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What does a world without cookies and pixels look like?

What does a world without cookies and pixels look like?

In March 2022, Google finally announced that Universal Analytics will be coming to an end – with the launch of GA4 set for some time in early 2023. After Apple’s IOS14 update cut into Facebook’s ability to track iPhone users, to some it could feel like a double whammy that would seriously curtail the work of digital marketers.

But the truth is, most people are pleased by the idea of not being tracked and targeted by digital ads wherever they go. And for those in marketing, rather than signalling the end of the world, it simply means we must take a different approach – which is a less glamorous reality than fearing that digital marketing as we know it is dead in the water.

 What are first- and third-party cookies?

To start at the beginning, here is the difference between first- and third-party cookies. They both collect user data, although this is not done in the same way:

  • First party cookies

These are the cookies that live on the site you click into, and the site owns any data it collects. This includes things like usernames and passwords.

  • Third party cookies

These cookies come from a different site and track your movements on the site you are visiting via your browser. The information is then sent to the third-party cookie owner.

How are cookies and pixels different?

Cookies and pixels are different in the way that information is delivered and stored. Cookies are added by a site to the browser of the person searching. Users can opt out or clear them from the browser and they can’t track activity across multiple devices.

Tracking pixels deliver user information to the servers directly and are not reliant on a single browser. They can’t be opted out of or cleared as easily as cookies, which is why they are loved so much by marketing teams.

 How are cookies and pixels changing?

Taking GDPR into consideration along with the IOS14 update and the move away from Universal Analytics, we are entering a period of reduced third party data and tracking, with first party data taking on increased importance.

Safari and Firefox already block third party cookies and Google Chrome is set to follow suit in 2023. Audience profiling and behaviour tracking is not as easy as it once was using pixels, as a growing number of companies focus on improving privacy for their customers.

For digital marketers this means it will be as easy to collect data about how people browse away from your site, affecting the ability to build interest and behavioural-based audience lists. This will also affect the ability to understand the ROAS for some campaigns as tracking will be less accurate.

 How will GA4 work?

GA4 is being marketed as a privacy-centric tracking tool that can be used on apps and websites and can work with and without cookies, which will help brands to make a gradual transition.

GA4 will rely heavily on first party cookies, which works well with current legislation and will also provide a lot of data about how people behave on your site. Machine learning will also be used to create ‘blended data’ although it is not yet clear how this will work, as the information currently released by Google is still very vague. What isn’t in doubt is that cookies will eventually disappear, so it’s important to get prepared for that eventuality.

Google has begun work on Topics, which will help Google Chrome to learn more about user behaviour as they browse, recording it across a 3-week period. Specific ‘interests’ are then assigned to the user (taken from a list of 300 interests) and when a user arrives on a site that supports Topics for ads, three topics the user has shown interest in are highlighted to the website who can then share this info with advertisers.

 What will digital marketing professionals without cookies?

Based on what we know so far, there are few things you can do that will make it easier to adjust:

  • Accept that change is normal

Change is constant in the digital marketing world and moving away from third-party cookies is just another thing that must be adapted to. Many of the existing strategies that proved successful will still work, but new technology and platforms will have to be used instead.

  • Install GA4

While it’s still in its early stages, the sooner you install GA4, the better accustomed and more successful you will become by using it. Updates will be on the way and rather than leaving it to the last minute, it makes more sense to integrate it at your own pace.

  • Develop first party data

Third party cookies are on the way out, so whether it’s onsite or via in-app analytics, it’s vitally important to collect strong first party data over the next 12 months. Use it to leverage conversion rates and introduce effect push notifications, email campaigns and referral programmes.

So what’s next?

If you’re worried about cookies and pixels and not sure where to start we offer a free audit of your website which will generate a to-do list of things to work on. We also offer an SEO and Website setup service which allows us to fully optimise your Google My Business and Google Analytics accounts as well as generate new metadata for your website pages to help your site rank better in search engines.

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