Posted on: October 11, 2021
For many businesses the art of cookies, and what they do and mean, is very much left to web developers or those in a team who love analytics and data.
In recent months, however, news that third-party cookies are being removed by many web browsers including google and apple has propelled them to the forefront of businesses’ minds.
The news has met a mixed response. From a personal data and privacy perspective, people are pleased with the changes. For businesses, and not just those who rely on E-Commerce, it’s left them wondering how they will continue to understand and target potential customers, then reach out with personalised messaging and offers.
In this article, we discuss what third-party cookies are and what your business needs to consider in relation to the changes.
What are third-party cookies?
Cookies are pieces of code that websites save onto the user’s web browser when they visit that site. Cookies are used in many ways, but the major uses are connected to user session management, user personalisation (serving up content tailored to the user), and tracking user behaviour.
First party cookies are those held on your own domain or website. They focus on recording data to assess the performance of the website (for example calculating page views, sessions and the number of users the site attracts). This information can all be used to make improvements to the site and gauge its effectiveness.
Second-party cookies are a topic of debate and some question how different they really are from first-party cookies. In short, they are first-party data shared between partners – typically for advertising purposes.
Third-party cookies are stored under a different domain than the one the user is currently visiting. Their primary role is to track users between websites and display more relevant ads across the web. Other examples are a support chat functionality provided by a 3rd party service or links to be able to share an article on social media for example.
What changes are afoot, when are they coming in and how can your business prepare?
Without realising, users are unintentionally creating a ‘trail of crumbs’ which relay information about their web browsing history to other websites and parties. Those parties can use this information to customise offers and serve up tailored ads to the user as they move around the web.
The ability for websites to do this is being phased out in a move to protect people’s privacy. According to Google’s David Temkin, that also means “An end to not only third-party cookies, but also any technology used for tracking individual people as they browse the web.”
Some browsers such as Firefox have already stopped using third-party cookies, but Google Chrome plans to have phased them out by 2022. Recent Apple updates will also seek to provide more privacy to users.
The key takeaway for businesses is that the data collected from the first-party cookies on their own website and domain will now play a far more important role in how they track and understand user/consumer behaviour.
What will this mean to the analytics people use to measure marketing?
Google is only phasing out third-party cookies – all first-party cookies will remain. This means businesses can still assess what users do when visiting their website, how often they visit etc. These and other basic analytics can greatly assist in developing and automating an effective marketing strategy around user behaviours.
What about trying to keep marketing personalised to users?
Businesses have been using information, driven by cookies, to not only track performance but to re-target potential customers through ads and re-marketing campaigns. With the removal of third-party cookies, what options are there to stay on people’s radars?
Although the changes are already underway there are also alternatives that are emerging.
Google have said they won’t be replacing third party cookies with an alternative new tracking option, but they have been developing FLoCs (Federated Learning of Cohorts). These group individuals based on similar interests and behaviours.
Other large tech companies such as Microsoft, have developed Parakeet, for its Edge browser. This uses the browser to anonymise people’s information before sending it to the existing behind-the-scenes systems where bids are placed, and ads are sold.
Some are looking at email-based targeting systems, which mean people enter an email to use the website which then tracks user behaviour anonymously.
With companies investing in artificial intelligence and machine learning to look at workarounds, there will no doubt be other options emerging. The question will be whether potential customers will find these acceptable, or steer away if they feel companies are just trying to avoid protecting their privacy.
What you can do in the meantime
Whatever the future holds going forward it will also be important to:
- Pay greater attention to the phrases people are typing into any search fields you have on your site. This will give you a steer on customer needs and questions, so you can serve up more relevant content on your site.
- If you use a live chat function on your site, track what trends are emerging in terms of frequently asked questions, issues raised etc.
- Instigate offers, giveaways and free guides/articles on your site for people to sign up to and encourage them to opt-in to receive more from you. This will help you to grow your own target lists.
- Be savvier with the information your sales or CRM system is gathering. What customer profiling information is being collated? Can you create tailored campaigns around specific customer profiles? Can you use those profiles to look at other marketing channels – press advertising, digital advertising, sponsorship, social media etc to attract more of the same?
- Consider testing advertising campaigns on relevant social media and other digital platforms, particularly those which give you detailed targeting options, so you reach out to the target audience demographic you seek.
It will be interesting whether the removal of third-party cookies will have such a negative impact on businesses, or if it will unleash greater ingenuity to find alternative ways to be more tailored to customers.
For now, do follow the news related to the third-party phase-out, and review your software to smoothly transition away from this type of cookie.
Finally use this as an opportunity to consider other forms of marketing that are less reliant on unopted-in personal data. As privacy laws continue to develop, this will help to future-proof your marketing plans.
If you’d like to discuss ideas for your marketing going forward contact us on tel. 01483 429111.