Before we begin the discussion about the end of cookies as we know them, let’s start by talking about walled gardens. Basically, this pertains to marketing platforms, such as Facebook. Wait, you thought Facebook was social media? Well, everything has a means to an end, and at this point I think we can all agree that Facebook is more of a marketing platform than anything else. A walled garden allows companies or platforms to gather data on your users instead of it all happening internally at your company. You do not have the freedom to do what you want with the data. You’re not only trusting Facebook for all of the correct measurements and end result information you need. You’re also allowing Facebook to do what it wants with your data too. As in the only way to advertise on Facebook is to use their technology (DSP or Digital Signal Processing) in order to track performance. You use Facebook through advertising to track data, calculate ROI, retarget audiences, etc. The point of saying it’s ‘walled’ is that it is closed. You don’t really have a way of getting in.
Now, when we dive into the cookies talk, remember that this is all about privacy. Consumers want control over their personal data. But while Google wants to respond to these demands, it also wants to keep an ad-supported web along with giving companies the ability to retarget users without violating privacy.
What do Cookies do now?
Cookies allow a website you’re on to track where you go on their site. This is helpful for companies to see what pages are getting the most action, and whether one page leads to a contact or a purchase. Third-party cookies allow websites that are not the one you’re on to track what you’re doing too - from where you’re going on that website to where you’re going next. This is mainly for retargeting purposes, like when you go to Google and search for a pair of boots, and then you’re on Facebook later and see an ad for the exact pair of boots you were looking at.
Does this even matter for Google’s data collection and will this really make a difference in my data privacy?
Google Chrome accounts for around 60 to 70 percent of the world’s global web browser market. The second place software doesn’t even come close. This is on desktop, not mobile though - where the winner is Apple Safari. The reality is that Google already has a TON of data on user profiles. Plus, the data will still be going through Chrome, it’s just how private it will be to the advertisers. Essentially, Chrome is going to use an API (Application Programming Interface) within itself to collect data and give it to marketers only when it’s determined that the user activity is anonymous. This is instead of identifying the users individually.
They’ve also figured out a way to gain information or build user profiles without cookies, called fingerprinting. This uses your IP address and some other facts about you to track you as you move about the web. Google says it’s going to make sure this doesn’t happen either… but doesn’t this mean they still have to come up with a way to measure and retarget users that just doesn’t seem as sketchy to the users? Because there is reality to look at here.
In the old days of advertising, they’d put up a billboard or an ad in the newspaper, right? But they wanted to be strategic about it - who drives in this area? Who reads this newspaper? Will our content appeal to our audience and what can we say so that it does? We’re still doing these same things, it’s just that now we have a way to identify that someone in fact did drive past that billboard and does read this newspaper and not only that, but that our ad on their commute or in their morning read actually made them want to buy. Meaning our efforts were effective, and that we can do these things again - and that we might be able to keep these people coming back as customers for the rest of their lives.
What’s more, with today’s technology we can learn if certain ads are not performing well and therefore need to be enhanced or changed completely. It may seem shady to some people, but this is what success is. When Kelly Clarkson put out “Miss Independent” after winning American Idol, she probably wanted to make a similar song that would keep people hooked, right? Or why does Chris Harrison say each season of the Bachelor is going to be the most dramatic season ever? Because he knows that drama brings viewers back every single season. These simple concepts and examples are essentially what’s happening in Google and with advertisers. We just want to see what you’re up to and whether or not what we’re doing is working. When it gets not so good is when the data is sold or used illegally, and when users know their information is not private.
So, after that rant, Google and the other browsers still have to come up with ways for marketers to utilize the technology that we have nowadays that helps us do our jobs better. This means that it may just strengthen Google’s walled garden, that thing we talked about earlier. Making it so that there is even more protection of data means that marketers have to subscribe to what Google wants further. This is especially because the majority of Google’s survival - what it runs on - is based on consumer behavior. When you look up a restaurant, where do you think they get the busy times from? The information they’re giving you - from searches to traffic on Google Maps - is taken from tracking and collecting data on users.
FYI - Other Browsers Have Already Gotten Rid of Cookies
Browsers like Safari and Firefox have already blocked third-party cookies, meaning the browser doesn’t store them. You can still have first-party cookies though, the ones that tell you where someone jumped to on your own site. Although on Safari, these cookies only have a life-span of a day instead of a week like before.
How will this impact my advertising strategy?
Cookies are the way most companies track customer behavior. How will we connect with our audience, gain new customers, and retarget ones that we’ve already acquired?
If you use in-house analytics and measurement, the time may be coming to an end for that. You also might have to move your ad spend to social or organic - as in social media and content creation.
First-party cookies will also become more important. Maybe you don’t know how they got there or where they went after, but knowing what they did while they were on your site is going to be more valuable.
Contextual Advertising or Keyword Marketing is what you may be looking at again too. This is when, instead of tracking what sites you’ve been on and giving you ads based on that, you’ll be given ads based on a site you’re currently on. Or the keywords found on that site. If you’re on a site for shoes, you’ll see ads for shoes on that site.
Research studies? Maybe you’ll gain insight via these to see what consumers want. Last resort, though.
Things are absolutely going to change as we move forward with updated privacy policies, and new ways to target and retarget your audience. Even though we’ve been using cookies for nearly three decades, that doesn’t mean we won’t survive without them. Of course, there will be innovations in this area that secure privacy for customers while also giving marketers what they need to do their jobs well. Whether or not it makes walled gardens a little more walled, we will see. The best part of all of this is seeing how the world develops through it and how consumers will react.
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