There has been a shift in Digital Marketing and Analytics as we know it. To comply with privacy legislations, like GDPR and the Swiss DPA, and be in line with the new global focus on online privacy, many browsers have started to limit or completely block the setting of cookies. This measure contributes to the protection of personal data, but at the same time affects digital analytics and marketing strategies that in recent years have relied on browser cookies.
As it presents a challenge and a big transformation for a market that has become accustomed to accessing this kind of information, this poses the question: how will a cookieless future in Digital Advertising and Analytics look like?
What is Cookie-based Tracking?
A tracking cookie is a small text file dropped onto a user’s browser while viewing a website. Which collects data from the user such as their activity on a website, browsing history, geographic location, purchase trends, and more.
Why Are Cookies Used in Tracking?
What makes a tracking cookie unique is that it can follow a user across multiple sites or services and continue to stack data. The information gathered is often used for direct marketing purposes such as targeted ads or to optimize users’ website experience, however, tracking cookies do carry criticism as some fear the amount of data collected can be intrusive.
Why are cookies being phased out?
Cookie alerts have become more common since the advent of data protection laws, which require users to acknowledge that they are giving access to their data. Third-party cookies have played a critical role in online marketing over the past years, helping brands reach customers even if they abandon a shopping cart and leave a website. However, data privacy is becoming ever-more important in the digital age. This concern for user data privacy is what prompted browsers to announce the end of third-party cookies in the first place. With the phasing out of third-party cookies, the need for online, cookieless tracking is imminent.
What Solutions are available?
- FLoC (Federated Learning of Cohorts) is one of the solutions offered by Google focused on user privacy, which aims to deliver relevant ads by clustering large groups of users with similar interests. The accounts are anonymous, they are grouped according to interests and the user information is processed directly on the device, instead of being transmitted through the web.
- Ads Data Hub: a tool that allows 1st party data to be sent to BigQuery and analyzed with respect to campaign data. One of the objectives of this tool is to create qualified audiences in groups of at least 50 users, in order to maintain data qualification without losing user privacy. In this data lake/warehouse, all third-party data held by Google is stored at the user level, anonymized, and consolidated. Since the data does not provide any user-level identification, Google can legally store it and agencies can use it.
- Server-side Tracking allows analytics and marketing tags to be processed on a client’s own server, rather than on the user’s browser, allowing the information to be managed more securely and also allowing ownership of the data collected. Also demonstrates that there is a capacity to collect data from the end-user, without even having their data.
- Push to First-Party Data with data managers such as Customer Data Platform (CDP). A CDP is a platform that mostly works with 1st Party Data. It is an ecosystem in which all user data is unified and can be used by other platforms, such as Google platforms.
- Consent Mode is one of the most relevant solutions. The main problem with asking for explicit consent is that it can lead to the loss of conversion measurement and paths for those users who refuse it. That is why Google has implemented two variables in the Google Marketing Platform (GMP) configuration: analytics and personalized advertising. By introducing these (ad storage & analytics storage) it will be possible to inform the GMP tags, analytics, and Google ads about the status of the user’s consent. Therefore, if the user has accepted the Consent the tag will run as normal, but if the user rejects it, the tag will run collecting basic and aggregated information, although eliminating the collection of cookie information to respect the user’s privacy. The measurement of conversions will not be lost, but it does not allow to rework those.
- Fingerprinting: collects enough specific attributes about a user’s device and settings to be reliably identifiable within a population of Internet users. This information is often contained in the header data of the IP packet by default, which can include the IP address, the port used, and the browser type. It is then possible to observe the user’s browsing behavior in order to gain insights into the functionality and usability of a web project or to provide personalized content. Browser fingerprinting shouldn’t be obvious to the visitor, given that the data is transmitted anyway and is saved on the server-side.
It is possible to build a website with cookies and big data in a transparent and safe way. In the future, it will be necessary to reformulate the way the Internet and Digital Marketing work. This might translate into online advertising being able to offer a less personalized browsing experience, at least until the marketing industry adapts to this transformation. For users, a cookieless future in Digital Marketing and Analytics tends to bring more security to their data while browsing the web. For digital analysts and advertisers, the end of third-party cookies is far from the end of online tracking. However, it is undeniable that this change has important impacts, such as the reduction of available user data and the adoption of new mechanisms – more transparent and safer for users – for data collection.