Russ Mann: why being found, friended, followed and forwarded is the key to smarter web content

Russ Mann is CEO of leading independent search agencies Covario and Rio SEO. Covario is the only agency to win the OMMA’s Search Agency of the Year award twice.

Media buyers and digital marketers are familiar with first- and third-party cookies. First-party cookies are those placed by advertisers, and third-party cookies are those placed by publishers. But what about “second-party cookies?”

In practice, no such cookie exists because a consumer or customer (the second party) would have to voluntarily and actively provide their entire browsing history, preferences and intentions. While certain opt-in and permission-based and permission-granting apps and games are being developed to do this, as far as I know there is currently no such developed cookie or pixel.

Nevertheless, we can think of three major types of content (above) that are available and more measurable than ever:

First-party content is content created by marketers. This might be product, service, brand, corporate or other materials, in the form of text, images, videos, music and miscellaneous content. Whether branded or unbranded, paid or owned, this type of content constitutes a variety of objects created for distribution.

In more sophisticated companies further along the search and content maturity curves, this content is researched and targeted through predictive and prescriptive analytics – and even self-generated and optimized through content marketing automation. In the earliest days of marketing, press releases, advertorials and basic ads were provided to publishers to create greater awareness at the top of the AIDA funnel, as well as greater reach in the customer marketing lifecycle.

Creating and distributing more objects to more locations is what has contributed to a marketer’s ability to get found – as part of the search, share and serendipity model of discovery marketing.

Third-party content is content created by publishers and their respective journalists and bloggers. This might be the ESPNs, Martha Stewarts, Operas, Ziff Davis and CNets of the world. But traditional media, journalists, celebrities, endorsers, and influencers are only one type of third-party content.

Google, as a search engine, is really at its core a publisher of a dynamic index of web pages. Amazon is a publisher and search engine of a catalog of new and unused goods, and eBay is a publisher of a catalog of second-hand goods. is a publisher of a catalog of homes available for sale and LinkedIn is a publisher of people’s professional resumes.

Some of these publishers are platforms for aggregated and contributed content, but most of these publishers take the syndicated objects from the first-party content providers (advertisers) and then add value, modify or otherwise transform the content to more bespoke, targeted and non-duplicated content.

Second-party content is the real innovation in this model. It’s the innovation that digital marketing and social media has brought to the world. Prior to digital marketing and social media platforms, consumers and business buyers discovered products and services primarily through first and third-party content, plus some word-of-mouth, “dark social” or “private social” sharing of first and third-party content through emails, texts and instant messages.

With the advent of social media voting platforms with Likes, +1, Pins, Stumbles and Diggs, and such evolving action buttons as Share, Buy, Give and others, content as a currency has become fashionable. These easy action buttons, along with more active involvement with ratings-and-reviews and other interactions between second-party consumers and third-party publishers, create a rich depth of activity.

In this phase of content, the objects provided by first parties are being distributed to more locations and publishers (third parties) where they first get friended and followed.

Finally, the consumer (second party) forwards that content through newly provided share buttons, or in the “old fashioned” way of email, text, instant message, or private email systems like the Facebook email system or URL copy/paste into sharing and updating platforms like LinkedIn and Google+. At this phase, even more engagement is created between consumers and the brands that originally created the content, as the content, the brands and the relationships get forwarded – both literally and figuratively.

Now, back to the question of tracking and measurement. While privacy laws and technology challenges make the setting and aggregation of first and third-party cookies difficult and second-party cookies unfeasible, it is much more plausible to consider the tracking of first-party content as it travels and is viewed, augmented or modified by third and second-party publishers and consumers.

Already, Rio SEO offers the Social Analyze solution, which is much more than just social listening. It is a social sharing analytics solution for both public and private social sharing of the content type described above. Not only can it help track what content was shared, but it can also track who shared it, where they came from, and with whom they shared it. This software solution gives the marketer a reading on where their content went and where it ended up.

This is just the beginning of what we call Smarter Content, but this shows where we’re heading.

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