Retargeting and third-party cookie blocking – how will it affect your digital marketing?

Tech companies are cracking down on retargeting and the use of the third-party cookie. With more people becoming concerned over the appropriate use and security of their personal data, regulations and laws surrounding this issue are becoming increasingly common. 

By Steffanie French

Regulation and retargeting

To remain compliant with new regulations, application providers are making significant changes to their technology and in turn this is leading to big changes in digital marketing.

Privacy is the right of consumers to limit how their personal information is used by third-party organizations. Personal information includes:

With access to personal information, data companies can provide highly tailored digital marketing campaigns, which use retargeting techniques, raising concerns over ethics. For example, advertisements could target consumers in emotionally manipulative ways that those consumers would not themselves recognise. Another example would be when you look at some shoes on a fashion website, and you see ads for the same shoes follow you around across social media and other websites.

What is the difference between remarketing and retargeting?

While the terms are often used interchangeably, retargeting generally refers to when advertisers retarget people who have interacted with the brand before in some way, but have not yet converted into a customer. This could be retargeting by actions taken on a website, for example cart abandonment, or by actions taken on a Facebook page, for example page likes. Remarketing is generally when a customer is ‘reminded’ of the brand’s products, for example where an e-newsletter might be sent to existing customers to inform them of a sale or new items added.

What is the difference between first-party cookies and third-party cookies?

First-party cookies track data about your own website’s visitors and will still be allowed. This form of cookie is usually used for remembering user passwords to log in, record what actions visitors have taken on your website, see how often people visit etc. This is your standard Google Analytics data and is still very useful, because you can see things like most popular pages or blog articles.

Third-party cookies are tracking codes placed on a web visitor’s computer after being generated by another website other than your own. These cookies are used to paint a picture of someone’s online behaviour, such as what websites they like to visit, what topics they are interested in and what they have purchased. These cookies can be used to create a retargeting list to show ads to your past website visitors or even people who have a similar web footprint to them.

Cookie Monster retargeting cookies

Data protection and retargeting

The assimilation of personal data, that once took a lot of time, can now be done in seconds using machine learning to reach target audiences. Therefore, consumers and regulators are concerned over their data privacy and the access businesses and organisations have to this information.

The Data Protection Act 2018 controls how personal information is used by organisations, businesses, and the government in the United Kingdom.

The technological response to retargeting and the death of third-party cookies

Some key developments from application providers include:

These changes will see less direct tracking, placing emphasis on native marketing, and will encourage the quality of organic traffic.

Apple’s IOS 14.5 update and retargeting

Apple launched a new software update, IOS 14.5, with Apple’s AppTracking Transparency framework that aims to enhance privacy settings by requiring apps in the App Store to obtain permission to track users across apps using retargeting.

Tracking transparency is not a new feature of IOS, however, it is now emphasized and gives the users a choice to opt in or out in of sharing their information by making it upfront and clear. 

These updated privacy restrictions force app developers to provide users with a choice.  Accordingly, every company who wants to track users’ data information across websites and apps, now needs to explicitly ask for user permission.

What happens if users click “Ask app not to track?” – Developers operating through Apple, will not be able to track or sell any data obtained through the app.

IOS 14.5 will particularly impact information exchange with Facebook (now Meta) and impact businesses who use Facebook ads and business tools to: 

Facebook will not be able to track user behaviours through IOS 14.5; meaning tracking pixels will not be as effective on websites as they would if tracking was available. If there is a loss of ability to market to individuals, the focus will be moved on emphasising what brands stand for, with more application to modern market principles to push growth. Therefore, more emphasis will be placed on getting users to convert natively (on the app) rather than directing users to websites and then tracking them.

What are Facebook tracking pixels?

Facebook pixels are codes that work by placing and triggering cookies to track users that interact with your business. Pixels allow you to measure the effectiveness of your advertising by making sure your ads are targeting the right people. Pixels also help to know what actions people take on your website.

Examples of Facebook pixels include: ‘Purchase’, ‘Add to wish list’, ‘Search’, ‘Find location’.

Google’s FloC approach and third-party cookies

Google aims to phase out third-party cookies on Chrome by 2023 by adopting a new standard, FloC (Federated Learning of Cohorts).  

This approach aims to keep first-party cookies, which track what users do on the website, however emission data (third-party cookies) will be disabled, meaning no more retargeting through this technique. FloC is based on the idea of a Privacy Sandbox which allows websites to have a certain amount of information about users without having an infringement on their privacy. The Privacy Sandbox is hoped to prevent fraud, measure advertising effectiveness and analyse incoming traffic.

Google is aiming to give advertisers a way of targeting digital advertising without exploiting or exposing personal details of individual users. Instead, Google will group people with comparable interests, whether it is clothes, football, or music, generated through algorithms. This effectively hides people in the ‘crowd’ without having individual identifiers and uses on-device processing to keep a person’s web history private.  Advertisers will only be able to see its ID.

Any cohorts that are too small to identify will be grouped together until there are at least several thousand users to avoid individual identification.

There will be less emphasis on retargeting, and it is predicted that future technology will adopt alternative tools to harness first-party cookies in similar ways to how Google’s Privacy Sandbox is predicted to do.

Increasing importance of Search Engine Optimization and BERT

Retargeting and Google's BERT (no, not this BERT)

No, not that Bert!

Alongside its FloC approach, Google is now utilising Bidirectional Encoder Representations from Transformers (BERT), a transformer-based machine learning technique for natural language processing.

This essentially means that Google has updated its algorithm to better understand language processing and natural language. BERT helps Google understand what consumers are specifically looking for.

For example, Google is “now considering prepositions like ‘for’ or ‘to’ that can have a lot of meanings to the search query.”

This means marketers now must take a native approach in how they are presenting their products and services: concentrate on the quality of the content and less on looking for a magic optimization key and how many times a keyword is entered. This also means content writers should adopt the approach of going very specific and seek to answer potential questions better than their competitors to encourage quality organic traffic, rather than retargeting.

Conclusion: The future of marketing in relation to retargeting and third-party cookie blocking

Marketeers can no longer rely on covert data collection for retargeting or keyword focus, but must now create a better overall message and story that resonates with consumers. This will primarily operate through contextual advertising and native ad options such as lead form ads (without the need to send users to a website and track them).

Confused by all of this? Digital marketing is a full time job, and you can’t do it by yourself. To get expert help, get in touch by clicking the button below.

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