Here were the resources we covered in the episode:
Contact us at Podcast@B2Linked.com with ideas for what you’d like AJ to cover.
Are you prepared for the cookiepocalypse? We’re going full prepper on this episode of the LinkedIn Ads Show. Come step down into our homemade bunker.
Welcome to the LinkedIn Ads Show. Here’s your host, AJ Wilcox.
The cookie also contains the domain name of the website that actually created it. And a website can actually generate several cookies. It can also store things like user settings, such as your language preference, or special preferences, like how many items show up in a list when the page loads. For user experience, you definitely wouldn’t want someone to have to come back and adjust that and change it every time they visit your website. So the cookie is going to help remember those things. The cookie file also is going to hold things like the time spent on the website, or individual sub pages, any data that you enter into forms, they can store as a cookie as well. So your email address, your name, your telephone number, maybe even the terms that you searched for on the site. And then quite a few other pieces of just normal metadata. Things like the expiration date of the cookie, and that kind of thing. So cookies were originally intended to be really helpful in just remembering you so that your user experience on websites was going to be better. And then analytics packages, like Omniture, which is now Adobe Analytics, and Google Analytics found that they could use the cookies to stitch activity together and follow the user journey. For instance, the analytics package can place a cookie on your browser when you arrive on the site. And then when you come back, it can report that you are a returning visitor, and then stitch both this session and the previous session together, since it now knows that these were the same person. So you’re really building a profile about who someone is when they’re visiting your website, even if you don’t have them personally identified. And these were super helpful in stitching user behavior together over multiple sessions for things like your marketing automation system. So how this could work, let’s say, and I’m a big fan of Les Miserables. So let’s say we have user 24601. That’s their unique identifier. They go to your website, and they look at an article. And then three months later, they come back and they look at another article. Well, your marketing automation system would know that this is the same person, because the first time that they came, you gave them a cookie. And then three months later, that cookie is still in their browser. And they can see oh, this is that same user. Then let’s say two months later, they come back, they look at something else, and they fill out a form. Before that we only had users who for 601, we know that they visited two different pages. But now after they filled out a form, we’ve stitched that user together, we now know which two pages they’ve visited, as well as their name and email address that we collected from the forum. So now we’re building this whole profile of which users on the website are more engaged than others. And if your sales team is looking for people to reach out to the engaged users are probably high on that list. And of course, ad platforms realize that they could retarget users based on their interactions with a website. So for instance, if I visit B to link.com, the LinkedIn pixel or the Insight tag it fires, and it’s going to check to see if I have a cookie from LinkedIn.com. If it does, it’s going to identify me as a LinkedIn member, which they know because they know which member that identifier represents. So then if be two links retargeting audience was set up within campaign manager to say anyone who visits the website, stick them into a retargeting audience, then it would add me. So then the next time I go to visit Linkedin.com, LinkedIn looks at the cookie, and it sees that I had visited B2Linked.com and understands that that should be in a retargeting audience, and then it can start serving me retargeting ads byB2Linked. And this is all really cool. I think the vast majority of people out there, even those who are really concerned with privacy, don’t really have an issue with how this is all done. As it doesn’t really feel like an invasion of privacy to me. It’s more like just being able to cater a marketing experience to someone. But then you have cases where some really bad actors decided to exploit cookies in a way that took way too much data about users, and they even used it for invasive or unethical practices. And of course, when unethical behaviors happening, it’s right for everyone to be up in arms and start creating legislation to shut it down. And I think it’s important to understand that cookies were never meant to be the solution that they’ve become. They were created for things like remembering who someone is, but then they were co-opted later by marketing and other purposes, to try to do statistics and analysis that they were never really intended to do. So cookies have always been a little bit imprecise, a little bit problematic, but we’ve made do and there are two kinds of cookies. There’s a first party cookie and a third party cookie.
So let’s talk about the differences between those. First party cookies are highly trusted. When you’re visiting a site that seit places a cookie in your browser. So for instance, if I go to LinkedIn.com, in my fresh browser, brand new installation, LinkedIn is going to put a cookie on my computer after I’ve logged in identifying me as AJ Wilcox, and associating that with my unique LinkedIn ID. That way, if I open up a different browser tab, it still knows it’s me. Now this war on cookies is not directly targeting first party cookies. Although I believe that there are some casualties with this one that we’ll go over. First party cookies only work on the website, which created them and they are considered essential cookies by data privacy laws. So this is great, because those of us who really appreciate the user experience that cookies provide, those are most often done with first party cookies. And we’re likely not going to see anything changed there. But third party cookies are totally different. They’re not nearly as trusted. This would be like if you visited B2Linked.com and then Linkedin.com placed a cookie in your browser. Which it can do because B2Linked has the LinkedIn insight tag installed. So technically, LinkedIn could do that they could place a third party cookie on your computer, when you’re visiting our website. It’s my understanding that third party cookies were mainly created for marketing and analytics. And so they started out innocent enough things like being able to just retarget you with certain ads, because you’d landed on a certain page before, I think most people would be okay with that kind of behavior. But then some really unethical marketers took it to the point of tracking users without their consent across the whole web, they can personally identify you, they can sell that information to data aggregators, and use it however they wish. And then really bad actors have even used third party cookies, to steal your identity to hijack your browser fill your newsfeed with propaganda, and all those things that maybe many of us remember spyware, adware that would infect your browser. So the war against cookies is really a war against third party cookies. You’ve always been able to go and clear your cookies, which is something I would do, if I were ever inundated by a certain kind of ad that I just didn’t want to see anymore, I would jump into my browser and delete that cookie or just delete all my cookies. You can also serve in incognito mode, because that’s not going to store the cookie past when you close that session. And the vast majority of browsers now have a mode called Do Not Track that you can turn on and it’s just going to throw the cookies away.
All right, so then we have the cookiepocalypse. And this all originated from Apple. Because obviously, there’s no reason for Google or Facebook to enforce privacy around cookies, because both of them own ad platforms that rely heavily on cookies. Also, Google owns Chrome, which means it can technically gather any behavioral data it wants, although Google claims to keep it very sparse on the collection of personally identifiable information in the browser. So those two brands highly invested in cookies. But then you have Apple who has no dog in this fight whatsoever, because it doesn’t have an ad platform or a retargeting solution. So they took the angle of deciding to step up and become the consumer watchdog, your privacy guardian, and it’s definitely good branding. If I were on Apple’s team, I definitely would have been proud of this idea, too. But it definitely stepped on a lot of toes. Google, Facebook, and all pretty much digital marketing platforms around the world were all negatively affected here, the technology that they run on was under attack. So the way this worked is when Apple released the iOS 14 update the Safari browser, which is the main browser that all Apple devices use, it used something called ITP, or intelligent tracking prevention, to basically stop storing third party cookies. And in my opinion, this wasn’t a huge deal, because so many people on Apple devices actually don’t use Safari, they use the Chrome browser. So I didn’t expect to see a ton of data loss. But then when Apple released the update for iOS 14.5, when it did was at the operating system level, it stopped storing third party cookies. So no matter which browser you are using, whether it’s Safari, or Chrome or anything else, it would just block the third party cookies from being stored, regardless of the settings that you had in your browser. They were all overruled. So now any Apple device that’s an iPhone and iPad, your MacBook Pro, would essentially stop providing accurate reporting data inside of analytics. And this is crazy because at least in the US, Apple traffic represents about half of all the traffic. So it’s absolutely huge the effect that it has. And that’s the reason that we’re calling it the cookie pocalypse. That put a lot of pressure on all the other tech companies because they don’t want to be seen as trying to take advantage of someone’s privacy. So they all felt the need to follow suit. Mozilla Firefox was right behind positioning itself as the privacy first browser. And I’m fairly certain that this was the first browser to set up the ability to change it to a Do Not Track setting that told websites not to track the user. That eventually became the default. So then we lost tracking for Firefox users as well, regardless of which device they were using, if they were on a Windows or Android or whatever. Then Google Chrome stepped forward and did something that I was not expecting, back in January of 2020, it announced that it would block third party cookies by 2022. But then, in June of 2021, they delayed it until mid 2023, which is good because it’s 2022 right now at the time of recording, and we still have a little while. And if you had asked me a couple years ago, I predicted that because Microsoft has become such an advocate for user privacy, that Microsoft Edge would have beaten Google to the announcement. But I never saw an announcement like that. And I think I figured out why I’m fairly certain that the Microsoft Edge browser runs off of the architecture called chromium, which as you guess it is the architecture of Google Chrome. So basically, Microsoft Edge, as soon as Google Chrome makes this change, Edge would follow suit automatically. And I’m obviously overgeneralizing what’s happening here, because with Apple’s logic of intelligent tracking prevention, it can decide whether to block a cookie or to accept it just based off of their own intelligence. So my understanding is that no cookie is really safe. ITP inside of Apple, or the logic within any browser can decide whether to block a first party cookie, or it could even on rare occasions, decide to keep a third party cookie. So if you run a website, one of the things that you can do to make your cookie more likely to persist is have a login on your site, since a user who logs into your site and gets a first party cookie to remember that. So the next time they come back, they don’t have to enter their username and password for the 30th time is really helpful to users. And so Apple and all the browsers are going to be a lot more likely to keep that cookie because it represents being behind a login, which is already showing a lot of trust. I have an article down in the show notes that has a great breakdown of the logic that Apple’s ITP takes with cookies, and you can go and compare that it’s from a site called cookie saver.io. So here’s a quick sponsor break, and then we’ll dive into what this means for us as digital marketers.
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Alright, let’s jump into how this all applies to LinkedIn advertisers. There are a whole bunch of different marketing solutions that are affected by this. First off, I think we need to talk about analytics. You may have noticed that Google Analytics came out with GA 4 in pretty peculiar timing. It would have been really easy for Google to say because of what Apple’s doing, we blame them. We’re now trying to find a way around it with a new analytics platform. But Google took the high road, they don’t blame Apple publicly. They just shared that they’re building from the ground up because the old one had become a Frankenstein’s monster. My guess is though, that GA 4 is very much connected to analytics and user tracking through a cookieless kind of world. What about conversion tracking, probably every ad platform you use has a conversion tracking element to it. The way this works with LinkedIn is that when you have the insight tag installed on every page of your website, when the visitor comes after clicking on an ad, it places a cookie in that user’s browser. And that cookie identifies you as the same person who just clicked an ad on Linkedin.com. And now you’re on another site. So when that user now visits a page of your website that is set up to fire a conversion, LinkedIn sees that user journey that this is the same person who recently clicked on an a, LinkedIn knows which ad, and then registers a conversion for that ad and that campaign, all within campaign manager. My understanding is that LinkedIn has converted all of its cookies from a third party cookie to a first party cookie, meaning it should persist and be respected a lot more. I don’t know the technicality of how this works or why it works, but it sure sounds great. So it seems to me that if this is now a first party cookie, and even Apple devices have a cookie duration of seven days, that conversion tracking shouldn’t be too badly affected. Even inside of a Safari browser. or someone can still click from ad to landing page to a thank you page and still have that all reported back to LinkedIn. That being said, we have seen a significant variation in click conversions reported in campaign manager versus the actual form fills that we find within the CRM. I love to hear if you guys are seeing the same thing with conversions in campaign manager being under reported, I know that LinkedIn is working on solutions behind the scenes trying to bridge that gap. But if what we’re seeing right now is all Apple devices and we’re seeing in effect, when Chrome stops accepting third party cookies in 2023, looks like midyear, we’ll probably end up seeing twice the impact. So I can’t overstate the importance of making sure that your form data is all flowing into your CRM because really, who cares about what the conversions number is inside the ad platform, if you have an actual record in your CRM with a name and an email. That’s the only way as far as I’m concerned to make sure that you have 100% accurate way of tracking conversions.
Then we have retargeting solutions. LinkedIn is web retargeting is 100% reliant on cookies in your browser. So once third party cookies are gone without further development, I just don’t see the technology even still working. I haven’t heard anything from LinkedIn on this. And I do hope they’re working on a variant that will live past 2023. But it’s a little scary to me right now looking at the future of LinkedIn is website retargeting solution. So even if the LinkedIn insight tag places a first party cookie for retargeting purposes, I’m still not sure it can be reliably recognized for retargeting when they come back to LinkedIn, especially if it’s outside of Apple’s seven day cookie persistence window. What about the LinkedIn Audience Network? Well, the LinkedIn Audience Network or LAN, as they refer to it internally at LinkedIn, it’s the ability to show your sponsored content ads to very specific users, even when they’re not on Linkedin.com. So LinkedIn has a network of over 1000 really high quality sites and apps that it can show members ads on, it’s great, and I highly recommend it. And if you remember from Episode 22, we talked about which sites and apps that LinkedIn Audience Network actually can reach. While I don’t recommend the Audience Network on either Google or Facebook, I love it on LinkedIn. So the way that the LinkedIn Audience Network works from my understanding is that when you’re logged in to linkedin.com, so obviously LinkedIn knows who you are, it places an identifier cookie in your browser. And then when you visit one of those partner sites, LinkedIn has a script on that page to check the LinkedIn cookie and see if there are any advertisers who are specifically wanting to target you. And then your inventory enters the auction for advertisers to target you. My thought is that this is negatively going to be impacted by the cookie pocalypse. But I’m just not sure how much it’s being affected by it. I’m guessing that the LinkedIn cookie, even if it is first party, probably won’t be able to reliably be read by those partner sites. Or if they can read that cookie, the first party cookie would be gone after seven days, if this isn’t an active LinkedIn user who’s logging in at least every seven days. So if that stops working, that would truly be sad.
Another one is that website demographics. We talked all about this one on episode 54. But one of the little appreciated features of LinkedIn is the free website demographics that you get just by putting the Insight tag on your website and letting it run. I actually call it LinkedIn analytics, because it’s so similar to that of like Google Analytics, or Facebook analytics. What it does is it shows the professional makeup of those who are visiting your website. From my understanding, this works by the LinkedIn member having their Linkedin.com cookie in the browser, which is identifying who they are. And then your insight tag on your website, inspects that cookie, and then reports it back to LinkedIn, who you are. And because of privacy, obviously, they’re not going to expose that to you, but they will aggregate that behind the scenes to show you general information about the different job titles who are interacting with your website, or which companies are coming the most often are the levels of seniority, etc. There’s like nine different reports in there. And similar to LinkedIn, Audience Network and retargeting and any other products that relies on the LinkedIn insight tag and browser cookies, I don’t know what the effect will be, but I’m guessing it’s going to be significantly adversely affecting each of those products. And they may not be useful after like mid 2023. Since I love this product, I really do hope that LinkedIn finds a way to make it continue past the cookiepocalypse.
So now that I’ve totally scared you. Let’s talk about the different actions that you can take in preparation for the cookiepocalypse. Remember I told you we were going to be full prepper on this episode. Get that tinfoil hat ready. Jump on down in the bunker. My first recommendation is around LinkedIn website retargeting. I’m predicting that after 2023 LinkedIn’s website retargeting feature won’t be nearly as reliable, but what that means If you want to take advantage of it now while we have it. I haven’t been very bullish on LinkedIn’s website retargeting in the past, just because it’s weaker than other solutions. But boy, it’s really capable of producing lower cost traffic on LinkedIn, and continuing to tell a segmented story. So I’m definitely a fan of it. Use it while you’ve got it. But in addition to that, LinkedIn has all of these event based retargeting features that happens just for those who are on the platform. And these have nothing to do with cookies, every action that someone takes on Linkedin.com. LinkedIn knows who they are and what action they took. So it’s just keeping track on the backend. So I would highly recommend take advantage of things like single image ad interaction retargeting, or 25% video viewers, or form retargeting company page visits. If they’re interested in a LinkedIn event, really anything you can take advantage of there. In the past, I’ve always recommended using Google and Facebook’s retargeting features. And that certainly isn’t changing here. Google and Facebook are by far the most advanced ad platforms on the planet. So I’m not sure how their tech is going to keep working. But if anyone is going to have a retargeting solution that works, it’s going to be theirs. So definitely set up LinkedIn website retargeting, but also have Facebook and Google’s as well. And then all your platforms can all hold hands and sing Kumbaya around the fire. You may notice that this is going to shrink the size of your audiences on LinkedIn from your retargeting campaigns. So you may find that you have to combine retargeting audiences just to get large enough list sizes. This obviously isn’t great. But combining multiple lists is much better than just having retargeting audiences that won’t run. If you’ve never paid attention to it, go check out website demographics now. If you have the LinkedIn insight tag installed, you’ve already got this make use of it. Now while the sun is shining. Because after cookiepocalypse is over, we don’t know if this is still going to work. Similarly, use LinkedIn Audience Network in your sponsored content campaigns as much as possible before it may go away. Like I mentioned before, CRM tracking from your LinkedIn Ads is critical. If you don’t have form fields coming from your LinkedIn ads being passed into your CRM with UTM parameters or other tracking parameters, informing you where those leads came from which ad they clicked, etc, you need to stop the presses right now and go get that set up. That is table stakes. There’s another awesome feature on LinkedIn that isn’t going to be affected by cookies going away. And that is the list uploads feature. You can always upload lists of individuals or company names for targeting or for exclusion back into LinkedIn. So make sure you are building your lists. When you own someone’s email address, you can then do a lot with it, you can upload it into so many different ad platforms, as well as email them through your marketing automation solution. So build those lists, own that data. Because if you’re just using LinkedIn targeting, you’ll pay dearly, and you’re just building on rented land. But there’s so much more you can do if you actually own that data.
So let’s get really technical. Here again, let’s talk about the different alternatives to cookies that people are figuring out. One that I’m hearing a lot of advanced Facebook and Google advertisers doing is called server side tracking. There’s a cool article all about this that we’ve linked to in the show notes by a site called Magic X. Sometimes it’s called server to server or S to S, it works by cutting the user’s browser completely out of the picture. Instead, the ad platform either Facebook or Google, in this case, it’s going to cooperate right with your website’s web server. It’s capturing info about the user session directly from the server. So the ad platform, it’s going to assign a unique identifier, because Facebook obviously knows exactly who you are. So they can link your identifier and your identity on their side. And then your website’s server is going to receive that identifier and send information back to Facebook about the pages that it loaded during that session. And then when a conversion occurs, Facebook receives it right through its API. So there’s no need to check the user’s cookies in their browser or anything like that. This is the solution that the largest advertisers are using now. And there’s a marketer by the name of Simo Ahava that I have great respect for. If you’re running Google ads, there’s an awesome article by him all about how to set up serverside tagging and tracking with Google ads inside of Google Tag Manager. So that’s down in the show notes below at simoahava.com. Simo, if you’re listening, huge fan. There’s also another technology called fingerprinting. And again, really cool article about fingerprinting down in the show notes below. This one is by pixelprivacy.com, but fingerprinting works by the website creating a profile around each browser that’s accessing this profile. It’s a combination of your browser type, your browser version, your operating system, which plugins you have enabled, your timezone, language, screen resolution, and potentially a bunch of other active settings. And you might think that packaging this up is all pretty generic. But when you realize that any specific combination of all these browser elements is only going to occur about one in every 286,000 browsers, you can see how you might be able to consider it reliable as a marketer. And that’s just the information about the browser to identify a user. So you can imagine a business could combine the browser fingerprint with its own data about you. So let’s say that you fill out a form, they can then combine that data with now your name and email address, and then they can place you into some sort of a behavioral segment that they could follow up with. I don’t hear a whole lot about fingerprinting. So it’s possible that fingerprinting is even one of the things that server side tracking is using. But I don’t know, that’s a little past my paygrade. I do know that under GDPR, browser fingerprinting isn’t illegal, at least not yet. So this is something that people are doing. I think server side tracking is so cool. I really wish we could do it on LinkedIn. So I hope LinkedIn releases a version of server side tracking that us LinkedIn advertisers can use. Bonus points if it makes the audience Network website demographics and retargeting more accurate. All right, I’ve got the episode resources party coming right up. So stick around.
Thank you for listening to the LinkedIn Ads Show. Hungry for more? AJ Wilcox, take it away.
All right, like we talked about here in the episode, there’s an article by ionos.com all about what cookies are. There’s the pixelprivacy.com article all about browser fingerprinting. There’s a termly.io article all about first party versus third party cookies. There’s the cookiesaver.io article all about how Apple’s intelligent tracking prevention treats cookies. So if you’re a site owner who deals with cookies, that’s a great one to read. There’s of course, the Simo Ahava article all about server side tracking with Google ads. And then we mentioned a few episodes, there’s the website demographics episode, Episode 54, that you’ll definitely want to check out if you haven’t already. And then episode 22, we talk about all the different sites and apps that LinkedIn Audience Network can show up on. If you or anyone you know, is looking to learn more about LinkedIn Ads, point them towards the course that I did with LinkedIn Learning. It’s of course linked to here in the show notes below and it’s by far the least expensive and the most in depth course out there. If you’re not already, subscribe to this podcast, if this was great info and you want to hear more geekiness about LinkedIn Ads in the future, hit that subscribe button. And then like I talked about before, please do rate and review the podcast. It makes a huge difference to me and I would be personally very grateful. If you have any corrections for us or suggestions for other episodes, or even feedback about the show, reach out to us at Podcast@B2Linked.com. And with that being said, we’ll see you back here next week. Cheering you on in your LinkedIn Ads initiatives.