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How It Crumbles: The Death of the Tracking Cookie

How It Crumbles: The Death of the Tracking Cookie

Things aren’t all sugar and spice in the world of data cookie tracking.

There’s been quite a bit of buzz about the downward spiral that third-party cookies are currently facing. Google has been adamant that it will completely eliminate cookies by 2022. Across the EU (and more slowly, the US), laws are being passed that protect consumer privacy and create a more transparent transaction system to exchange data between businesses and individuals.

For some marketers, the loss of the third-party cookie spells doom for their entire marketing strategy.

For others, planning is already underway to continue being the best damn marketer you can be, cookies or no cookies.

Starting from Scratch

Before we can talk about the death of the cookie, we need to talk about its life– That is, why it was created in the first place.

Back in 1994, a programmer named Lou Montulli created a teeny, tiny data file that websites write to your hard drive whenever you stop by.

This file, called a cookie, is a short piece of text containing a user ID to track the pages you visit. It can also gather up general information about the number of visitors, return visitors, where they were before visiting the webpage they’re currently on. The last page they were on before closing out their browser.

Their entire purpose is to provide general information about products and services you’re interested in, then remarket them on other sites.

It’s the reason why you search Amazon for dog beds, then get on Facebook and have your feed bombarded with ads for pet stores.

Tracking cookies come in two “flavors,” each with the same general purpose:

First-Party Cookies or Single-Session Cookies

Single-session cookies are dedicated to making the website easier to navigate and more pleasant to use. They are immediately scrubbed from the database when the user closes their browsers.

Third-Party or Persistent Cookies

These are cookies that track you as you move to a different website than the one you are currently on. Third-party cookies track between websites, which allows marketing services to “follow” you around the web, showing you ads for products you’ve looked at even after you’ve left the e-commerce page you were browsing earlier.

These cookies are stored on your hard drive until the user manually deletes them.

While cookies are benign, they can give people a little anxiety about why and by whom they are being tracked.

Privacy concerns have led to the passage of legislation like the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) and e-Privacy Regulation (ePR) in the European Union and the California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA) and Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA) in the United States.

These laws set a precedent for how and why businesses are allowed to gather data, what data they are allowed to access, and how long they can store it.

Additionally, browsers have begun the process of eliminating cookie tracking.

In the past, a user had to specify whether or not they wanted to allow third-party cookie tracking. A pop-up, often on the very bottom of the webpage, would prompt you to accept all cookies.

By not clicking anything, the concept of implied consent kicks in, allowing your data to be tracked on the basis that you never took the required action to block it.

The default setting will block all cookies, leaving many marketers to wonder what the future of data aggregation and retargeted marketing will look like. Google Chrome recently began updating with enhanced cookie blocking controls that make it easier than ever for consumers to stop data tracking.

David Temkin, Director of Product Management, Ads Privacy, and Trust for Google, shared the following in a March 3 announcement:

“In fact, 72% of people feel that almost all of what they do online is being tracked by advertisers, technology firms or other companies, and 81% say that the potential risks they face because of data collection outweigh the benefits, according to a study by Pew Research Center. If digital advertising doesn’t evolve to address the growing concerns people have about their privacy and how their personal identity is being used, we risk the future of the free and open web. “

Whipping Up a New Marketing Strategy

When you’re ready to pivot away from third-party cookies, there are several other strategies you can adopt to help make up for the potential loss in engagement and revenue:

Start with the Tools Already Created

While Google is dedicated to eliminating third-party cookies, they also recognize that 80% of their revenue comes from the $147 billion in ads they sell. If marketers don’t feel that their advertising dollars are worth the investment because of these new measures, Google is set to lose a massive chunk of their key profit source.

In response, they’ve begun work on The Privacy Sandbox, which works for consumers to protect their privacy and for marketers to help them aggregate user data completely anonymously.

The basic premise is that Google will create groups of people that will allow marketers to continue targeting, retargeting, and optimizing their advertising while protecting all individual data.

Reinvest in Organic, Social, and First-Party Data

If you haven’t already cultivated a social media following, built an email list full of leads and potential leads, and created landing pages that encourage users to drop information like their email addresses and phone numbers, now is the time.

Consumers want to be marketed to, but there have to be limited– This is the basic tenant of why marketing burnout and privacy concerns afflict many. So many companies are marketing to them constantly that they are bombarded by information. It’s overwhelming.

Organic, social, and first-party data is less likely to contribute to these negative connotations that consumers have about marketing because they are openly pursuing a relationship with your business.

If they find you through organic searches, it’s because your business is relevant to the terms they’re searching for.

If they follow you on Facebook, it’s because they either sought you out or you caught their eye.

If they drop their name, email, and phone number on your website landing page, it’s because they want you to contact them.

These kinds of relationships will bear more fruit in the long run, so investing in them today can help ease next year’s transition to a mostly cookie-free browsing experience.

Boost your Content Production

Organic search is tough to break into if you’re consistently creating excellent, well-written content.

We’ve discussed ad nauseam the importance of pursuing your SEO through keywords, optimization, and engaging content, but it’s critical at this point.

Businesses that were getting by with retargeted social ads and SERP banner ads will have to pivot quickly, but SEO efforts take time to pan out. It would be best if you started now to get a foundation built on a well-researched keyword strategy, consistent production, and compelling calls-to-action.

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