A Better Understanding of Digital Privacy

All of the changes in the digital privacy landscape over the past few years have been challenging to follow. Digital marketers are scrambling to keep up with a variety of issues, including the death of third-party cookies in many browsers, user opt-in requirements for cross-app and website tracking with the release of iOS 14.5, and the continued rollout of regional privacy regulations

At Empirical Path, we recommend a few steps to adapt to these changes and those on the horizon.  

Adopt Site-wide Tagging and First-Party Cookies

Following the death of third-party cookies in Safari and Firefox and the increasing number of users opting out of third-party cookies in other browsers, conversion tracking has moved to first-party cookies, which are set in the domain of the host website. A solid first-party tracking solution starts with site-wide tags. Examples of site-wide tags (which means tagging all pages of a website) include — for the Google stack — Google Tag Manager with conversion linker, gtag.js, or site-wide Google Analytics with GA imported conversions. For ad platforms such as Facebook, this means site-wide pixels. 

With site-wide tags, the ad click data is captured in a cookie on the user’s landing page after a click-through from an ad. The data is then stored so it’s available to be appended to conversion events on conversion pages. Both Google and Facebook ads have moved to setting first-party cookies, though Facebook ads set both first- and third-party cookies. While some browsers (namely Safari) have decreased the lifespan of first-party cookies, the first line of defense in preserving measurement today rests on building a solid site-wide first-party cookie tracking solution.

Invest in First Party Data

Because third-party marketing such as remarketing to your site visitors across ad networks is now limited, our general advice is to instead invest in augmenting first-party data. In addition to first-party cookie collection, incentivising users to register, log in, and opt-in to sharing contact information such as an email address, provides an opportunity to engage in a dialogue directly with current  and potential customers. This data also can be uploaded to ad networks to create “lookalike” audiences to target.

Customer Data Platforms (CDPs, such as our partners Tealium or Segment) provide a platform for managing all customer data, such as site activity, CRM data, and sales data, in a single location, leveraging all of these data points for additional marketing. Alternatively, customer data can be imported into Google Analytics to add customer attributes to a customer identifier. We recently spearheaded GMP audience creation based on nuances like current products subscribed and customer buckets, combined with recent site activity for more targeted and powerful marketing.

Embrace Conversion Modeling and Modified Tracking Methods

It’s important to keep up to date as marketing platforms evolve their methods to report conversions.

Google now integrates “consent mode” in Google Tag Manager and gtag, which provides the ability to adjust the type of data sent to Google tags based on a user’s consent status. This allows Google to continue collecting privacy-compliant data (including “cookieless pings” for GA4) without violating user privacy preferences. Google ad tags can leverage consent status to estimate conversion volume loss due tracking preferences. Modeled (estimated) conversions can also fill in gaps when view-through and cross-device conversions can’t be collected due to browser limitations.

So what is conversion modeling? Google explains it as a way to estimate directly unobservable data; for instance, data protected by user privacy settings or technical limitations. These estimated conversions are then included in campaign conversion totals in order to improve campaign management.

Google is also rolling out enhanced conversions to provide a way to send hashed first-party data (like an email address or phone number) matched against a Google account, rather than cookies, for conversion tracking. This method can vastly improve view-through attribution, which is usually reliant on third-party cookies.

Facebook’s Aggregated Event Measurement represents that platform’s workaround for privacy-compliant conversion tracking on Apple devices. Follow their instructions to set up a limited number of key conversion events and rank them in order of importance. Also note that given the shortened lifespan of cookies, some of Facebook’s attribution windows (28-day click-through, 28-day view-through, and 7-day view-through) are no longer available.

Building on User Trust 

Above all, be as transparent as possible about the data you collect and its uses, then give users the ability to opt out. If a user ID is collected with analytics, you may need user consent and you definitely need to acknowledge this and any plans to link user activity to CRM data in an updated privacy policy.

Consider regional regulations and adjust data collection and settings as needed. For example, Google Signals (which allows sites to both access cross-device reporting for Google’s signed-in users and market to them) can be managed by country or state to limit data sharing for specific locations.

The web has always changed and will always change, presumably for the better for all of us. Understanding the rules of the road when it comes to analytics and data analysis is a tool for deeper understanding, something we at Empirical Path work hard to provide to our clients every day. Staying a step ahead of those changes is the key to continuing to refine the disparate flow of user touches into a clear, actionable picture for your organization.   

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