May 16, 2023 - Economy

Dotdash Meredith debuts intent-based ad-targeting tool

Illustration of cursors as arrows embedded in a target.

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Dotdash Meredith, one of the largest internet publishers in the country, will debut a new ad targeting tool called D/Cipher that doesn't rely on internet tracking cookies or first-party data, the company's CEO Neil Vogel told Axios.

Why it matters: The deprecation of internet cookies has forced most web publishers to rely on cookie replacements or first-party data, or data that publishers collect from users directly, to target ads. Dotdash Meredith's new solution won't rely on individual user data.

How it works: Advertisers can target ads to users on any digital platform based on intent, or what topics Dotdash Meredith's technology believes a person is likely to engage with. Those targeting recommendations are based on aggregate, anonymized user data that Dotdash Meredith collects across all of its platforms and publisher sites.

  • When a user visits one of Dotdash Meredith's sites, the new tool will make predictive recommendations in real time about what else that user is likely to engage with across Dotdash Meredith's online portfolio.
  • For example, if someone is searching for gluten-free recipes, the tool is likely to recommend that a marketer target them around more health content.
  • The company has spent a year mapping every article in its portfolio to draw inferences on what a user will likely want to engage with. "When someone lands on something, we know exactly what they want to do," Vogel said.
  • Advertisers buying ads directly through a sales representative or in an automated fashion are able to use the tool.

Be smart: Dotdash Meredith's portfolio mostly consists of websites around topics like home improvement, health and wellness. Those sites receive a lot of intent-based traffic from search engines, which makes it much easier to roll out a tool like this.

  • For other types of websites, like hard news, users aren't typically looking to solve a problem or make a purchasing decision, so targeting them around intent is less effective.

Yes, but: One of the challenges in rolling out a new tool like this is that when user interests are segmented narrowly, it becomes hard to achieve the necessary scale that an advertiser would need to make an ad buy worthwhile.

  • Vogel is very confident that Dotdash Meredith, which reaches nearly 200 million people monthly across all of its 40 sites, has the scale to avoid this problem.
  • To prove it, Dotdash Meredith said it will create a performance guarantee for advertisers that will ensure their ad campaigns are more efficient using D/Cipher compared to cookie-based targeting solutions or any other targeting solution around individual user data.
  • "We know that it works, and we'll guarantee it," Vogel said.

Between the lines: The tool also makes it possible for marketers to target digital users leveraging Apple search engines, which began blocking cookies several years ago.

  • "Whenever an advertiser is using cookies to target, they miss half the market," Vogel said. "We can now unlock Apple users to every marketer across all of our stuff."

The big picture: Most of the internet publishing world is looking to create some sort of technology that can still track an individual's behavior via cookie alternatives or replacements.

  • To date, one catch-all solution has not been adopted, leaving advertisers to pick and chose different targeting strategies across different publishers.
  • Many publishers, including the New York Times and Penske Media, have created their own ad-targeting solutions based on first-party data that users agree to give a publisher.

The bottom line: "The difference between us and everybody else is that everybody else needs some way to profile you. They need a logged-in user, they need a cookie. We don't need any of that," Vogel said.

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