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No more cookies!

No I’m not talking about the advertising ban on sugar. 

The cookies I’m talking about are the files stored on your computer. The ones that enable your ads and emails to be targeted to the right audience.

You may have seen a few headlines in recent months about the death of the internet cookie in relation to online privacy.  Both Google and Apple have been (at least seemingly) championing this cause.

Given the nature of my business is “data-driven” marketing, we’ve understandably been asked by clients to clarify the potential impact of all these changes to the online marketing industry.

If you’re already familiar with cookies and how they work, then you can skip the next section and jump to how I see things developing in the next 18 – 24 months and the changes we’re making on behalf of our clients.

Cookie Crash Course

  • What the hell is a cookie anyway? – A cookie basically a file which is downloaded to your computer / device when you visit a website.

  • Sounds creepy! – Privacy concerns over cookies have given them a bad name in recent years.   In reality, cookies are largely used to identify a visitor and personalise their experience.  For example saving your login information when visiting a website.  

  • Not all cookies are the same – One thing to remember is that cookies come in two distinct types.  First party (cookies you deliver from your own website) and Third party, cookies collected from another website and shared with another website.

Real world example

A good example of this in practice is Facebook advertising.  When advertising on Facebook (although already reducing inability) you are able to define a target audience by the behaviour they conducted off Facebook.  Such as visiting a brand website or viewing a product.  

This is made possible by the sheer number of websites that run what’s called a Facebook pixel on their websites (this enables them to collect data on their own visitors) 

These pixels pass information back to Facebook and store information against each Facebook user.  That information is then used to create “audiences” which advertisers can target.

So when you see an ad following you around the internet after you visited a specific website, it’s a third-party cookie that’s being used to target you.

What you need to know

Anyone in the UK is already familiar with those annoying GDPR cookie pop-ups. They were intended to pass control of cookies to the consumer.  

The tech giants felt this wasn’t a step far enough and have decided to make the decisions for you. (I’ll explain why that’s the case later) 

The worlds most popular browser, Google Chrome, will block all third party cookies from the end of 2022. Apple has already rolled out similar changes this year on its mobile devices and the safari web browser started blocking cookies in early 2020. 

So by early 2022, the third party cookie will effectively be no more. 

This is very much a case of watching one hand and ignore what the other one is doing.

First party cookies are here to stay.  So this means if you send a visitor from Facebook or google to your website your first party cookie (in this case your google analytics cookie) should record the source of that visitor.  (Assuming you’re using a UTM tracking link).  A percentage of your audience may decline that cookie pop up on your website but thats nothing new.

Reporting should remain the same, but targeting becomes more difficult.

Now here comes the sleight of hand being employed the tech giants.  Google chrome uses first party cookies, as does IOS and Safari.  

Not wanting to put our readers to sleep with tech jargon overload, suffice it to say that Google and Apple are still able to collect “first party” cookie data on users accessing websites via their devices.  They’re in effect banning “other third party” cookies.  

It’s a subtle distinction which coincidentally hurts Facebook a lot more than Google & Apple.

So for example when you use a google chrome or safari browser they are collecting “first party” data from that activity.  Which they can then offer to advertisers for targeting.  

This has very little to do with consumer privacy and much more to do with land grabbing audience targeting on behalf of google and apple.  ( apple is already rumoured to be working on a rival search engine to google which focusses more on privacy).  

It’s shocking to me that Facebook hasn’t seen this coming from a mile away and launched its own browser to defend its territory.  

So how will these changes impact you?:

  • Conversion Reporting – Should remain relatively unchanged (dependant on cookie pop up approval for you sites)

  • Audience Targeting – Limited to data collected by first party cookies.  Activity that happens on a platform or individual website.  E.g you can target people who like cokes Facebook page, but not people who visited cokes website.

  • Recommendation – Creating a personalised experience for your website visitors will make them much more willing to permit first party cookies.  Educate them to the benefits rather than treating all cookies the same.

I really hope this helped put your minds at ease around a complex subject which is more often than not misreported and poorly understood.