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.
The consequences are striking: personalization, targeting, and retargeting via advertisements must be done differently.
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.
1 – 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.
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.
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.
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.
2 – What’s the problem with third-party cookies?
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.
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.
3 – 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.
4 – 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.
5 – 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.
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.
6 – 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 omnichannel 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.
7 – 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.
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.
8 – 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.
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.
9 – 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.
10 – 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.