The death of third-party cookies is coming
Are you ready for a cookie-free future? Google certainly isn’t.
It is difficult to escape the constant noise around third-party cookies. Every advertising network is talking about it – and rightfully so as they are the ones in the firing line.
Cookies themselves aren’t dead. It would be difficult to find a website operating without them these days. They’re just small text files stored in your browser, which we will need to remember that we’re already logged into our favourite websites. And, of course, websites are still going to use first-party cookies to keep track of the articles we have been reading or the products we have looked at.
It’s only third-party cookies that are on the way out and that’s a good thing for privacy.
Was it right that Facebook could track every website its users visit, even when they weren’t logged in? Too much data is being collected and is only a small security breach (or disgruntled employee) away from hitting the public domain. Most of us wouldn’t feel great about our entire web browsing history being out there.
The difference between first-party and third-party cookies
Simply put, first-party cookies are only accessed by the website the user is visiting. Meanwhile, third party cookies can be accessed by websites other than the one the user is visiting.
First-party cookies are used to store your login details (that is, session IDs – hopefully not passwords) and site preferences, such as font sizes or colours (e.g. dark mode). But they can also track a list of the articles you have read to avoid showing them to you again, or track a list of products you have been looking at to show you similar ones next time.
Third-party cookies are predominately used by advertising networks to track users across and around the wider web. The most common use case is remarketing. This is where a display network can set a cookie and show recently viewed products across the wider web (instead of just your own website) based on products a user has looked at (or even added to their shopping cart without purchasing). Display networks will read this cookie on visits to other websites to recognise the user and then show ads based on their browsing history and behaviour across the web.
When it comes to the end of third-party cookies, Google is moving at a snail’s pace. It is now aiming to phase them out by the middle of 2024, delaying the date another year.
Safari and Firefox have already done so, but only own 19 percent and three percent of the global browser market share respectively. Google owns 66 percent.
What does it all mean in the world of B2B?
Advertising networks are rushing for alternatives, as third-party cookies are an excellent way to follow users around the web. They provide great insight into behaviour, buying intent and interests.
It’s likely we will end up with cohort-based advertising, which means some niche B2B solutions will be more difficult to target if they don’t hit minimum audience sizes.
Remarketing is also likely to suffer if only small numbers of users are coming to your website – which is more likely in B2B than B2C.
What can B2B marketers do about it?
Let the advertising networks worry about the technicalities (they have a vested interest to come up with something usable). B2B marketers should focus on getting the most from their first party data; it will become more and more important.
Did you know only 22 percent of B2B marketers say they regularly ‘test and learn’ to improve their marketing outcomes? This will need to change if they want to come up with the right formulae amid these changes.
The end of third-party cookies might do to contextual advertising what COVID did to QR codes: giving good tech another lease on life.
Contextual advertising means the display networks are analysing each webpage a user is looking at and serving ads based on what the webpage is about, without any cookies.
Advances in machine learning have improved this targeting method over the years, making it easier to target topics instead of just keywords. It’s an old concept, but hard to argue against. Showing ads based on a website’s content can make a lot of sense.
It’s also a good time to look at all your digital channels to see where there might be risks. Some channels are more likely to suffer than others and targeting will probably become broader, increasing wastage. You wouldn’t want to be caught out having all your eggs in the wrong basket when third-party cookies are finally gone!
Cookie changes are pushing all the way into Analytics
Google also had to rethink the way Google Analytics can work with all the privacy-related cookie changes coming their way. The new version of Google Analytics is ready for a cookie-free future and uses machine learning to fill the gaps.
The combination of statistical modelling and actual data signals is meant to provide a better replacement for the current, cookie-reliant version. Google will retire that version (Universal Analytics) in July 2023 and it is high time to plan ahead.
Is your team ready for Google Analytics 4? It feels different and offers a lot more than the current version, but you won’t even touch the surface without spending a good amount of hands-on time in it, ideally combined with training.
One less weapon in the fight against bots
Bots are going through every marketer’s emails, “clicking” every link to scan for security threats. Marketers might see them as bad bots, but their intentions are good.
We can all feel for IT teams who are constantly cleaning up laptops because someone clicked a link in an email to purchase yet another bulk order of iTunes gift cards or redeem their free Bitcoins. The problem is that these bots are messing with email marketing statistics more than ever.
Are your “above benchmark” email open rates real, or are they inflated due to bot activity? Could well be the latter!
This is causing significant issues for marketers who are relying on open rates for sophisticated nurture programs where one email might follow the open of another email (ideally with a delay!).
Apple is pushing this problem even further by downloading every image in emails through proxy servers, including the important tracking pixel (actually a transparent image the size of one screen pixel).
Luckily for B2B marketers, this is only the case for paying iCloud+ subscribers. This makes it less of an issue for B2B emails, but the trend is here to stay.
Marketing automation platforms previously relied on third-party cookies to filter bot from real traffic. The focus is now on finding other (better) ways to identify bots.
Writing first-party cookies on behalf of marketing automation platforms through plugins and APIs creates more work for IT teams, but it’s likely the best solution.
So, where to from here?
Worry less about open rates, and even click-through rates, and focus on actual engagement.
Are your users really engaging with the content on offer? What is their time on your landing page and how many other pages do they visit? Are they converting? Having separate landing pages for your email campaigns can make tracking a whole lot easier – and is also likely to create a less distracting experience.
Lastly, make sure your marketing automation platform has tools to measure, filter and block bot activity. Our marketing automation health check can point you in the right direction.
For B2B marketers wanting to keep abreast of the latest trends in B2B, we are launching our annual B2B Outlook research study soon with insights from B2B CMOs around the world. You can download the current version, which will let you know how to participate in the upcoming study.
Jakob Naumann is the Head of Digital Experience at Green Hat, Australia’s largest B2B agency.