Estimated read time: 3 minutes 54 seconds
Let me be the first to admit: I know next to nothing about the technical aspects of cookie use in digital communication and advertising.
But a few days ago, I stumbled across another fantastic episode of the PR Resolution Podcast with Stella Bayles. This time she interviews Russel McAthy – CEO and co-founder of Ringside Data and a marketing expert in the art of ‘attribution’, i.e. figuring out which initiatives actually brought about the desired effect.
Listening to Stella and Russel opened my eyes to a few things that I must shamefully admit I had hitherto been blissfully unaware of. Which I why I thought I’d do this post and spread the word to other unfortunates like me 😉
Apple and Google are coming for your cookie!
So, what is going on?
Well, cookies, as you may or may not know, are used – among other things – to track you across time and different websites. (For further technical explanation go here). Cookies can be used for re-targeting (showing you ads for something you previously searched for or looked at) but also to help remember passwords, favourite settings on websites you visit frequently etc.
In classifying them, we differentiate between first-party cookies (created by the domain you are visiting) and third-party cookies (created by other domains). (For more on that, go here).
Right now, two major changes are happening – which Russel talks a bit about in the podcast:
- The ‘Intelligent Tracking Prevention’ (ITP) system built into the Safari browser and iOS operating system by Apple is about to progress to version 2.3, which will limit cookie use even more than version 2.2 already has. This update is reported to take place in February 2020.
- On January 14th, Google announced that their Chrome browser will phase out all use of third-party cookies over the next two years.
Why is this a big deal? Because between them, Safari and Chrome account for a very large share of the browsers users are using today to access the internet (and Firefox is mentioned in the podcast as following suit, making the situation even more serious).
Tracking and attribution without cookies
So, what are some of the consequences? Well, for starters a lot of your analytics data is likely to already start looking differently.
When Safari reduced cookie ‘life span’ to just 7 days in version 2.1 of ITP, it meant that the same person visiting a website on Day 1 and Day 9 would get tracked as two unique visitors. Version 2.2 reduced that time span further to just 24 hours. And now version 2.3 is supposedly cracking down on some loopholes the industry has been exploring.
Google now following suit with the elimination of third-party cookies will short-term leave a lot of marketeers and PR professionals struggling to track user journeys across different websites, linking the digital bread crumbs and correctly analysing cause and effect and attributing effect to the relevant initiatives being implemented.
Google has stated it will continue to support “privacy-preserving and open-standard mechanisms” that will maintain “an ad-supported web” but the marketing industry has still greeted the news with a mix of hope and fear.
A game-changer for Earned Media attribution?
From my own perspective, I look forward to following this development closely – the reason being that I know of at least one global media monitoring corporation that just last year made big announcements about their latest innovation: A cookie-based system designed to track readers of e.g. news articles and map out their subsequent actions, such as website visits, purchases, sign-ups etc.
In short: They more or less said they had ‘fixed’ the decades-long problem of reliable attribution of PR to specific business goals such as conversions, sales and participation.
I am not saying that this system or that vendor is in a ton of trouble now – I have no way of knowing that – but from having the product explained to me, I would imagine that they will have to revise how their system is going to continue working going forward.
For the sake of the PR industry, I hope they succeed.
What do you think is going to happen? Are you concerned about the prospects for PR measurement and user journey mapping going forward?
Please leave a comment below! 🙂