters, publishers are not yet in a position where they feel they can pick out which IDs to support and which they can afford to omit, according to multiple publishing executives. The reason? They are not currently receiving enough information back from the ad tech supply chain to discern how specific identity tech is affecting their ad revenue.

“Regardless of the exchange — you just don’t know the data coming back to a publisher on whether the bid response rates are good values or higher when they see an ID or not. At least we have not gotten that information,” said a third publishing executive.

“In the open exchange, it’s almost like you’re pumping all this information in the app requests, and there’s no one there on the other side waiting for you,” said the second publishing executive.

A fourth publishing executive said they have taken it upon themselves to try to glean the impact of IDs on ad prices. “I had to actually restrict the sending of data in certain environments to make a control. There’s about a 10% lift that’s correlated to the IDs versus the control overall across all inventory,” they said.

Additionally, publishers are being pressed to adopt specific IDs preferred by certain ad tech firms, the executives said. 

“Whether The Trade Desk or Yahoo, to actually work with them you’re going to have to adopt [Yahoo’s] Next-Gen ID or UID [which was originally developed by The Trade Desk] in order for that to happen. So it’s been leveraged a little bit,” said a fifth publishing executive.

So what are publishers to do about this ID overload issue? Will the SSP code cycle simply repeat with publishers adding scripts for all these various IDs in the short term and then down the line working to weed out the ones they no longer need? Maybe. 

Or maybe the awareness that publishers demonstrated during DPS of the potential to repeat past mistakes will help them to avoid them in the future by not only airing their frustrations in the company of their peers but also voicing their concerns with colleagues and taking a harder line with identity tech providers.

“My data colleagues, my revenue colleagues, my technology and first-party data colleagues, they’ll be like, ‘You need this ID.’ And all I hear as a product person is more crap. And there’s an exchange there. There are things that you’re doing negatively impacting your business by having more crap on your website. That will hugely affect user experience, engagement, SEO, and we need to remember what these trade-offs are,” said the first publishing executive.

As the fourth publishing executive suggested to the group during one of DPS’s town hall sessions, “Let’s all as publishers, every time someone says, ‘It’s just one line of script; it’s really lightweight,’ say ‘Fuck off.’”

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