For many years now, social media marketers have been utilising the noble cookie along with a cup of tea to help ease the stress of a hard-working day. And, whilst these cookies will remain in abundance for some time (we hope), third-party cookies are unfortunately coming to an end.
What are cookies?
The official term for cookies is HTTP cookies, and they have a variety of functions to aid digital marketers. Cookies can track the browsing data of the user, so when you go onto different websites, that cookie you blindly accepted knows about it. This allows digital marketers to target those users with further advertisements. For instance, if you were browsing a website for headphones, after accepting the cookies and moving on, you may start seeing targeted ads for headphones later on. Because of their unique ID, cookies are also able to inform digital marketers of how many unique visitors they’re getting to their site. Otherwise, a user may visit your site multiple times and you’ll subsequently see inflated results. This unique ID allows digital marketers to accurately analyse their website traffic.
As well as third party cookies, there are also first party cookies. First party cookies are created by the site you are browsing. They’re more often used in e-commerce as they can improve user experience by remembering shopping carts when a user leaves the site, remembering specific items you’ve viewed and also your preferences. These massively improve the user experience, but also increase the likelihood of sales. One example of a website which does fantastically with this is Asos.com.
What is happening to third party cookies?
For years now, social media marketers have made use of third party cookies to help them track and understand their website visitors. However, these handy cookies are soon to be phased out – as Google announced in February 2020. Fast forward to September 2021, and Google released a further statement revealing that they won’t be building any tracking identifiers across the range of their products, creating widespread panic amongst the social media marketing world.
Why Google are phasing out cookies
Whilst digital marketers may be scratching their heads at why Google would do such a thing, there are many reasons why they’ve made the decision to phase cookies out.
Ultimately, Google has to appease its users, even if 95% of all internet searches are made through them. This is why they’re constantly refining their algorithm to improve the experience of internet users and to make sure they keep their mammoth share of the market. In their recent blog post they quoted figures from Pew Research Centre, stating that 72% of people feel that almost all of what they do online is being tracked by advertisers, as well as 81% feeling that the potential risks they faced because of data collection outweighed the benefits. This is a painstakingly high percentage of the market, and Google has acted fast to ensure they lose no market share.
The rise of competitors
There is also the rise of privacy first internet browsers such as Brave, Duck Duck Go and Firefox Focus, all of which have increased their usership year on year. In fact, Duck Duck Go in particular (who automatically disable third party cookies unless stated otherwise) achieved a 52% increase in search volume compared to last year, and also reached a record 100 million searches per day. Now, you may say that 100 million is a drop in the ocean compared to the 6.9 billion searches that Google gets every day, but Google is at the top for a reason. Moreover, Google’s biggest competitor in this space, Microsoft’s Bing, has 900 million daily searches, so search engines like Duck Duck Go are being monitored heavily.
Legislation has undoubtedly played a big role within the decision by Google. It seems like only yesterday the EU introduced the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), with email marketers at the time panicking – like so many social media marketers today. This legislation, originally released in 2016, included many elements that sought to make the process of data collection more transparent to web users, while simultaneously minimising data collection. More recently, the California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA) was introduced in 2020. CCPA gave the residents of California rights to delete data collected by them, and also opt-out of any potential selling of their data.
With all of this to contend with, Google also needs to make sure it delivers a good PR image. Moves from governments, popularity of privacy first search engines, and such unease around data with scandals like the Cambridge Analytica scandal, amongst many other big data hacks, could make Google look like the bad guy. Press releases that reveal this latest development will certainly paint them in a better light.
What can digital marketers do about it?
The big question on everyone’s lips right now is: so, what do we do now? Well, if you’re relying on third party data, it might be good to try and get used to a cookie-less world, as well as cramming in as much data as possible before they are phased out. Of course, not all browsers have phased them out – but it is likely that many will follow in the footsteps of Google. Here’s our tips on what you can do about it:
1) Utilise first-party cookies
It’s not a completely cookie-less world, as there is still ample opportunity to take advantage of first-party cookies, which we discussed earlier. Of course, you won’t be able to see any of your user’s browsing data away from your site, but you can utilise your on-site data through first-party cookies. These changes are going to have a massive effect on a user’s experience. Whilst many will enjoy the new way in which the web works, scrolling along without the risk of their data being collected, others will get frustrated at the lack of convenience and personalisation that third parties brought with it. First-party data will help you to understand your web users and how they engage with your website. Like we mentioned earlier, these cookies can provide a seamless experience for your customers through benefits, such as remembering usernames and passwords, shopping cart and previously viewed items – all of which can bolster your user experience.
2) Understand your audience through developing personas
Without third party data, it’s important that you get to grips with your customers and really try and understand who they are. This is why developing personas is something that you should be looking in to, while ensuring you’re utilising any third party you have until they are phased out, in order to create accurate personas of your user base. Of course, you should make sure that you have processes in place without third party cookies, but whilst they’re still here you should also be using them to their full advantage. As previously mentioned, the user is likely to have a less personalised experience through the phasing out of third-party cookies, so it’s our job as marketers to try and fill that void – and we can do so with customer personas.
Hotjar have created this useful guide on how you can begin the process of creating a customer persona.
3) Create content that reaches your personas
Once your personas are created, it’s then time to try and create content that caters to them so that they do feel heard. You’ll need to be thinking about the types of language that each persona uses and what type of language is more likely to spur their interest and make them heard as part of your ad copy. You’ll also need to look into the aesthetics; so, how is your imagery, video and brand going to spur this interest further and make the personas feel heard alongside your copy? All of these elements will help fill the gap of personalisation which has been left by the lack of third-party cookies. You will also want to make sure that you’re split testing these ads too, because there is always room for improvement, and likewise, you must be consistently using this data to feed back into your personas so that you have reliable data backing them. For instance, if your ad really disappoints, then look at refining it or, and perhaps look to assess whether you have a true understanding of your persona, and refine that too!
There is no doubt that the phasing out of third-party cookies is going to have an effect on how digital marketers reach their audience. But, in order to ensure it doesn’t affect users too, it’s important to develop ways to fill the gaps that have been left in user experience through the lack of third-party cookies, to stop your customers feeling the pinch. This presents an interesting time that could create more of a level playing field for smaller organisations against the bigger organisations who have relied on third-party data for so long.
At Social Chameleon, we have been working with businesses across a range of industries for over seven years, implementing a digital marketing strategy tailored to their needs. Are you concerned about the after-effects of losing third party cookies? Our team of experts are here to help – get in touch with us today.