What Is An Identity Graph and Why Do You Need One?

Updated on: May 9, 2023
As third-party cookies are expected to be phased out soon, publishers (and buyers) are looking to settle on different solutions. Can 'ID graphs' be the potential alternative? Let's understand how it works and get to the answer.

Using multiple devices to browse or purchase has become a popular pattern in recent years. Back in 2014, 40% of online consumers used to start an activity on a device and finish it on another device. Though the data might seem too old, we all know the usage of multi-devices has increased with time.

Today, a user may have different identifiers such as a work email address, personal email address, IP addresses at home and office, and more. And therefore, publishers and advertisers are facing unique challenges with understanding the user’s behavior. Because if you don’t have the right online or offline data of your consumers, all your marketing efforts or advertising efforts will go wrong.

Of course, cookies are perfect for knowing online readers and understanding their interests and preferences. For connecting offline and online, you cannot rely on cookies. Besides, 60% of cookies expire within 2 months. And as Google is going to drop third-party cookies and others already blocking them, you need to have an alternative and a better solution to identify your users in order to improve your targeting. This is why Identity Graph was introduced.

What is an Identity Graph?

An Identity Graph is a complete picture of a user that enables you to gain a comprehensive, stable, and ever-evolving view of the particular user across every touchpoint – be it web, mobile app, or offline brick and mortar. To put it simply, an Identity Graph determines how your users are interacting with your website, ads, different platforms, and more.

Identity Graph

Without an Identity graph, you won’t be able to differentiate a user who made a purchase on your website and a user who made a purchase on your mobile app. Having an ID Graph avoids such issues. The more touch points you can collect, the better idea you’ll have about your consumers.

“If I’m looking at sports content on a desktop in the day, I shouldn’t then be targeted with shopping and fashion ads when on my mobile. That’s what device graphs do. We also want to ensure the mobile ad experience isn’t disruptive for people, especially with ad blocking on the rise. That’s why this is so important because we can connect their journey in a seamless way,”

– Samir Shah, Head of Data and Adtech, ZenithOptimedia (Src

How does Identity Graph work?

Identity graphs build user profiles in four steps: 

  • Online Data Collection
  • Offline Data Collection
  • Universal Profile Creation
  • Matching the Profiles

An Identity Graph is not only limited to creating individual profiles, but it also works to match records of the user tied to a specific device. Here’s the workflow of an Identity Graph:

Step #1: Online Data Collection.

Capture and centralize users’ data from channels like websites and mobile apps to store identifiers like Device IDs or hashed email addresses.

Step #2: Offline Data Collection.

Onboard all data from different sources like CRM to incorporate users’ identifiers, e.g. demographic information or customer ID, or customer lifetime value.

Step #3: Universal Profile Creation.

Once the data is collected from all channels and the users are recognized, the profiles are tied to universal IDs provided by the solution providers. This universal ID stores the data (both online and offline) and ensures it doesn’t expire.

Step #4: Matching The Profiles.

The solution provider’s technology searches, matches, and refreshes the profiles to make sure that the data is up-to-date and profiles are complete.

ID Graph Work flow

Types of User Profiles within the Identity Graph

There are two types of customer profiles that can be created using Identity Graph,

Authenticated Profiles

As the name suggests, authenticated profiles also known as persistent profiles are those that require logging in. For example, email addresses or user IDs. When a user logs on to your website, the Identity Graph connects this data (email or user IDs) to various other data to identify the same user across channels or devices.

Non-authenticated Profiles

Non-authenticated profiles are created by using temporary identifiers such as cookies or device IDs. Since these identifiers exist for short periods of time and provide partial views of the users, non-authenticated profiles are less reliable across devices in the long run.

How does Identity Graph Match User’s Data?

Basically, ID Graphs use two matching methodologies: 

  • Deterministic Matching
  • Probabilistic Matching

Deterministic Matching

Deterministic matching uses user’s information that is known, for example, hashed email addresses or logged-in data to recognize the user on whatever device (mobile, desktop, etc.) they are connected to. Since the user’s data is authenticated, deterministic matching provides 100% certainty in the match.

Probabilistic Matching

In this method, anonymized user’s data is used, for example, browser type, IP address, location, OS, etc. to connect the user between devices. Probabilistic matching offers greater scalability, but the match rate isn’t as accurate as deterministic matching. Read more about the two methods in this article

What are the Benefits of Identity Graph?

Identity Graphs have several benefits. They help publishers like you to leverage User-based targeting, Improve User engagement, and Enhance ad campaign performance.

  • Leverage user-based targeting

As said earlier, a user can interact with your website through an array of channels or devices, making it impossible to accurately identify the same user associated with a particular channel or device. An Identity Graph helps in handling this challenge by connecting all different identifiers so that the user can be recognized and targeted with the right content and ads across different channels.

  • Improve user engagement

Identity Graph provides more insightful data about your users so you can personalize your products and services. Because it combines offline and online data, you can view 360° of your users and identify the opportunities to increase the user’s engagement. Also, the biggest advantage of Identity Graph is that it collects data constantly and keeps updating the user’s profile. This enables publishers to know the behavioral changes of the users.

  • Enhance ad campaign performance

Identity Graph stores all data in one place and this helps you and your advertisers to gauge the reach and frequency of their ad campaigns. You can analyze how ads are performing on different channels, optimize the set-up, and help the advertisers reduce their ad spend.

Few things to Consider Before Onboarding an Identity Graph Vendor

  • Ensure that the Identity Graph provides a persistent identity solution.

In real-time advertising, publishers and advertisers require always-on recognition of the users so they can deliver the right content and ads instantly on any device. You cannot do this if the Identity Graph depends on temporary factors such as third-party cookies. Therefore, make sure the Graph uses persistent identifiers that are permanent and can help you build a stable and updated profile over time.

  • Ensure that the Identity Graph can connect all touchpoints.

As a publisher, you might work with various advertisers and third parties (ad-tech, analytics, DMPs, etc.). So, check whether the Id Graph vendor is flexible to work along with other parties or not. Having flexibility improves the chances of knowing the user better and thus enhances the match rate.

  • Availability of matching methodologies.

The deterministic match is definitely more precise. However, not all publishers have a login system on their websites. Due to this, it has a downside, i.e., lack of scale. If you’ve a subscription model or services that need the user to provide their email addresses, then you’d look for an Identity Graph vendor supporting deterministic matching. So choose accordingly based on the data you collect.

Note: You can reap the benefits of both – probabilistic and deterministic matching.

How to Get Started with Identity Graphs?

The obvious answer to this question is a partner with an identity vendor. But before approaching a new partner for this, ensure that you’ve captured all the identifiers (online and offline) from CRM, DMP, CDP, Google Analytics, etc., and the attributes associated with them. Be it.

Once you’ve access to complete datasets, you’ll be required to synchronize your data with the identity partner’s ID Graph. As soon as it is done, the partner enriches and activates the data and audience segments. Currently, there are a handful of identity providers that can help you with getting started with Id Graphs. Here are a few identity solution providers widely opted for by many publishers:

  • LiveRamp
  • Zeotap
  • Lotame
  • InfoSum

What’s Next?

Digital media is changing constantly, and so do the users. This implies publishers and advertisers have to find the best way to identify the users and deliver the best experience in real-time. We hope that our article has answered some of your questions regarding Identity Graph. But if you couldn’t find what you’re looking for, feel free to leave a comment with your questions and we’d be happy to answer.

Related Read: What are Universal ID solutions and How can you leverage them?

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