Is This a Way the Cookie Crumbles?
I love reading about publishers who want to charge visitors to access their Web sites or require registration to view content that for the longest time was given away for free or without any barriers. The obvious argument for the paid model is to replace lost ad revenue, but those of you considering asking visitors to register better expect ad revenue to take even more of a hit.
The Web was created as an anonymous information channel. Guys could visit sites they wouldn't want their significant others to know about while women could potentially do the same. Visiting a Web site was like moving to a new city and going to the mall for the first time. No one knew you, and it was very likely no one would ask.
Then came the infamous cookie, a small text file that a Web server sends to a browser when it requests a page from your site. The Web server reads the cookie when the browser returns for another user session. For the most part, cookies contain harmless information such as a name, the Web site URL, an expiration date and any information a user voluntarily provides. I don't know of any Web site these days that doesn't use them.
Starting with messages like "Welcome Back, Rob," sites would later use what became known as "collaborative filtering" techniques to recommended other products based on browsing history. Cookies still are used in e-commerce shopping carts, to more effectively measure Web site traffic (as opposed to Web log files) and to remember a visitor so they don't have to log in to a Web site over and over again.
Privacy advocates believe cookies have metastasized into something horrible with a lot of the blame put on interactive marketers who have created sophisticated ways to share the information often without a user fully understanding the implications.
Look no further than what happened a year ago with behavioral ad targeting firm NebuAd and Facebook Connect. Since then, NebuAd has shut down while Facebook continues to revise their privacy settings, although the latest initiative doesn't affect what information it shares with advertisers.
All of this and more has forced groups like the American Association of Advertising Agencies, the Association of National Advertisers, the Direct Marketing Association and the Interactive Advertising Bureau (IAB) to initiate self-regulation regarding the collection of data during a Web user session.
So what does this mean to publishers? First of all, advertisers on your Web sites likely are members of these groups or work with agencies who will help shape the future of interactive advertising. Read and understand the terms and conditions of anyone placing an ad on your Web site, especially ad networks.
Lastly, don't forget you're already at an advantage because you likely have data about your visitors that can enhance their experience on your Web site. Make good use of the demographic data from a qualification or subscription form to offer relevant content and advertising.
Methods like these could provide a boost to your bottom line without the need to ask for a penny or anything more than an e-mail address.