‘We had to take full ownership of data’: Why Denmark’s biggest news site cut reliance on Google’s tech

The lead image shows an illustration of three people stacking blocks that have ones and zeros on them.

Publishers love to disagree, but almost all of them will say they have an uneasy relationship with Google.

They can’t fully trust a business that they say isn’t completely upfront about how it makes money from their audiences. But few publishers are brave enough to act on those concerns, not when they’re so dependent on Google for ad revenue. Every so often, though, a publisher will feel they have no choice but to make a move.   

Ekstra Bladet, Denmark’s biggest news site with 500 million page views per month, reached this pinch point three weeks ago. The publisher said goodbye to Google Analytics in favor of a homegrown alternative called Longboat and hasn’t looked back. And while it’s too early to call the switch an outright success, there’s always an upside to having more influence over data, especially for publishers. 

No Google Analytics means no middleman between Ekstra Bladet and data from its site, whether its views or subscription conversions. The two-sentence summary of this dynamic’s net effect is this: Ekstra Bladet is now in full control of the entire data flow around its site, meaning execs can wrangle it all much easier. The days of struggling to get Google Analytics to play nice with its own proprietary tools should be long gone — in theory at least. Google did not respond to a request for comment by deadline.

Not only can the publisher get this data faster from its own platform, but it can also access more of it. It took minutes to get the 30 million or so data points Google Analytics tracked daily, whereas now it takes seconds to get up to 137 million data points, said Thomas Lue Lytzen, head of product development and insights for ad sales and tech at Ekstra Bladet’s owner JP/Politikens. 

“We need near real-time data to support not only our commercial team’s plan for better targeting on the site, but also the editorial team’s efforts to react to trending news faster,” said Lue Lytzen. “But we had to take ownership of the data collection ourselves to get to this point.”

Advertisers are taking notice, and comfort in, how much control Ekstra Bladet now has over its data at a time when data provenance is table stakes for many businesses. In other words, Ekstra Bladet execs can vouch for how all its audiences and contextual segments are being built. 

This is hard to do with full confidence when that data comes from a middleman like Google. Consider it a sort of liability comfort blanket for the General Data Protection Regulation age: reassurance that whatever happens to the data, it is on the publisher’s watch.

“Having full ownership over our data is giving us leverage with major advertisers who like the fact that we’re not reliant on another vendor when it comes to our web analytics and can offer complete transparency,” said Lue Lytzen. 

Plans are already underway to make this data more accessible, especially to ad tech vendors. Moving forward, audience data from Ekstra Bladet’s proprietary data platform Relevance will be shared directly with Adform’s programmatic bidding technology. From there, the ad tech vendor can add this data into bidding strategies for advertisers looking to buy inventory from the open marketplace. Previously, these sorts of deals had to be done via very clunky, direct deals and weren’t automated. 

“The next challenge will be how to maintain control of that data in advertising and use it in a way which respects the audience and improves the engagement between the user and the advertiser within the publisher’s environment and context, without handing it over to intermediaries and falling into the trap of commoditization again, just without Google,” said Alessandro De Zanche, founder of media consultancy ADZ Strategies.

It may only be weeks into Ekstra Bladet’s life without Google Analytics, but it’s been years in the making. In fact, the plan can be traced back to 2019 when the publisher launched Relevance, which was launched as a way for advertisers to run campaigns on the site with first-party data. It’s harder to do that when the tech processing the data isn’t the same as the one collecting it, said Lue Lytzen. 

“We couldn’t use Google to do some of the data collection from the site and then put it all into a homegrown system,” he said. “Even though we were able to shut down the transmission of data to Google Analytics, you never really know what’s being done to it behind your back.”

Still, it’s not the first time nor a publisher has tried to wrestle some control of their commercial model away from google. Nor will it be the last. Two years ago, German media business Axel Springer completed a year-long transition of its ad tech stack from google to AppNexus. In doing so, a senior exec from the publisher said he hoped the move showed others that “there is some life and independence around Google technology”.

Doing so, however, is easier said than done. Google’s platform is easy to enter, but hard to leave. It works essentially like a plug and play system that businesses have gotten used to over the years. Even so, there are early signs of more concerted attempts from publishers to be less reliant on Google’s ad tech. However, this is not a small endeavor and will require significant investment. 

“In the U.S. especially we are starting to see a movement away from Google Analytics with customers taking their own log-level data and using cloud-based architecture to build their own analytics,” said Canton Marketing Solutions founder Nick King, who previously worked for publishers including News U.K. and Future Publishing. “Obviously, there is also a huge amount of change coming within the Google ecosystem and it will be interesting to see how Google Analytics plugs into Google Identity and in general how it treats analytics over the next few years.”

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