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The power of first-party data in a cookie-less world – by Robert McGovern

Not all cookies are equal, writes Horizontal Digital’s Robert McGovern. Once third-party data is killed off, what you do with the information you gather yourself will become much more important

By Robert McGovern, digital strategist at Horizontal Digital

The humble web browser cookie doesn’t get much love these days. Despite being part of the fabric of the internet since web browsers took off in the mid-’90s, cookies still get a bad rap.  While they may have been integral to the way digital advertising and e-commerce has worked for more than 20 years, things are about to change, with Google revealing plans to block third-party cookies on its Chrome browser from 2022 onwards.

Not all cookies are the same, however, and it’s important to know the difference.

First-party cookies can be helpful, enabling websites that you visit to remember who you are when you go back to them, keeping users logged into their accounts and remembering website preferences, shopping carts, etc.

Third-party cookies on the other hand can track user activity as you move from site to site across the web, letting advertisers record information about your web-browsing history and behaviour over an extended period of time.

This type of cookie provides the foundation for programmatic advertising, ad targeting and retargeting – an essential element in the effort to serve relevant ads to each user. The digital ad ecosystem we see today would not exist in its current form without them. But change is coming. With third-party cookies being blocked, it will be harder to get people to your site in the first place, and also harder to get them to come back once they have already visited. Basically, it’s about to get a whole lot harder to create effective digital ad campaigns, which means that it’s even more important for brands to capitalise on every visitor that comes to their site in the first place.


Making the most of each visit to your website

While third-party cookies are about to go the way of the dodo, first-party cookies will remain alive and well. Indeed, their value will increase, giving any brand that collects and truly utilises their first-party data a big advantage in this new environment. Knowing who your website visitors are, where they are from and whether they have interacted with any of your campaigns or website elements before can be incredibly valuable, but it’s what you actually do with that information that is key.

Too many brands today rely on retargeting as a safety net for not making a sale or conversion at the first time of asking, rather than putting a system in place to take what they know about their users and using it to make the experience better and increase conversions. The onus is on you to make the most of the data that you have. And there is a whole lot that you can do with that data.

Offer a personalised experience

Offering a more personalised experience to your website visitors will reduce the chance that they will bounce, letting you make the most of their initial visit and removing the need to retarget them with a message to revisit your site at a later time. To personalise your website, you can adapt elements like images, copy and calls-to-action based on what you know about your user – such as who they are, where they live and whether they reached your site from a campaign-specific source. 

Nudge visitors along the customer journey

As visitors engage with your site, you can adapt the content based on their behaviour. For example, on the first page a user sees on your website you could use a designated element to showcase a brand video. If the visitor watches the video, the same module can update to feature a newsletter sign-up form, then a call-to-action to download an e-book or white paper and, after that, communicate a product offer. Showing sequential content lets you warm up a prospect with educational material before trying to close the sale.

Build a user profile based on behaviour over time

Offering a more personalised experience and nudging visitors through the customer journey will increase the chances of making a sale there and then. But it will also make it more likely that your visitors will return to your site of their own accord once they leave. And when they do, you can use the data you collect to build an ever-evolving user profile to help you better cater to them over time. You can track page views and interactions with site elements and calls-to-action, etc. and use this to segment your website visitors into personas and show them more relevant content based on their persona over time. Having a full 360-degree view of your customer that includes email marketing and purchase history, etc. will give you even more power to show them relevant stuff over time.

Future-proofing your business

In a cookie-less world, brands will be forced to rethink the way they communicate and interact with customers on digital channels. The tides are turning and brands that don’t adapt will be left behind. The good news is that there’s time to adjust. Data is power, but measuring and acting on it can be a challenge. If your CMS is not capable of any of the above, it might be time to rethink your web platform. What are you waiting for?

 

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