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Measuring Performance in a Post-Cookie World

June 28, 2021

The Fight For Consumer Privacy 

The privacy of our personal data is becoming a growing concern year over year. With the combination of countless data leaks and news about how tech companies profiting on their data, consumers are more aware of the value of their data and concerned with who has access. 

Within technology and ad companies it’s a race. Tech companies are locking down their owned platforms to restrict tracking and gain consumer confidence. Ad companies are trying to modernize AdTech to be more privacy-conscious without impacting profitability. 

For companies that market and advertise themselves, it’s been a confusing time. How do you keep up with the changes and know how these decisions will impact your business? 

We’ve outlined some key areas to help you understand what’s changing, how it will impact you, and recommended steps to prepare for future changes. 

First Party Cookies 

First party cookies are bite-sized containers of information that your website saves to improve the user experience and track visitors.  If you’ve ever had a website that saved your preferences, that’s an example of how first party cookies work. 

First party cookies are commonly used by analytics and customer relationship management (CRM) platforms to locally track activity for each website visit. 

Recent Change 

All web browsers still allow first party cookies. This is to ensure websites can continue to provide a more tailored experience as well as allow website owners to measure and track how their user’s utilize the site. 

Safari has some specific restrictions to how first-party cookies can be used. Safari utilizes it’s Intelligent Tracking Protection (ITP) to determine if first party cookies are safe and not violating a users privacy. In addition, Safari is also much more restrictive on the life of cookies, expiring them after seven days. 

Current & Future Impact 

Overall, your Analytics and CRM tracking should be safe (for now). Both utilize first-party cookies and are tracking their activity within your own website. These cookies provide important functionality on websites and are not likely to be eliminated any time soon. 

With Safari’s restrictions more of your visitors may start to appear as “new visits” after their cookies expire. This can create some challenges when trying to use your analytics or CRM data to understand how long-term users utilize your website. Since Safari is the most restrictive, you may want to consider isolating that traffic from other web visits when looking at performance and overall use patterns beyond a seven day timespan.  

Apple has not announced any additional plans for restricting first party cookies, however you may see other web browsers implement similar restrictions to stay competitive.  

Third Party Cookies 

Third party cookies are bite-sized containers of information that can be shared across multiple online websites. These cookies allow information to be built up over time and aggregate more details about a user as they browse from website to website. These cookies are primarily used for tracking of advertising across websites. 

Recent Change 

Both Safari and Firefox block all third party cookies by default, which stops platforms such as Facebook and Google from tracking cross-domain. Google Chrome will block these cookies by default starting in 2022. 

Current & Future Impact 

Limiting these cookies decreases the accuracy of ad networks to properly target and present ads to visitors on third party sites. For example, if you have paid retargeting banner ads for your website, visitors in Safari and Firefox will likely not see your ads.  

This can limit the pool of potential targets via demographic details or geography.  Ad networks will not be able to identify as many people with those specific attributes in the future.  

Google is actively working on alternative methods to target visitors with interest based advertising (Federated Learning of Cohorts – FLoC) which would provide a viable replacement for third party tracking. 

Microsoft Edge does not currently block third party cookies by default, and has not made any announcement for a timetable regarding those changes. 

Email Privacy 

While changes to how tracking works on web browsers have been a large focus, email has been a recent target for increasing consumer’s privacy. As email is one of the most powerful owned platforms to nurture and communicate with customers, its important to understand how your ability to track will change soon. 

Recent Changes 

As of Fall 2021, Apple will be disabling tracking pixels and IP addresses in its default email applications as part of its “Mail Privacy Protection” program. It’s an opt-in system, but given the opportunity consumers will choose more privacy if it doesn’t impact their experience.  

In addition, Apple is introducing one-time use/disposable email addresses that can be used to avoid receiving spam or having your email sold in the future.  

Current and Future Impact 

These new restrictions will eliminate your ability to know more about the location of your subscribers or who opens each of your emails. This will have some severe impacts on your ability to A/B test subject lines as part of a campaign.  

Email providers will still be able to track link clicks which can provide some downstream metrics, however your overall performance will require some interpretation due to the gap in data. 

With the disposable/one-time emails you will not be able to build a long-term profile of any interactions someone has with your organization. This has the largest impact on building customer profiles via a CRM, but might also impact the effectiveness of campaigns that leverage lead-magnets. 

No other email services have announced similar features. With Gmail and Microsoft Outlook being some of the biggest players in the space, we’ll see if they make some adjustments as we move closer to the iOS 15 launch in the fall. 

What Should I Do To Prepare? 

Your ability to track and understand your marketing and advertising efforts will continue to be challenged in the years to come. Below are our key recommendations for where to start improving and adjusting your approach to your current marketing & advertising efforts. We recommend sharing this article with your Marketing, Web, or IT teams to start to prepare your organization for these recent (and upcoming) changes. 

  • Build your first party data – Collect details from your current and prospective customers. Any information you are comfortable asking for can help you better understand their intent and know how to reach them. 
     
  • Learn (and map) your customer’s journey – With reduced attribution, you’ll need to truly understand how your visitors interact with your organization so you can guide them to take action. 
     
  • Begin Your Transition To Google Analytics 4 – Google’s latest iteration of its Analytics platform is introducing new methods for privacy-safe tracking. Google will be enhancing this version of the platform at a much more aggressive rate in the months to come, so we recommend installing it to begin your data collection now. 
     
  • Enhance your on-site tracking – Your first-party analytics is going to continue to work and provide the most information about your customer and prospective customers. Enhance your tracking soon so you have a stronger foundation of data to utilize in the future. 

Levi Neuland

Vice President | Digital Marketing

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