Ever visit one website and when you go to a completely different website, an ad pops up for what you just browsed for?
Well, that’s not your imagination. Your browsing activity was tracked across the web by third-party cookies, which are used by marketers to understand user preferences, interests and buying behavior and to target ads accordingly.
But over time they’ve raised privacy concerns, which is why Google will block third-party cookies from its Chrome Internet browser by late next year, forcing marketers to find new ways to gather consumer information and personalize their message and offerings.
“There’s no easy solution for any marketer because they’re all losing the ability to target and measure campaigns as granularly as they have in the past,” says Stephanie Liu, a Boston-based analyst at Forrester who focuses on privacy and marketing.
Third-party cookies have been around since the 1990s and are small text files created by websites that store user data on their browser. They track your web activity and marketers use them to customize offers or target ads, Liu says.
They are meant to enhance the user experience, but over time have gotten a bad rap for infringing on user privacy rights, says Rob Pepi, co-founder of Goodpep Digital Marketing in Huntington, a digital marketing agency.
“It really comes down to the transparency of what you believe you’re doing on a website and what’s actually being tracked from a data perspective,” he says.
Roughly 6 in 10 U.S. adults say they don’t think it’s possible to go through daily life without having data collected about them by companies or the government, according to Pew Research Center.The situation breeds distrust of Big Tech and outrage from privacy advocates.
Given that, it’s no wonder third-party cookies are headed for extinction. Apple's Safari and Mozilla's Firefox already eliminated cookies, but Google's decision is an even bigger deal since it controls more than 62% of the web-browser market. Google first announced phaseout plans in 2020. See https://tinyurl.com/h6c7c9ry.
So what can marketers do?
Liu thinks marketers should rely on zero-party data, which is basically data consumers give to you willingly. You can do that through such tactics as surveys, polls and quizzes on your site or social media. For example, Liu was enticed to take a quiz on a cosmetics website about her foundation preferences so she could have that shade stored permanently in her records for reordering purposes.
Additionally, Brian Winum, digital marketing director at MAXPlaces Marketing LLC in Farmingdale, a digital marketing agency, says companies should also focus on organic search engine optimization, known as SEO. This involves optimizing a website with relevant keywords to make sure you rank higher in web searches.
He also believes companies should focus on producing strong content for their website and social media, which will help them draw in visitors and build a connection with those users.
In addition, they should try to collect information on their target audience, such as email addresses, and they can use those lists to send out relevant offers and communicate directly with customers, he says. If you know someone’s email address, including company domains, you can even use that to target ads to people that work for that company on LinkedIn, Winum says.
The elimination of third-party cookies means “there’s potentially going to be a bigger push toward organic inbound marketing,” which involves creating content tailored to what the customer is searching for, Pepi says. He also believes in investing in SEO and creating more engaging content that might show up in your users "longtail" keyword searches.
Such a longtail search, for example, could be "a blue scarf made from cashmere," he says. This helps bring visitors to your site or blog rather than having to follow them solely with ads across the web.
Jillian Weston, owner of Jillian’s Circus, an Oceanside-based online marketing company, says it’s all about creating a brand with which customers want to engage.
Brands need to identify that very specific profile of the kind of person they want to sell to, and every piece of content they create should speak to that customer, she says.
“Your content and messaging should be pulling in the people you want to attract,” which will help them actively engage with you, Weston says.
It may be harder to customize ads and offerings with the loss of third-party cookies, but a survey by Merkle found that 90% of consumers surveyed expressed a willingness to share more data about themselves if they have a positive experience with a brand.
Source: Merkle Q1 2022 Customer Engagement Report, tinyurl.com/4rtt52mm