Blog Artcile

A World Without Cookies. How To Prepare For The Phasing Out Of Third-Party Tracking

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Are you familiar with the planned changes to third-party cookies and what that might mean for your business advertising?

Google is set to follow suit behind Safari and Firefox and block the use of third-party cookie tracking through its Google Chrome browser (the most used web browser in the world!)

What does this mean? Well the tracking tags and and pixels (such as the FB pixel) that we've relied on for years to optimize our ad campaigns, build re-marketing audiences and provide us with data and insights into our ad performance will no longer function.

There have already been massive changes to data tracking over the past 12 months that many business owners will be familiar with, but once these changes roll out via Google the impact will be more widespread.

The good news is there ARE things you can do now to start preparing for a post-cookie world.

One: Prioritise Owned Data

The power and relative free-reign of platforms like Facebook over the past few years lulled many of us into a false sense of security. We became accustomed to being able to effortlessly track our customers every move on the internet through the Facebook pixel, and our ability to re-market to them with pinpoint accuracy was a given. But if we've learnt anything over the past 12 months since the sweeping changes to Facebook's pixel tracking came into effect (thanks to Apple's iOS 14 update), its the importance of collecting data that you yourself own and that is not beholden to the whim of a third-party platform you have zero control over. Collecting contact lists of your customers or prospects is more valuable than ever. Names, email addresses, phone numbers and any other pertinent info they're willing to share with you is like data gold for your business. And by owning these lists directly you minimise the risk to your business if say a platform like Facebook or Instagram or YouTube were to shut down or roll out some major change that impacts your ability to tap into the data you've spent years (and likely big ad budgets) accumulating.

Two: Get Server-Side Tracking Set Up On Your Website

Third-party data may be on the way out, but first-party data is very much in. And in addition to collecting your customer information and building your database, your website tracking should also be capturing as much first-party data as possible to feed back to your ad platforms. The Facebook pixel, and other similar client-side tracking tags, involve the user's browser directly sending data to the server or system destination of your marketing platforms. One of the key benefits to this type of third-party cookie is that the data collection takes place directly on the users device, providing direct access to data such as cookies, URL parameters, user agent, referrer, and IP address. As more of the most popular web browsers restrict third-party tracking, the ability for tracking pixels such as Facebook's continues to diminish. Server-side tracking involves a tag sending data into your web server first, then your web server sending that data onto the destination system. Server-side tracking is not impacted by browser updates or ad blockers, which often results in higher-quality data. The data is owned by you, and you get to decide what to track and where to send the data you collect. In response to the need for first-party data tracking Facebook released its server-side tracking solution called the Facebook Conversion API (CAPI) which should be implemented alongside the Facebook pixel. Implementation of server-side tracking is typically more complex than third-party cookie tracking, so your best bet is to call in developer assistance to have it set up correctly.

Three: Feed Your First-Party Data Back Into Your Ads Platforms

Where once third-party advertising platforms such as Facebook and Google had uninhibited access to user data, these days its patchy at best. While tags and tracking on both the client and server side will continue to accumulate user data from your website, the data picture is generally considered to be incomplete. However, there is more that we can do as business owners and advertisers to help pour more information into our ad accounts to improve data tracking and reporting. Feeding your first-party data back into your ads platform is one way to better asses and understand the results of your advertising. Facebook's Offline Conversion Tracking is one such area where we as advertisers can pass back information on our customers and allow Facebook to data-match the information against users who were served our ads. Offline Conversion Tracking has been a feature of the Facebook advertising landscape for years, enabling businesses whose final "conversions" (such as a purchase or the booking of a trade or service) take place offline or in person to assess the impact of any online advertising on the Facebook platform. It works by uploading lists of key customer information and data points that Facebook then attempts to match against users in its system that have been served ads. While traditionally meant for brick-and-mortar businesses or tradespeople, the technology can be used to help plug gaps in the current data tracking ecosystem. Now there are some caveats attached to this type of data matching, and its by no means a foolproof system (another topic for another time) but it is a worthwhile tactic to explore to strengthen your ad reporting.

Four: Step Back And Look At The Bigger Picture

A lot has changed over the past 10 years in digital advertising. For years we lived in a golden age, where we could not only track every last data point and target our customers with pinpoint accuracy, but the advertising platforms themselves could learn everything there was to know about our prospects and practically deliver them to our business on a silver platter. Now don't get us wrong, data protection is a GOOD THING. Even as advertisers who know what goes on behind the curtain, we too have experienced that uncomfortable feeling when an ad for some obscure product pops up in our feed just minutes after talking about it with a friend. But all of these changes to data tracking and insight have fundamentally changed the way we advertise online and analyse results. It can be difficult for business owners to grapple with just how different the landscape is now. In the past business owners could see with accuracy and confidence how many dollars came into their business as a result of the specific ad spend they'd invested. Money out versus money in. Nowadays, we're having to work with aggregated numbers and estimated results in our ad accounts. Which makes it difficult to know for sure the true impact of advertising dollars. For many businesses, when looking at the results reported in ad accounts its starting to look like a whole lot of money out, and not so much back in. But here's the thing, while the ads platforms are facing greater challenges around their ability to track users, the power of these platforms and the results they deliver is still incredibly robust. You may not be able to assess results with confidence in your ad accounts, but at the end of the day the one thing that truly matters remains the same - money out, money in. And we can still make those kinds of assessments for our business by zooming out beyond each individual ad account and looking at the bigger picture. Looking at your total monthly revenue relative to your total monthly investment in advertising (across all channels) and any change or growth trends can help you to understand, from a business-wide perspective, how your media spend is contributing to your bottom line. Ultimately you want to be striving for profitability in your business and the best place to make that assessment is by looking at the complete picture.

If you'd like more advice and insights into the ever changing world of digital advertising be sure to connect with us via our social communities.

Instagram: @socialseasonau

Facebook: @socialseason

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