Kickstarting Seller Defined Audiences

With privacy changes across the advertising industry, could Seller Defined Audiences be the answer for publishers looking to safeguard revenues?
Updated on October 10, 2023

With new data regulations and the impending deprecation of the third-party cookie, publishers may be able to create new privacy-safe revenue opportunities using existing page-level insights. 

Even if a publisher does not have large stores of authenticated first-party data – which most do not – what they all have is plenty of page-level analytics data. Seller Defined Audiences helps turn those data signals into targeting gold which advertisers are very keen to get their hands on. 

What is Seller Defined Audiences?

Seller Defined Audiences, or SDA, is an addressability specification developed by the IAB Tech Lab and released in early 2022.  

It allows publishers to segment their users into one or more Audience Taxonomy categories, with over 1700 available categories based on three classifications: Purchase Intent, Interest, and Demographic.  

At first glance, the concept may bring to mind the IAB Content Taxonomy, which is a broad-brush contextual solution, but SDA represents a more fine-grain, behavioral approach. Even better, it operates synergistically with contextual categories—so you can combine page-level context with SDA-defined user behavior for a more significant targeting impact. For example, a sports publisher may segment users based on the “Bowling” Content Taxonomy with demographic or purchase intent signals from the SDA Audience Taxonomy to offer advertisers more granular user targeting. 

SDA distinguishes itself from other addressability solutions by not relying on PMP or deals-based mechanics, but instead operating within the bidstream itself as metadata passed in bid requests. Because SDA cohorts are communicated via OpenRTB (ORTB) bid request metadata, categories are platform-agnostic by design, translating seamlessly across ORTB-supported browser, app, and CTV environments. 

There has been some hesitancy from the demand side because of a perceived lack of transparency in publishers’ SDA-building process, in addition to currently low demand from brands and agencies. As a result, the integration of SDA is not a priority for DSPs, which limits scalability for advertisers. At the same time, the sell-side believes that buyers won’t be tempted away by new alternatives which lack the familiarity and scale of the third-party cookie for as long as it’s still an option. 

It’s a classic chicken-and-egg. 

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Why SDA really does matter for publishers

As we’ve already mentioned, Seller Defined Audiences enables a standardized way of labeling and buying against first-party data cohorts across different browsers and devices.  

It empowers publishers to monetize the unique insights they hold about their first-party audience at scale without reliance on a third-party cookie, ID, or data partner. SDA also uses multiple pre-existing programmatic technologies—ORTB, Prebid, IAB data transparency standards, and so on—to achieve a privacy-first cohort-based targeting solution with the capability of being adopted across the ecosystem without too many headaches. 

Moreover, as publishers categorize their own site- and user-level data, they retain complete control over it, assigning relevant segment IDs on their side, then passing them via bid requests for demand-side decisioning. This control aligns with expected shifts in industry regulation, consumer desire for privacy and relevance, and gives buyers the ability to segment and target audiences based on actual and granular user behaviors. 

Bridging the SDA adoption gap

It’s no secret that agencies are looking to make the most out of publishers’ data, and SDA seems like an obvious choice, as it’s based on standardized signals and pre-existing technologies. There seems to be some industry support for utilizing these data signals, making it an excellent opportunity for publishers to be early movers to drive incremental revenue. 

Widespread adoption of SDAs will rely on DSPs making SDA cohorts targetable within their platforms. However, if publishers want to start leveraging SDA audiences today, but buyers aren’t yet able to target these signals on their preferred buying platform, what’s the solution? 

Publishers are already able to package up their own inventory into PMP deals using SDAs as a filter, which is one way to bypass DSP adoption limitations and quickly get started selling Seller Defined Audiences to buyers. As is the case with most deals-based trading, scale may very likely be an issue, with spend potential being limited to cohort size on a publisher’s owned and operated inventory.  

Programmatic curation may be a bridge that can help to close this gap.  

Curation allows the creation of PMP deals containing SDA-enabled audience data on both a publisher’s own supply, and supply from other premium sites (making scale a non-issue). These deals can then be transacted by buyers using their preferred DSP. Essentially, it’s audience extension—but without disrupting the buyers’ existing programmatic workflows.  

By transacting on SDAs via the typical deals construct, publishers and advertisers alike will be able to leverage these valuable user and context signals—and get a headstart on cookieless trading—without having to wait for DSPs to enable support.   

Unlocking audience value across the supply chain

Seller Defined Audiences allows publishers to build audiences more accurately, with greater granularity, leveraging more intent signals based on what they know about their users’ actual behavior—facilitating impactful new approaches to ad targeting in the process.  

The adoption of SDA among publishers will open the door to more direct relationships with the buy-side. At the same time, these publishers will enjoy boosted incremental revenue and be able to showcase the true value of their audiences. That’s what we call a win-win. 

Want to know more about getting up and running with SDAs? Talk to a Criteo Commerce Grid expert today and our team can help you get started.  


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Rob Taylor

Based in the sporadically sunny climes of London, UK, Rob is Global Content Manager at Criteo. With over 11 years' experience in the ad tech industry across both SEM and programmatic, Rob is passionate about making tech make sense. He holds a BA(Hons) degree in English & Journalism from the ...

Global Content Manager

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