How Cookie Will Crash in B2B Marketing
The death of third-party cookies is approaching
Are you ready for a cookie-free future? Google is definitely not.
It’s hard to escape the constant noise around third-party cookies. All the advertising networks are talking about it – and rightly so because they are the ones on the front line.
The cookies themselves are not dead. It would be hard to find a working website without them these days. They are just small text files stored in your browser, which we will have to remember that we are already connected to our favorite websites. And, of course, websites will continue to use first-party cookies to keep track of which articles we’ve read or which products we’ve looked at.
Only third-party cookies are on the way out, and that’s good for privacy.
Was it fair that Facebook could track every website its users visited, even when they were offline? Too much data is collected and there is only one small security breach (or one disgruntled employee) far from reaching the public domain. Most of us wouldn’t feel good about having all of our web browsing history available.
The difference between first-party and third-party cookies
Simply put, first-party cookies can only be accessed by the website the user is visiting. Meanwhile, third-party cookies may be accessed by websites other than the one the user is visiting.
First-party cookies are used to store your login information (i.e. session IDs – hopefully not passwords) and site preferences, such as font sizes or colors (for example, dark mode). But they can also follow a list of articles you’ve read to avoid showing them to you again, or follow a list of products you’ve viewed to show you similar ones next time.
Third-party cookies are primarily used by advertising networks to track users on and around the wider web. The most common use case is remarketing. This is where a display network can set a cookie and display recently viewed products on the wider web (instead of just your own website) based on the products a user has viewed (or even added to his basket without purchase). Display networks will read this cookie during visits to other websites to recognize the user and then display advertisements based on their browsing history and web behavior.
When it comes to ending third-party cookies, Google is moving at a snail’s pace. It now aims to phase them out by the middle of 2024, delaying the date by another year.
Safari and Firefox have already done so, but hold only 19% and 3% of the global browser market respectively. Google owns 66%.
What does all this mean in the B2B world?
Ad networks are racing to find alternatives because third-party cookies are a great way to track users across the web. They provide great insight into behavior, purchase intent, and interests.
It’s likely that we’ll end up with cohort-based advertising, which means some niche B2B solutions will be harder to target if they don’t reach minimum audience sizes.
Remarketing is also likely to suffer if only a small number of users visit your website, which is more likely in B2B than B2C.
What can B2B marketers do about it?
Let the ad networks take care of the technical details (they better come up with something usable). B2B marketers should strive to get the most out of their first-party data; it will become more and more important.
Did you know only 22 percent of B2B marketers say they regularly “test and learn” to improve their marketing results? This will have to change if they want to find the right formulas in the midst of these changes.
The end of third-party cookies could do to contextual advertising what COVID did to QR codes: breathe new life into good technology.
Contextual advertising means that display networks analyze each webpage a user views and serve ads based on the topic of the webpage, without any cookies.
Advances in machine learning have improved this targeting method over the years, making it easier to target topics instead of just keywords. It’s an old concept, but hard to contradict. Displaying content-based ads on a website can make a lot of sense.
Now is also a good time to review all of your digital channels to see where there might be risks. Some channels are more likely to suffer than others, and targeting will likely become broader, increasing waste. You wouldn’t want to be surprised to have all your eggs in the wrong basket when third-party cookies are finally gone!
Cookie changes push to Analytics
Google also had to rethink how Google Analytics can work with all the upcoming privacy-related cookie changes. The new version of Google Analytics is ready for a cookie-free future and uses machine learning to fill in the gaps.
The combination of statistical modeling and real data signals is intended to provide a better replacement for the current cookie-dependent version. Google will retire this version (Universal Analytics) in July 2023 and it is high time to plan ahead.
Is your team ready for Google Analytics 4? It feels different and offers a lot more than the current version, but you won’t even touch the surface without spending plenty of hands-on time on it, ideally combined with some training.
One less weapon in the fight against bots
The bots crawl all the marketers’ emails, “clicking” on each link to scan for security threats. Marketers may consider them bad bots, but their intentions are good.
We can all resent IT teams constantly cleaning laptops because someone clicked a link in an email to buy another bulk order of iTunes gift cards or redeem their free Bitcoins. The problem is that these bots are messing up email marketing stats more than ever.
Are your “above benchmark” email open rates real or are they inflated due to bot activity? Maybe the latter!
This poses significant problems for marketers who rely on open rates for sophisticated nurturing programs where one email can follow the opening of another email (ideally with a delay!).
Apple takes this problem even further by downloading every image in emails through proxy servers, including the all-important tracking pixel (effectively a transparent image the size of a screen pixel).
Luckily for B2B marketers, this is only the case for paid iCloud+ subscribers. This makes it less of an issue for B2B emails, but the trend is here to stay.
Marketing automation platforms previously relied on third-party cookies to filter bots from real traffic. The focus is now on finding other (better) ways to identify bots.
Writing first-party cookies on behalf of marketing automation platforms via plugins and APIs creates more work for IT teams, but it’s probably the best solution.
So where to go from here?
Don’t worry about open rates, and even click-through rates, and focus on real engagement.
Are your users really interacting with the content offered? How long do they spend on your landing page and how many other pages do they visit? Are they converting? Having separate landing pages for your email campaigns can make tracking much easier – and is also likely to create a less distracting experience.
Finally, make sure your marketing automation platform has tools to measure, filter, and block bot activity. Our Marketing Automation Health Check can point you in the right direction.
For B2B marketers who want to keep up to date with the latest B2B trends, we’re launching our annual B2B Outlook Study soon with insights from B2B CMOs around the world. You can download the current versionwhich will let you know how to participate in the upcoming study.