Privacy legislation, like Europe’s GDPR, may have forced publishers to use consent pop-ups, but they are begrudging additions to most publisher websites. Even the best consent solutions are interruptive, unattractive, and intensely disliked by most users. Most of us wouldn’t need much excuse to remove them from our websites if they were no longer needed.
Recent events are causing more publishers to question whether ad consent pop-ups, in particular, should be kept in place. We’ll examine the cases for removing or keeping these pop-ups, but let’s first clarify exactly which consent pop-ups we’re questioning.
Advertising Consent vs General Cookie Consent
Advertising consent pop-ups deal specifically with personalized advertising, which often involves multiple third parties. It’s a particularly complex area with lots of players, so is usually handled separately to general consent. This is most commonly done through the TCF – The Transparency and Consent Framework, a standard approach for this by the online advertising industry. TCF allows the users to set preferences for each partner involved individually. The most popular solution for this is Quantcast Choice, which often looks like this:
It’s the consent pop-ups for personalized advertising (TCF Pop-ups) that are currently under the most scrutiny, and are the ones that we’ll focus on in this article.
The Case to Remove TCF pop-ups
Pop-Up Ads Annoy Everyone
This is difficult to deny. Just as the world let out a collective sigh of relief that pop-up adverts had largely disappeared, pop-up advertising consent arrived and became ubiquitous. We know that Pop-ups annoy users, whether they are for advertising, consent, browser notifications, or newsletter sign-ups. Whether they are justified depends on the value they provide.
Fortunately for publishers, most data suggest that the bounce rate from implementing TCF pop-ups is not as high as was initially feared. These common consent pop-ups are so ubiquitous that users are no longer phased by them.
Pop-Up Ads Cost Money or Leak Data
Collecting and storing consent comes with a cost. As publishers, we have the choice of either taking on that cost or following the time-honored internet model of paying those costs in data. As publishers, our audience is our livelihood, so sharing data on that audience is not without its own cost.
Pop-Up Ads Slow Websites Down
Core Web Vitals has triggered a new interest in website performance amongst site owners and every script we add has to justify the performance hit it creates. Consent pop-ups have a larger apparent impact than the actual performance hit they create. By waiting to either collect or check consent, these scripts interrupt the loading of ads. This can make pages feel slower to load as ad requests will usually begin once consent is verified.
Some Ad Companies are Just Ignoring Them Anyway
Recent research suggests that some major ad tech vendors are ignoring consent and just serving personalized ads in spite of the intent of user signals. This not only calls into question the value of the consent pop-ups but their whole purpose.
Pop-Up Ads Probably Not Legally Compliant Anyway
The final argument against using TCF consent pop-ups is the unsurprising news that they probably don’t satisfy the legal requirements for consent anyway. An investigation by the Belgian data protection authority has apparently concluded that the “TC strings” that TCF uses in place of sending personal data are personal data in their own right. A ruling is due to follow, but if it backs that interpretation there will need to be significant changes to TCF for it to hold any validity.
The Case for Keeping Pop-Ups
Non-personalized ads don’t pay much and most vendors want TCF strings
The case for leaving your irritating, slow, leaky, and potentially pointless pop-ups in place is a simple one: Most publishers have no choice.
Despite some ad vendors going rogue and serving personalized ads to all, most do follow the permissions given by their users. That means that if there isn’t a consent string the best case is a non-personalized ad – which means lower earnings. In practice, it often means no ad, as buyers want to target their ads to users.
Should I Lose the Pop-Ups or Keep Them?
This is a decision that each publisher will have to make for themselves. As it stands though, most ad vendors are still requiring consent for personalized ads. That means that publishers have the choice of serving consent pop-ups or slashing earnings. Considering how hard the cut of moving to non-personalized ads is likely to be, I would expect most publishers to keep serving the pop-ups as long as the SSPs and Exchanges are looking for those TC strings.
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