Cookies have been a part of internet life since Lou Montulli first introduced them to web communications in 1994. While they were little more than an inconvenience for users, tracking cookies has been essential to digital creators’ and advertisers’ work for most of that time. From simple functions like checking if users have visited the site before to more complicated metrics to help determine potential conversions, cookies have been essential in advertisers’ efforts to provide customers with relevant advertising and services.
Recently, Google has announced the possible implementation of new privacy tools on Google Chrome. Anti-tracking is far from new, with some web browsers created all but expressly around privacy protection, but Google Chrome has typically been friendly to advertisers, while also keeping cookies and tracking from becoming overly intrusive for users.
In that ongoing balancing act, this comes as a decided push toward privacy. While tracking cookies are certainly less prominent than they were in the past, they’re still a substantial component in many advertisers’ strategies. While the move might engender user trust in Google, it also poses potentially substantial changes to advertisers’ current state of operation.
The big change, if implemented, would allow users to delete tracking cookies in their browser. There are further indications that the new dashboard for Chrome will include an auto-delete function, allowing customers to cookies to be automatically cleared at regular intervals. In short, this severely limits the tracking data available to advertisers. While this might potentially drive down costs for some customers, this ultimately gives advertisers and SEOs outside of Big Tech fewer insights into customer habits.
How The Cookie Crumbles
This is not a complete eradication of cookies. Certain cookies, such as those that remember a users’ website login information, will remain mostly the same. The restrictions are applied to third-party cookies, such as those to track user activity after they have visited a website, rather than just while they’re on it.
Specifically, Google has stated that they will mostly be adding tools allowing users to see how sites handle cookie data, focusing primarily on cross-site tracking cookies. They will also require developers to explicitly state which cookies work across websites and track user data.
Developers will have to use Google’s new system if they want to access their cross-site cookies. And, most important of all, this change will allow users to clear such cookie data at will. They have also stated that single-domain cookies, such as those used to remember logins and addresses for online shopping, will be unaffected.
This comes in the wake of recent privacy scandals for other tech giants like Facebook, but Google has been circling a response to tracking cookies for some time, perhaps in recognition of their waning importance. A sizable portion of user data is now taken from smartphones, and cookies only apply to web browsers, not apps.
Fewer Customer Insights
In their simplest form, tracking cookies are information tags that allow businesses and advertisers to gain insights into customers’ habits. If they’ve visited your site before, cookies can help you identify the date of their last visit, or help analytics identify how often repeat visitors make purchases. With this lack of data history, it may be harder for advertisers to acquire detailed data on customer behavior. With Google considering allowing automatic deletion of data after a set period, it might be difficult to create detailed profiles of customer activity.
The restrictions on tracking cookies are not, however, anything resembling a disaster. The majority of trackable cookies will still be available, as Google will still allow for extensive tracking of customer behavior on your sites, and in relation to your ads and appearance on SERPs. In simple terms, Google might soon become even more vital to digital marketing than they already are.
Maximizing Data-Gathering From Your Site
With the possibility of tracking cookies being curtailed on Chrome, this will also increase the value and importance of insights gained from user data on your own websites. Information collected through apps, sites, ads, social media, and other products will become inherently more valuable if tracking cookies becomes a more limited resource. Insights provided by tech companies that collect other user data (i.e. Google) will be of greater importance than ever, while curtailing the sale of user data by third-party companies, a practice that has seen much public pushback.
In this new situation, other data channels will take on greater importance. Google Analytics, as well as similar products from Bing and other players in the search industry, will become prime sources for businesses eager to acquire that vital customer data.
The Customer Is (Still) Always Right
While it may mean big changes for advertising and web marketing firms, it’s hard to fault Google for responding to the feedback of its customers. Tracking cookies might yield useful user data for you and your clients, but it can also have consequences for brand image and general rapport with your customer base. Many customers dislike the feeling that brands know more about them than they’ve willingly divulged, even if it’s a brand they love.
The relative safety of on-site cookies still allows for valuable customer insights, as well. How often a user logs in, when they log in, and which pages they view can all still be tracked on the site without fear of deletion, so long as those tracking cookies do not track the user across other sites.
Is There a New Cookie Recipe?
How many users ultimately make use of this feature will determine the usefulness of cookie data in the short term. As the new system takes effect, the place of cookies in advertisers’ repertoire of customer insights will eventually be determined. For now, it is safe to say that companies should be prepared to adjust their practices to meet Google’s new anti-tracking standards, as well as look into leveraging further insights from other channels.
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