The Future of Affiliate Marketing After Cookies & Tracking IDs Restriction

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Affiliate marketing without cookies – can you imagine? Again there is a panic in the world of affiliate marketers and advertisers. Just now that we got used to the GDPR, Chrome (responsible for 70% of the web use) is going to block third-party tracking cookies. Furthermore, Apple makes tracking on an iPhone optional based on the user’s opt-in. What does it mean for the future of affiliate marketing?

If you are in affiliate marketing business, you mostlikely ask yourself, what is going to change now, that cookies are going to be blocked?

The short answer is: nothing, really.

If you are running an affiliate marketing business either promoting affiliate products or running your own affiliate network – you won’t be affected.

However, the consequences are big: personalization, targeting, and retargeting via advertisements must be done differently. 

The Future of Affiliate Marketing After Cookies & Tracking IDs Restriction

What does the future hold for us in terms of cookies, tracking IDs, and online privacy? And, what is the impact for marketers? In today’s blog post, we will discuss it based on 10 questions.

What exactly are cookies?

Cookies are files. They are stored on a user’s device by a website he has visited. They come in two types: first-party cookies and third-party cookies.

The Future of Affiliate Marketing After Cookies & Tracking IDs Restriction

First-party cookies are usually used to make websites function better. Think of a function to stay logged in after closing your browser, viewing a site in dark mode, or a tick to no longer show a specific notification. They are not used for tracking users on the internet and can only be read by the website that has placed them.

First-party cookies are exactly the types of cookies used in affiliate marketing and they will not be affected in any way by this recent change.

Third-party cookies can be used to profile and track people. These are not placed by the website itself but are sent along with embedded content. Or, for example, scripts from third parties that you have integrated on your site. Think of a HubSpot form or a LinkedIn Pixel.

What’s the difference between first-party and third-party cookies?

First-party cookies are placed by the website where the user browses the web and are used to keep track of the operation as they go from page to page. 

They allow essential website features such as authentication, shopping cart maintenance, website preferences, or login information. Without first-party cookies,the user would have to log in to each page and would not, for example, be able to put an item in the cart and keep shopping because very few websites retain this data on their own servers. 

In short, without first-party cookies, the experience of the website will be bad or even impossible. Since they only monitor the behavior on the site that someone actively visits, they are not usually subject to the rage (and blocking) that third-party cookies get.

Read also: Affiliate Cookies in 2022 – All You Need To Know

Cookie-blocking technologies and government legislation are targeting third-party cookies because they are the ones that monitor user behavior across the network and could pose a privacy concern. They are stored in the browser by tracking pixels or JavaScript code. What bothers online privacy advocates is that third-party cookies do not come from a website that the user has been proactively engaging with.

Advertising networks such as Google Adsense and others are typically the source of third-party cookies used to monitor users through various websites and use the information to target them more specifically with ads. There is no implied or formal authorization to do so, so it can easily be seen as an infringement of privacy.

Also, Google Maps, a YouTube video or Facebook like button makes it possible for those parties to follow people wherever they go online and where similar services are integrated. This type of cookies has other uses too. These include allowing a chat function to function seamlessly on multiple websites of the same owner or even better, showing personalized content on Netflix.

What’s the problem with third-party cookies?

As I already mentioned, due to the growing awareness about privacy, third-party cookies are increasingly automatically banned. This ensures more privacy by default.

The introduction of the GDPR has had a significant impact in Europe. 

For many US tech giants, the enactment of The California Consumer Privacy Act in January was a more powerful motivation. Consumers themselves increasingly used adblocker plugins, but browsers such as Firefox and Safari have also been blocking third-party tracking options with cookies for a while now.

The Future of Affiliate Marketing After Cookies & Tracking IDs Restriction

Google Chrome has announced that it will start blocking cookies too in 2022. Since Chrome controls 70% of web usage, its measures have a major impact on marketers. 

Targeting and retargeting through advertisements and well-known marketing platforms will become more challenging.

Does Google benefit commercially from third-party cookies?

Of course, Google gets a lot of revenue from the ads sales. To make them relevant, users are tracked and profiled. However, I can imagine Chrome wanting to prevent what happened to Microsoft Internet Explorer a few years ago when people just stopped using it. Partly because the browser was ‘leaky.’ Another factor is that Google sees what Safari and Firefox are doing and hears the public’s call for more privacy.

Is there a difference between the use of tracking cookies on desktop and mobile devices?

It is unnecessary to place cookies on mobile devices to recognize the user in various apps and measure conversions. 

As a user, you automatically receive a unique marketing number(a Tracking ID) from the operating system. At Apple (iOS) and Google (Android), they are called IDFA and AAID, respectively. 

So, companies do not have to go out of their way to follow people. 

Therefore, banning third-party cookies only affects the “desktop world,”; which accounts for about 50% of all online traffic.

But it doesn’t end here. 

Apple recently announced it would also limit the mobile option for marketers. This will impact about 30% of mobile traffic. In addition, there is now a lawsuit against Google for not being able to disable tracking

Will tracking and retrieving data become impossible?

Data mining and tracking can also be done without third-party cookies or tracking IDs. 

Apart from a legal issue, it is also a technical tug of war. These most common techniques are now becoming less efficient, but digital technology always offers the possibility to track users

People come up with ingenious solutions on how to bypass the digital tracking.

The GDPR ensured that almost every site now requests proper approval for tracking. Visitors often click away from the notifications as quickly as possible by pressing the most striking button: “I agree.” This is called ‘default bias’ and will probably also be addressed legally at some point.

Apple and Google are now actually making it more difficult by blocking certain methods. But in the meantime, the following technique is gaining popularity again: fingerprinting

The Future of Affiliate Marketing After Cookies & Tracking IDs Restriction

This involves collecting diverse technical blueprints of a visitor, creating a unique profile on that person. This profile can then be recognized on other sites because, for example, your browser version and screen dimensions probably will not change in the meantime. 

This tracking method is also actively resisted by the “privacy warriors” but is a lot more difficult because websites also need the data to function properly.

What can a business do without third-party cookies or tracking ID?

Using first-party data is becoming more and more important. This means that you keep track of what a user does inside your own platform. This can be done in a so-called Customer Data Platform (CDP). 

You (as a website owner) offer the user a suitable experience based on self-collected data.

You can get a lot of value from that, and more and more companies now realize that.

Newspapers, news websites, and online magazines already work more with first-party data because they depend on advertisers. But anyone who wants to be able to offer users a personalized experience, preferably across all channels, will ultimately focus on this. 

This is a prerequisite for a good omni-channel marketing strategy.

An alternative to having third parties collect a lot of data (so that you can earn from advertisements) is to offer paid accounts. However, this means that only well-off people can access good content, and that is a shame. 

It is a question of finding the right balance between privacy and accessible open internet. 

What are the alternatives?

What options are there to give people a seamless and personalized experience across different websites? Customer Identity Access Managers (CIAMs) are an interesting phenomenon: platforms that allow users to create their own profile and use it to log in to various websites or applications. 

A CIAM provides both ease of login for users and the ability to collect metadata from those same users.

The Future of Affiliate Marketing After Cookies & Tracking IDs Restriction

You can relate it with the way you can log in to several websites via your Google or Facebook account. 

However, with CIAM, you have much more control over what happens with your data, while you can use it for personalization and marketing automation.

In this case, logging in is a conscious process. You realize that you are not anonymous. 

More and more companies will be allowing customers to log in via CIAM platforms in the coming years. At the same time, users are less and less aware that they are logged in somewhere, specifically because it goes so smoothly.

What will affiliate marketing look like in the future?

The affiliate marketer will frequently become a marketing architect. Systems and AI-technologies take over part of the work: they collect data and automatically adjust and personalize products or pages via advanced algorithms. 

The Future of Affiliate Marketing After Cookies & Tracking IDs Restriction

Affiliate marketers will more often have to be mathematically educated to interpret data or adjust models. They must also understand how to link various platforms intelligently and how to do more advanced content management. In the latter case, consider configuring alternative content or landing pages per visitor segment.

Also, government laws are becoming more prominent. In the future, perhaps you will not be able to launch a website until an independent party has checked it (just like you cannot build a house unless you get it approved). Who knows.

However, as of now, affiliate marketing business is not going to be affected by these cookie-changes.

Does the traditional CMS still have a future?

For the serious omnichannel marketers, a CMS is not enough. The successor is already here: the Digital Experience Platform (DXP) is the new digital transformation instrument. 

In addition to CMS or e-commerce tools, this often includes a CDP, marketing automation, A/B testing, and a CIAM well integrated. More data from users is available on such a platform, and more personalization is possible. It gives users a similar experience across devices and provides administrators with one central place to customize applications and communications.

Will the disappearance of third-party cookies and tracking IDs offer us more privacy?

Standard third-party tracking tools will soon stop working efficiently. 

That’s good for privacy reasons and transparency. But the retirement of third-party cookies and tracking-IDs also means that we will use other ways, such as a DXP with first-party data. 

We will not enter an era of privacy and transparency. We will just switch the technology by which the data collecting is processed.

The desire to have more privacy seems to make the web less public. You already have to pay for certain news portals, or you give up your privacy voluntarily. 

That can reduce the general accessibility of information and make privacy a privilege for wealthier people who are willing to opt-in for paid content.

Ironically, because we want more privacy, there is actually less privacy in practice: for example, you have to leave your payment details or log in more often.

100% of online privacy is practically impossible. However, there will be more transparency about what happens with your data. In addition, I expect to see less impact from massive companies such as Facebook and Google, because not everything will be shared with them anymore. 

All we can say for now is that the backend of affiliate programs will probably change. The technology used to collect users’ data and track affiliate IDs will not be the same in a few years from now, but it will still operate seamlessly in the background.

Affiliate Marketing Without Cookies – FAQ

What is Future Ads?

Future ads are often mistaken with ads that are not based on cookies, simply because of their name and because many places online talk about the future of cookieless advertisement. However, Future Ads is an immersive marketing organization that owns and manages online gaming assets as well as the competitive bidding interface for in-text advertisements.

Is programmatic advertising the future of affiliate marketing?

We have already covered programmatic advertisement in-depth. It’s hard to say, that all future ads will be based on programmatic advertising, which is a form of bidding per ad display. Right now programmatic advertising is a a big trend,

Future target ads – what is it?

Future target ads term can refer either to ads that were scheduled to run at a later date (aka “in the future”), or it can refer to the Future Ads company, that PropellAds have now acquired, but since they allow very detailed targeting, sometimes this can be simply referred to Future Ads.

What impact might cookie deletion have on an affiliate marketing campaign?

If you delete cookies in an affiliate marketing campaign that was cookie-based to begin with, you risk losing your commission for that particular campaign. Cookie deletion, therefore, can simply result in the inability of the advertiser to track the commission back to you.

Marketing automation without cookies – is it possible?

We have already covered marketing automation in our previous post, but the short answer is yes – you can implement a lot of marketing automation features with only 1st party cookies, without 3rd party cookies.

Future tracking in affiliate marketing?

The future tracking looks like we are going to value privacy more and more, and therefore in the near future future, tracking will be based on other parameters – such as server side. The tracking in affiliate marketing will remain, since sales are tracked using 1st party cookies.

Is tracking without cookies possible?

Of course. Tracking without cookies is possible since there are plenty of ways to track affiliate’s sales. Read more about all types of affiliate tracking in our complete guide.

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affiliate tracking
Elizabeth Sramek
Elizabeth is a Senior Content Manager at Scaleo. Currently enjoying the life in Prague and sharing professional affiliate marketing tips. She's been in the online marketing business since 2006 and gladly shares all her insights and ideas on this blog.
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