You’ve probably read in the news that big changes are coming to the way that digital marketing works: from Facebook’s iOS14 announcement to Google’s decision to remove third-party cookies from its Chrome browser, your digital marketing strategies likely need to be reviewed and revamped in the face of new legislation and decisions by the big tech companies through which we run our advertising campaigns and tracking.
Not sure where to start? Don’t worry, we’ve got you covered. And if you’re starting to feel stressed about the implications this has on your business — we’ll help you there, too. We’ve been through this before (a few times) and are clued up on the next big changes, too.
Legislation has always created changes in the way marketing is done
One annoying thing about marketers is their tendency to abuse any new communication channels to the point that governments must step in and introduce restrictions. For example, in the early 2000s telemarketers became so intrusive that FTC had to introduce the Do-Not-Call Implementation Act in 2003. The same thing happened with email marketing–spam was rampant. And since the same year, 2003, we have to follow the CAN-SPAM Act. More recently, because of excessive data collection, the EU introduced the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR). In the US a number of similar legislations were passed, with the California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA) being the best-known. Bottom line: because of a few black sheep, all of us in marketing must improvise and work around these limitations.
To add insult to injury, Big Tech has joined the privacy protection party with the goal of protecting consumers’ privacy. Most notably, Google decided to remove third-party cookies from the Chrome browser. This can adversely affect the efficiency of adtech. If you rely on things like conversion tracking or analytics in your marketing (and most of us do), that’s bad news. Another major piece of news: Apple will introduce major changes in their upcoming iOS 14 operating system regarding data collection by third party apps. What’s important for us to consider is that Facebook Ads will become less effective as a result. We won’t dive into the ethical implications of these updates and discuss whether these companies have the best interests of consumers in mind. Instead, we want to discuss what will change for us and what we can do to ensure businesses can continue to market effectively.
Anna Cownley: Big Tech’s antitrust investigation report states, “The overwhelmingly dominant provider of general online search is Google, which captures around 81% of all general search queries in the U.S. on desktop and 94% on mobile.” So however much we want to fight against them and moan at the moment, this is where the majority of Paid Search activity should be focused.
Lack of data for learning and optimizing is now the new trend (however much we don’t like it!) – Google is pushing Paid advertisers more and more towards automated machine learning bid strategies, which gives even less transparency to what is or isn’t working. The recent change in Broad Match Modifier terms, the reduction of data within Search Query Reports, the introduction of Close Match Variants some time ago… these all contribute to less data being available to quantify the media spend invested. The bottom line here is ROI – be proactive and do what you can to get the most valuable data about where your money is spent on whatever channel. And test, test, and test again – one size does not fit all, and what’s best for one business in Paid Search could be completely the opposite for another business.
Anna is a Paid Search expert, with over 12 years experience ranging from high level paid search strategy right down to keyword level grunt work. She has expertise in a wide variety of industries (from private medical care, finance & legal to health foods, umbrellas and health & fitness!) and experience managing media spend budgets from £500 to £30,000 per month.
What are the implications?
Less accurate analytics.
If you want to track the results of your campaigns and your overall performance, you most likely rely on some sort of analytics suite. And these rely on third party cookies. Yes, even Google Analytics uses them. So does Facebook Analytics and a lot of other tools. We shouldn’t expect that it will stay this way for long, and many players will introduce workarounds like server-side tracking. Until then, you’ll have much less visibility and fewer opportunities to track what’s working and what isn’t. And even with updated technical solutions there are important points: 1) you’ll need someone who can install these correctly and 2) legacy solutions will stop working.
Disrupted conversion tracking.
It’s almost impossible to imagine how one can run any kind of digital ads in 2021 without some sort of conversion tracking. Being able to see the actual performance of your ads, not top-level stats like views or clicks, but your actual goals, like leads or sales, is critical. The latest example is with Facebook Ads, where you’ll have a limit of only 8 conversions you can track, and only one conversion event per session. Do you think that’s enough? For some advertisers, that might be okay, but consider a typical ecommerce setting, when a person sees an ad, visits the store, and purchases something. Even in such a simple situation, you’ll have at least 4 conversion events: View Content, Add to Cart, Initiate Checkout, and Purchase. Likely we’ll see advertisers give priority to the lowest event in the Funnel, such as Purchase. But if you use another event for your optimization, like Add to Cart (you may do this if your budget is low), you’ll end up with less optimization data. And, of course, there will no longer be the option of custom conversions fine-tuned for each step of the funnel, product, or offer.
Reduced efficiency of paid ads.
This one is closely related to the previous point. Modern advertising relies heavily on data points fed to machine-learning algorithms. Simply speaking, machines look at your goal, evaluate who performed it in the past, and show ads to people with similar traits or behaviors. The more data is available, the more accurate the machines’ predictions will be. And, as you’ve already seen, we won’t be getting more data – we’ll be getting less.
Difficulties with retargeting campaigns.
Behavioral retargeting has been a staple of digital advertising for the past 10 years or so. Someone viewed your lead gen page but forgot to fill in the form? You can reach them with a retargeting campaign. A person browsed your store, added something to the cart, and left it? Abandoned cart campaign to the rescue! Retargeting allowed marketers to create complex multi-staged and hyper-segmented funnels. At times, it even allowed us to be sloppy as it was possible that we would get a second or third shot at converting customers. It’s highly unlikely that retargeting will go away completely, but it will become limited. That’s certainly enough to break some successful funnels that advertisers run today.
Attribution may sound like some arcane concept (especially if you look at the math behind it), but in a world of multi-channel marketing, it’s critical for success. The simplest approach is a single-touch attribution, where all results are attributed to the first or the last point of contact. Reality is more complex than that, and the conversion is usually a multi-step path. If you count only one touch and optimize based on it, you are risking missing opportunities, like great organic social media or the exceptional blog posts you have. These rarely sell on their own, but they help to push your prospects closer to that sweet purchase. Reduced tracking abilities will affect attributions.
Aleksei Panasenko: The changes to iOS 14 brought the necessity for app developers to ask people permission to use their information. Previously, they had unlimited access to it, and both used and abused that privilege. How will these new rules change the game? It depends on which role you are playing.
Mobile apps developers could lose a portion of their advertising-based income if users choose to not share their advertising id. They will also be stripped out of all the data they are gathering from your phone without asking.
Facebook will lose many sources of interest/behavior data, since not all of their apps will be given the same permissions by users. It will also lose the ability to personalize ads if users will not allow their data to be tracked.
Advertisers will be left with a smaller interest/behavior targeting data pool to choose from and a shorter conversion attributions window.
Users will be able to control their data without being forced to read every app privacy agreement. They will also be able to choose how they receive advertising on platforms like Facebook and Instagram. Rather than automatically getting bombarded with personalized, targeted ads, users will be able to opt for more broadly targeted advertising that won’t be taking into account the last Google search they made.
Aleksei is a digital marketing expert with 6 years of experience starting from the marketing survey guy to head of digital marketing. His biggest projects to date have been for MacDonald’s, Infomir, Amazon and Vodafone.
What can we do: technical solutions
The majority of data we’ve talked about before is based on the client-side collection, i.e. we gather data directly from visitors’ devices. But there’s another approach, where you track actions directly from your server and pass them along to an ads or analytics platform. While the idea itself isn’t new, only recently it became something that’s seriously considered as the future of web tracking. The approach isn’t without limitations, as it collects less data and it’s harder to set up correctly. But we don’t have many choices, and it’s either server-side tracking or nothing in the future. And if you’re wondering, Google and Facebook already offer server-side options.
Predictive analytics is an advanced system based on statistical techniques. Unlike descriptive analytics, which analyzes past events, predictive analytics uses data to predict future events. Sound like magic? Modern data science is often like that, but it really works. As the underlying technologies advance rapidly,they will become more and more accurate. In fact, Google Analytics is planning to include modeling to, “fill in the gaps where the data may be incomplete.”
There aren’t that many technical workarounds now, as the whole problem is still relatively fresh. But hundreds of folks from the martech industry are spending sleepless nights, grasping their cups of coffee, staring at their screens, and thinking of solutions. Let’s keep our eyes open and we will likely see many exciting technical answers to the tracking question.
What can we do: strategies and approaches
Here things are more interesting, as this new challenge presents us with the opportunity to try alternative approaches. Often these approaches are old wisdom, left on a shelf to collect dust. But now the time has come for it to shine again, and earn us some money in the process, of course!
Contextual advertising is a great example of an older technology that will make a comeback (although it never truly went away). Behavioral targeting (like Facebook Ads) is based on, surprise, past behavior of a person. Contextual advertising is based on the context of the place where the ad appears. Let’s say you’re interested in the stock market and spent time reading about it. Then you visit a site on home décor. If you see ads for binary options, it’s behavioral advertising. If instead, you see ads for some fancy linen sheets, that’s contextual advertising in all its glory. It’s a less intrusive and, let’s admit it, less creepy way of advertising.
If you primarily rely on paid ads to market your business, now it’s time to reconsider your approach. It’s never a good idea to have only one marketing channel, you know, eggs and baskets. Can you use great content and SEO to attract new prospects? What about social media for nurturing leads? And, of course, let’s not forget about email. For years, sensationalist writers were trying to proclaim the untimely demise of this channel. But in reality, email is not dead.
One-touch paid ads funnels.
We already covered that retargeting made it easy to reach customers who didn’t buy after the first visit… and again… and again… and again. But what happens if we lose this power? Well, for decades advertisers had only one shot to convert a viewer into a customer. You can’t retarget newspaper or TV ads, can you? What if we try to emulate their approach with our modern technology? It means creating better ads and better offers. Instead of trying to sell them something right away or moving them through an elaborate funnel, you can give them something in exchange for their email. Or offer enough value to justify a subscription to your YouTube channel or Instagram page.
Permission and inbound marketing.
Speaking of value, let’s explore two fascinating ideas. The term “permission marketing” was coined by Seth Godin in his eponymous book in 1999. The main gist is that instead of “interrupting” people with your message, you seek their “permission” to deliver your communication. A good example of this is when a person follows your Twitter account because they want to read your tweets.
The concept of inbound marketing was introduced by HubSpot’s co-founder and CEO, Brian Halligan. Instead of pushing your message outward (“outbound marketing”), you pull your prospects in by providing valuable content.
These concepts are slightly different, but both revolve around the same core idea – you must provide some value to your customers first. Is there anything you can do instead of chasing your prospects with those annoying banners around the web? Maybe you can give out a valuable report? Provide tips and insights? Share your expertise in a social media post? Give something first and build relationships. This kind of thing pays off in the long run.
Heavier use of content marketing.
When it comes to providing value, smart content marketing is one of the best tools in your arsenal. Blogs, checklists, instructional videos, whitepapers, reports—all these can be used to attract prospects and establish connections. Begin producing content yourself or find a decent content marketer. It’s a long-term game and you won’t see results right away. But it’s a great investment, and in a year or two you’ll be grateful you’ve done this.
As you can see, there’s a lot to process here, and the next couple of years will be challenging for marketers. But no matter how hard it may look remember, that every challenge is an opportunity in disguise. These changes will affect everyone out there. Thousands of funnels will be broken, hundreds of businesses will find it hard to adapt to these changes. Keep calm, think on your feet and pivot towards what’s working and your business will end up being even stronger than before. Tools and tactics change all the time, but the fundamentals are immutable.
Luckily, you have a partner in CFD; we’re here to help at any step of the process. Reach out at email@example.com or set up a call here if you want to talk next steps or spitball your strategy to figure out whether or not it needs a rethink.