A slow tectonic shift has been happening in the internet world. The majority of marketers and bloggers haven’t felt it yet but soon – specifically, by 2021 – the ground will shake. The reason? Google Chrome will be blocking all third-party cookies.
This article will explain what these changes mean for your blog.
Let’s cover some basics first.
A cookie is a small bit of data that is stored locally (on a computer or mobile device) with the purpose of holding user-specific information. In other words, they track user behavior and send the info they collect back to their owner.
Cookies have become integral to how the Internet functions. To quote Clearcode, “cookies have become the bread and butter of the Internet, and are currently the most common method of identifying users online and providing a personalized browsing experience.”
Usually, when you visit a website, it places two kinds of cookies on your device: first-party and third-party.
These cookies are owned by the domain you visit. They collect data specific to this domain only. For example, they remember your language settings, your username and password, or what items you have added to your shopping cart.
These cookies are owned by domains different from the one you are visiting. They are used for “cross-site tracking, retargeting, and ad-serving.” For example, if you read a blog post and see a Facebook “Like” button at the end, this means that the blog has downloaded a third-party (in this case: Facebook) cookie on your computer. This cookie will now follow your activity – if you look up vacation spots, shoe models, local concerts and shows, Facebook will know because the cookie on your computer will send this data back. The purpose? Facebook will now serve you ads for the specific vacation spots, shoes, and events that you were looking up.
As a blog owner, you are using both kinds of cookies.
Put simply, if your blog is integrating any kind of external tool, widget, or service, it is using third-party cookies.
Some examples are:
If you rely on any domain other than your own for your blog to function, then you are relying on third-party cookies.
There are two ways your blog will be affected by the third-party cookies phase-out. One can be described as a nuisance. The other: as a complete reframing of your marketing strategy.
Let’s start with the easy one.
If you are using a third-party tool or widget on your blog that provides specific above-the-board functionality for your readers, you will most likely see a wave of error messages, loading problems, and denied access. Basically, once Chrome joins Safari and Firefox in blocking third-party cookies by default, a lot of third-party tools will stop loading for web users when they visit different sites.
This is a big inconvenience but it can be managed by communicating with your readers and guiding them through manually adjusting their security settings in order to allow third-party cookies from specific domains. Here is a great example of how ZenDesk is doing this in relation to their LiveChat functionality. In their “Help” section they have a separate article about the error message that users will see if their cookies are disabled by default. The article explains what the error message means and provides a clear step-by-step tutorial for users to enable cookies. It covers all browsers and contains screenshots illustrating the main steps. In the end, Zendesk has created a simple and clear guideline for users so that it is as effortless as possible for anyone to manually allow cookies.
But the real impact of these changes will be felt where you are using tools for online advertising, pop-up ads, or a pinpointed audience-targeting strategy (such as, event tracking or geotargeting). Neither one of these functionalities will work if your readers don’t manually enable cookies on their browser: something they can now only do with informed consent.
The reason? You can’t – and wouldn’t – ask your readers to enable tracking of their location, behavior on other websites, or phone IDs. And this is the point of the third-party cookie phase-out. It removes clandestine, hidden behavior that we all know web users would not consciously consent to if they knew how wide and deep it spans.
The end of the third-party cookie will bring a complete transformation of digital marketing.
One way to look at it is this: With the fall of the third-party cookie comes the rise of the first-party cookie.
This will be true both in a literal and metaphorical sense. Meaning, you will need to solidify the relationship between you and your readers if it’s going to stand on its own, without the crutch of third parties.
Without being able to rely on third-parties to track data from your readers, you will be left with the data that you – and only you – can collect. This means that you will have full control and responsibility when it comes to how this data is collected and used. You will need to build enough trust with your readers to obtain consent and you will need to find creative ways to build a marketing strategy around it.
The first step here is to understand consent and how it is the main driver behind all these changes. The privacy of your users and their right to know and control how their data is being used should be the foundational block of your strategy. In the short-term, there could be some workarounds to the third-party cookie phase-out (such as Facebook’s use of first-party cookies combined with a pixel tracker).
But the trajectory of digital marketing has been consistently moving towards transparency and informed consent. The biggest sign of this was the September 2020 launch of Google’s Consent Mode – an attempt by the tech giant to bridge the gap between advertising and user privacy.
What does all this mean for your blog? Be open and transparent with your readers. Inform them what data you are tracking and what you are using it for. Give them the opportunity to accept or reject the cookies on your website. Allow them to withdraw their consent at any time.
This is the direction the industry is heading in, at an increasing speed.
The next step is to think about shifting your marketing strategy away from third parties.
What is the biggest advantage of third-party marketing? It collects tailored, personalized data from your audience. You can do the same with first-party cookies. The difference is that it will be above the board and you will have bigger control over how exactly it will look.
Focus your efforts on audience identity and segmentation. Use the data that you collect about your readers and their behavior on your website to find out exactly what they are looking for, what they spend more time reading, and what they keep returning to. Writtio offers exactly these types of insights: the views on each post, the time spent on each post, how many people read vs. how many skimmed it, how far down the page your readers got, bounce rate, etc. If you pay attention to this data, you will build a much more accurate profile of your readers than any third-party ever could – and then you can ground your marketing strategy on the real needs of your audience.
The phase-out of the third-party cookie encourages you to find a cross-section between consent and marketing, which can be a goldmine for audience engagement. One example is user-generated content: asking your readers for testimonials, reviews, videos, and photos. This will help build more trust with your audience and it is a much more organic way to promote your services or expertise.
As a blogger and marketer, the best way to survive the impending industry changes is to embrace them. Prioritize consent and get creative with the data you can collect on your own.
Here’s how to do this.
In the very near future, you will have to ask your readers for consent to use their data. If this image feels daunting, don’t worry: you don’t have to figure it out from scratch.
In Europe, website owners have been using automated tools to obtain consent since the implementation of the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR). In the US, and California in particular, the same has been happening since the California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA) went into effect on January 1, 2020.
How exactly are website owners in the European Union and California asking their visitors for consent? With Consent Management Platforms.
Using a CMP on your website makes you both compliant with user privacy requirements and builds trust with your readers.
Even with a bullet-proof consent management strategy, it is very likely that some key functionalities on your website will break once third-party cookies are disabled by default. If your blog is relying on any external widgets or plugins (such as chatbots, interactive content, social media plugins), they will simply not load for your readers without cookies.
Here is the best way to tackle this.
This preparatory work will save both you and your readers a lot of frustration down the road.
This final step is the most crucial one because here is where all the danger and potential lies. You might encounter some functionality issues and implement consent management strategies but these don’t really address the biggest shift: third-party cookies will no longer help you with data collection and advertising.
The best-case scenario is that some of your readers give consent to have all cookies enabled on your blog. For them, yes, you will be able to collect data. But what about the rest of your readers?
If you want to stay ahead of the curve, you need to invest your energy and creativity into collecting first-party data. In other words – make this a conversation between your audience and you. Make it above board, transparent, ask them to share their needs and preferences – and in the end, you’ll have a much more accurate user profile than clandestine tracking could have given you.
Here are some practical ways to do this.
Customer Data Platforms (CDPs) collect first-party data from your blog visitors and subscribers (such as identity data like age, location, demographic, and more in-depth data like career, lifestyle, opinion, and attitude information). Then they automatically analyze user behavior and build customer profiles.
The main difference between CDPs and third-party cookie tracking is that all the data you collect does not leave your website and your visitors have given you their consent. It is a more transparent method to collect data.
A big change is about to transform the marketing world. But how does it impact your blog specifically?
Martina Petkova is a writer with a lifelong passion for words, language, and storytelling. At Writtio, she writes about the craft of blogging. In her free time: about psychology, history, and leadership. You can follow her on Twitter @Martina_Petkova.
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