The cookie has been a staple of the internet for years. These small bits of data track your browsing activity and are often used to target advertising towards you, but what will happen when they disappear? The future is coming up quickly as Google has announced that their Chrome browser will block third-party cookies by default, and other browsers are considering the same.
The loss of these data bits means you can’t target ads to consumers with perfect accuracy anymore, but it’s not bad news for marketers. For one thing, this gives companies a chance to change their marketing strategies to make up for what, in some ways, will be a loss. What provides marketers with hope is that there are still other methods of tracking browsing activity—even if they’re not as accurate or consistent. For example, Google Analytics allows you to measure traffic and conversions without the need for cookies. Google also has some new targeting options for those who use their Google Ads platform that will enable marketers to narrow down their focus, even if it’s just a little bit more complicated than before.
After years of serving as an essential marketing tool and staple on the internet, cookies are going away. Below, we explore how the cookie-less future of digital advertising will affect your future marketing efforts. Be aware this reality is coming up quickly. Read below if you’re wondering how it will affect your marketing efforts.
What are cookies?
Cookies are small bits of data stored on a user’s device (computer, laptop, mobile device, etc.) during a user’s web browsing experience. These cookies were initially used to keep the identity and preferences of visitors. Still, now they also track what ads you have seen so companies can serve targeted advertising (i.e., if you’ve been looking at women’s clothing sites in the past week, you might see an ad for a sale on shoes).
What are the benefits of cookies?
Cookies allow organizations to target ads toward particular groups of people, provide better customer service and gather data that can help them improve their products or services. Cookies also make it easier for organizations to collect information on visitors to know what content to provide them. But this will all be lost when they disappear.
What’s wrong with cookies?
The problem with cookies is that they allow organizations to track your every move and preference without your consent. As an internet user, you have no control over which sites store cookies on your machine–you can’t even see them if you wanted to. And worse yet, the only way an organization serves targeted advertising when browsing the internet is to have the user’s machine store their cookies. The ramifications of these problems are part of a broader problem regarding user privacy rights.
We recently published an article on the effects that iOS 14.5 has on digital advertising consent and what this could mean for marketing in the future. One had a good answer when we spoke directly with our remarketing vendors related to that update, while the other did not. While we understood the “wait and see” mentality, we were also eager to learn more. When asked about the cookie-less update with both vendors, there was more significant concern about this topic and the existing capabilities of their platforms since they were entirely dependent on using cookies. These undisclosed remarketing vendors are substantial players in the association space, so we were surprised that neither platform had a solution or a ready response available with the update lurking out there.
Why are cookies disappearing?
The vast majority of internet users have no idea what a cookie is or its use. For most people, cookies act as something hidden in the background that’s never required their input for anything more than loading a website—and they’re happy to go about continuing without thinking about them.
However, this will change soon when cookie use becomes obsolete; in fact, the future could start as soon as January 1st. 2022. This has primarily been due to increased security concerns around advertisers and other websites tracking information and browsing habits.
Organizations have started to explore new ways of tracking users’ browsing habits without using the traditional cookie tactic. Instead, they offer incentives (i.e., exclusive content or discounts) and track users who choose those offers over others to target them more effectively by email or social media.
The good news is that target marketing won’t be lost entirely in a cookie-less world. However, it’s important to understand how this new trend affects your advertising strategy and requires planning accordingly. For example, many organizations offer referral programs where customers can refer other potential buyers, and in return, they get rewarded. If you’re looking for a way to keep your users engaged and active on social media or even email campaigns, this is a great solution.
What does this mean for nonprofits?
This means that nonprofits will need to invest in strategies other than targeting ads based on cookies. Instead, they’ll have to work harder at uncovering the personal data of their users and then target campaigns accordingly by email or social media. If you don’t want your organization or marketing campaign to be irrelevant by 2022, it’s time to implement new strategies and data collection methods.
What will happen to cookie-less advertising?
Organizations that use targeted ads using other methods (for example, email) will typically be okay. They’ll still have a way of measuring what users are looking at through other methods. However, organizations that depend solely on cookies for all their data might find it more difficult. One proposed solution is called “browser fingerprinting,” which tracks each user’s specific browsing habits and web history to create a unique ID, allowing targeted advertising based on these preferences.
Why is browser fingerprinting so controversial?
Many privacy advocates are against creating an ID that tracks your browsing activity to target ads more effectively because it’s much easier for hackers and other malicious users to access.
What are some examples of brands that are going cookie-less?
Some organizations have already begun experimenting with a cookie-less future, such as Spotify and Facebook. Both use the strategy of incentivizing users to provide their personal information or opt into targeted ads instead. This is just one example out of many that will have to be implemented for brands to remain relevant.
It’s easy to see the writing on the wall regarding cookies and their relationship with advertising. Organizations need more than a cookie-based strategy if they want any hope of success by 2022, so now is the time to take steps towards that goal.
How will this affect your organization’s marketing campaigns?
When it comes down to it, using a cookie-based strategy could be bad for any organization in the long run. If you don’t make changes and adapt alongside technology, someone else will come along who does. With the amount of money that organizations spend on advertising, investing time and resources into a cookie-less future strategy is worth investing in.
A cookie-less strategy must include a comprehensive data strategy that tracks information on your users and their preferences. This way, you can target them with any marketing campaign relevant to what they’re looking at or the content they’ve previously interacted with.
What are some other ways organizations can target their audience without cookies?
There are many new strategies that organizations could try to target audiences better than ever before–here are just a few of them.
- Create an ID using browser fingerprinting, which tracks users’ specific browsing habits to target ads more effectively and accurately. This removes privacy concerns for some people, but not all; It may also be too difficult or expensive for many companies with smaller budgets.
- Allow users to opt into targeted advertisements to receive exclusive offers and content. This is a perfect strategy for smaller organizations that might not afford a browser fingerprinting system or a large advertising budget.
- Target ads based on the organization’s Facebook page likes by emulating what they do in their newsfeed algorithm. Create specialized pages that show individual posts from employees, popular posts in your category, and posts from other organizations that are relevant to a user’s interests.
- Target ads based on the company’s Twitter followers by keeping tabs on what they tweet about or interact with most often and their location. This is especially helpful for local organizations who want more of an audience in their area!
- Use banner ads targeted to the specific type of content being viewed at any given time. You might have already seen this strategy on YouTube, Facebook, or other websites–it’s not as personal, but it can be just as effective and successful.
- Use an email marketing campaign that targets certain users based on their location by sending out hyperlocal ads and offers. This is a great way to get more people in the door and on your email list.
- Create promotions for specific products or content that are only available through direct messages from this page. This strategy goes against personalization, but it could be an effective marketing technique if you’re not asking too much of your customers.
- Target ads based on the organization’s Google Adwords campaigns using keywords related to a particular campaign. This is especially useful for companies who want to advertise their products in more than one area of interest or those with a large budget!
How will cookies disappearing affect your branding?
The cookie-less future may mean that organizations won’t be able to monitor how visitors interact with their website, meaning they’ll have a more challenging time serving up the content and ads that are most relevant to you. This can result in lower conversion rates for brands that use targeted advertising or retargeting.
As of January 2017, Google Chrome is the first major browser to announce it will stop recognizing cookies by 2022. This means that as soon as this update goes live in 2021 or 2022, advertisers won’t be able to track what you’ve viewed anymore, and we’ll see a shift towards non-traditional tracking techniques like incentivized offers. This will make it more difficult for influential organizations to stay in touch with customers and know what content they want. Still, it’s a price worth paying if we can avoid the potential privacy breach of cookies prevalent in today’s online world.
Cost Savings and Better Outcomes
The dark side of cookies is that they can often be fraudulent and alter brand safety. By doing away with cookies, advertisers can now undo bad digital marketing habits and release themselves from the smoke and mirrors sold by prominent ad tech vendors. Many organizations were misled to believe that more targeting meant more ads and better business when there was a minimal effect when going cookie-on vs. cookie-less. Despite the hype formulated by these vendors about how magical ad targeting could be through cookies, studies showed no difference in outcome when users went cookie-less versus cookie-on.
The “Cookieless Future” is Bright and Grim
The cookie-less future of advertising will have mixed effects on your organization. On the one hand, it may lower conversion rates for brands who use targeted advertising or retargeting since the tracking technology will no longer be available. But on the other hand, many benefits come with this change, such as more direct interactions with your audience and a more secure environment.