How the Cookie Crumbles: Privacy Changes that will Impact you

July 20, 2021

As concerns around online consumer privacy grow, consumers are demanding changes from Google, Facebook and Apple. Both Google and Apple are attempting to become more privacy friendly, and their changes will indirectly impact Facebook as well. Advertisers may view the changes less positively, as less online tracking means more uncertainty for advertisers. The goal of this article is to outline these changes and steps your business can take, in an easy-to-understand format.

What the heck are cookies?

Cookies are small data files used by search engines and websites that attach a unique ID to your digital device. Apple uses a somewhat similar method but refers to the files as “pixels.”  Using cookies to track website visits provides valuable information to search engines and publishers and can help you identify how many unique visitors your own website receives. Cookies also help create a personalized experience for you as a consumer. They’re also responsible for the creepy feeling you get when you see ads for the last product that you Googled on every app that you use (a method known as retargeting).

What’s the concern?

While cookies and pixels themselves are relatively harmless, some fear that combining data from various sources can create privacy concerns. A data company that combines data from your search behaviour, website visits, social media activity and location information from your mobile phone may know more about you than you are willing to share. And that data is then available to be shared or sold without your consent.

From an advertiser’s point of view, knowing where and when consumers are doing something is the ideal state. Data gives the opportunity to target a particular demographic or geographic areas, reducing advertising costs and maximizing returns.

It’s this balancing act that Google and Facebook have to manage (as Apple does not have a base of advertisers, it’s much easier for them to follow the wishes of consumers). Apple’s recent iOS update provides iPhone users with a pop-up letting them know that an app wants to track them. iPhone users can then easily block the app’s tracking ability. This will have a significant impact on Facebook’s ability to deliver personalized ads and is the reason for the recent war of words between the two companies.

At the same time, cookies seem to be decreasing in value (a recent survey by Pew found that 41% of US consumers are deleting their cookies regularly, making cookie data less relevant every day). This is one of the reasons that Google has decided to phase out the use of cookies between 2022 and the end of 2023.

The impact to Saskatchewan businesses.

These changes will impact how search marketing and Facebook advertising will work in the future. If you use these advertising vehicles, you’ll need to change how you think about them a bit. Our search partners at DSA Media believe Saskatchewan businesses who use search marketing will feel these impacts:

  • It will be harder to precisely target audiences. However, your competitors will face the same challenges.
  • Search marketing costs will increase, as targeting becomes more difficult. Your business may want to increase advertising budgets in the future as a result.
  • Data developed by your business will be more important than ever.

What can you do?

In my view, the best long-term solution for Saskatchewan businesses is to decrease our dependency on third party data such as cookies and improve the information that we have about our own customers. Some steps toward that end may be:

  • Engage your customers, rather than tracking them. Remember that consumers and existing customers are often willing to volunteer information through quizzes, social media posts, direct questions on social media, and more. This also means turning a one-way conversation (consumer tracking) into a two-way conversation (like social media interactions). This will require more time on the part of your business but will strengthen relationships while providing data that can give you a strong competitive advantage.
  • Consider customer management software.  A tool that can house and analyze all your data, such as customer contact information, purchase information, feedback from social media and more can arm you with the best data available.
  • Learn about the data that will remain available.  For example, mobile location data will still be available. If you knew where consumers were and when, would it help your business in any way? Would it change the way you reach them?
  • Focus on keywords. Begin thinking more about the right keywords for a search marketing campaign, and less about the demographic that you are trying to reach.
  • Engage the help of a search marketing expert.  Let them track these changes and figure it out for you. Directwest has several search marketing experts available to help you.
  • Implement a cookie policy to your website. You’ve seen them already online – they allow you to ask your website users for consent to use cookies. Upon receiving consent, you have access to additional data.
  • And embrace what improved privacy will mean to you as a consumer.

Understanding these changes and their impacts will help you create a better experience for your website users. Exploring ways to engage your customers can strengthen those relationships and provide your business with a real competitive advantage.

– Allan Millham is the Marketing Manager – Research on the Brand & Digital Platform team at Directwest