Cookies. For the user, they’re just something to do with those annoying little pop ups that get in the way. But if your business has a website or does digital marketing, they’re massively important: and some of them are about to disappear.
And if your agency isn’t explaining what’s going on, and preparing you for a future devoid of third party cookies, it’s time to start asking questions.
To help you get clued up for a difficult conversation, I need to explain a little of the back story.
Breaking down the cookie recipe
As marketers, we’ve relied on cookies for years. They’re the digital trackers that help us understand how our campaigns are running and whether we’re getting a decent return on our clients’ investment. They also give us the data we need to plan and continuously improve our campaigns.
There are several different types of cookie, but the most important ones in this context are:
Third party cookies – Usually used for ad targeting. Software such as Google Analytics is used to put tags on a page so a user or their device can be tracked across different websites. That puts together a profile of the user’s interests – and then messages are targeted at them. These trails of crumbs are the cookies that are on their way out.
First party cookies – Usually used to improve the user experience. When a user visits a website, the website owner can drop first party cookies, and build up a picture based on information including the pages the user visits, their preferred language and where they live. Then, when that user returns, they won’t have to enter the information again, and get a better, more tailored experience.
Concerns about privacy have soured the third party cookie – and one of our most useful tools isn’t going to be with us for much longer. In fact, browsers Firefox and Safari jumped first and have already phased them out.
Google’s taking a more cautious approach for its Chrome browser. Perhaps unsurprisingly, considering the amount of money they make from online advertising, they don’t want to decimate the market. Instead, they’ve announced third party cookies will be discontinued in 2023 and said they’re working with the industry to develop privacy-friendly tools that will give marketers and businesses valuable data they can rely on. The other browsers are coming up with similar solutions, but there’s still a big gap in the map.
Other privacy moves
And it’s not just web browsers that are making it tricky to track. When Apple released iOS14.5 in early summer, it introduced App Tracking Transparency. It means iPhone, iPad, and Apple TV apps have to ask users if they can track their activity across multiple apps. That switch to opt in, rather than opt out, has had a massive impact on gathering data for ad targeting.
The privacy question has been a hot topic in the media recently. This has caused a shift in public perception, so more users are now nervous about what they see as intrusion, and they’re choosing to opt out.
Research suggests that only 13% of users are opted in. Given that around 80% of users were previously trackable, that represents a catastrophic drop in available data.
The future of tracking
As you might expect, less scrupulous digital wizards are working hard to develop alternative ways of tracking individual customers.
Invest in them if you like, but it seems likely that regulators have got their teeth into protecting privacy now and it’s just a matter of time before these new workarounds find themselves on the wrong side of the law.
Putting it in perspective
Our own research suggests that the tracking data we’d previously relied on might already be as much as 50% out. Clients are enjoying sales and enquiries rising rapidly – while their tracking is declining.
The good news is, your digital marketing may be absolutely smashing it. It may be delighting every customer that comes their way, prompting a slew of beautiful conversions every minute of the day.
Or it might not. The problem lies with finding that out – and preparing for the changes to come.
Keeping you in the picture
No-one really knows what’s going to happen when Google finally switches off third-party cookies in 2023. But we know that if you’re not ready for it, it’s not going to be pretty.
The point is, what’s your agency telling you? If you’re paying someone for PPC, they should be keeping you fully informed during this transition period, explaining what’s going on and discussing all the options to keep your business thriving.
All too often, we find PPC agencies operating in their Adwords comfort zone – basically doing half a job. They track the clicks in Google but don’t delve into your website analytics. In other words, they’ll tell you how many people are clicking on your ads, but not if those clicks are actually winning you business.
If your agency is one of these, you might be sleepwalking into a crisis. Everything in the Adwords garden will be looking rosy. The reports they send you are as healthy as ever and no-one is alerting you to the storms ahead.
Act now to protect your business
The demise of third-party cookies might mean the end of tracking as we’ve known it – but it certainly isn’t a death knell for digital advertising. The difference is finding a partner who’s on the ball and helping you to take steps right now, to protect you from a huge drop off a cliff in a few months’ time.
Your agency should be explaining what’s going on and helping you to put together a robust strategy, based around boosting your first party cookies. This data – things like the email addresses of people who sign up for your newsletter – belongs to you. Prioritising it now will future-proof your business, so you can smoothly navigate the changes to come.
How do you measure up? We offer free industry benchmarking, so you can rate your online success, compared to your competitors. Get in touch to find out more – or have a chat with us about digital auditing, PPC, SEO and more.