Cookieless is a keyword that has been thrown around quite a bit recently.
Seasoned digital marketers have known for a while that cookies, the little bits of code that can track users across websites, are going out of style.
Whether you’re affected by the phaseouts or not, depends on what kind of affiliate marketer you are.
For beginners and those in doubt, we’ll be going over the general market situation.
If you want to understand what’s happening with cookies and why cookieless marketing is the way to go, read on and get answers to the most burning questions!
What are Cookies in Affiliate Marketing?
Cookies are pieces of information that are used to identify a single user across various websites.
Their purpose is to store information (through the user’s browser) for various purposes.
Amongst the most prominent cookie use-cases is remembering user preferences, login data, and browsing habits.
Cookies are neither good nor bad. They are used to make our internet browsing experience more comfortable. At the same time, they’re heavily used in advertising.
First-party cookies, for example, are essential for the proper functioning of web pages. Without them, shopping carts and favorites wouldn’t work. These cookies are not relevant to affiliates and they’re not taking the heat in the ongoing privacy revolution.
In affiliate marketing, third-party cookies can be used to track conversions and target advertisements.
Each website you visit contains ads. Each website you visit also greets you with a message asking if you consent to cookies.
If you agree, your experience might be smoother and you might get relevant and interesting suggestions as well as personalized promotions.
At the same time, consenting means allowing the platform to save information about your every move.
By consenting to third-party cookies, you agree to have that data shared between platforms. In short, that’s how an ad from one shop follows you across many other completely unrelated websites.
Once you click on such an advertisement and then make a purchase sometime later, the advertiser who placed a cookie in your browser (be it Google Chrome, Apple’s Safari, or Microsoft’s Edge) will be able to attribute that conversion to when, where, and who.
If it wasn’t for the data saved in the cookie, tracking the conversion would be impossible.
The chain would be broken and while the offer owner would know that a new purchase has been made, they wouldn’t be able to attribute it to a certain advertiser so paying out a commission would be impossible.
What’s Happening with Third-Party Cookies?
To understand why third-party cookies are being pushed out of the internet space, it’s important to take a look at their history.
Cookies had been created in the 90s and since then spread throughout the internet.
They were the perfect means of tracking site visitors, their interests, clicks, and abandoned shopping carts.
While providing marketers with unmatched convenience, the constant presence of highly personalized ads made people feel like their privacy was invaded.
In 2010, The Wall Street Journal was able to determine that an average website installs 64 tracking cookies on a user’s device during a single browsing session.
What’s more, the majority of cookies belonged to ad tech giants, and the data was collected with the sole purpose of creating giant databases of user profiles for displaying ads.
According to WSJ, “some of the tracking files identified […] were so detailed that they verged on being anonymous in name only. They enabled data-gathering companies to build personal profiles that could include age, gender, race, zip code, income, marital status and health concerns, along with recent purchases and favorite TV shows and movies.”
While there was nothing illegal in gathering data that doesn’t identify people by name, the rampant collecting, sharing, and selling had such a negative impact on the comfort of consumers, there was a clear need for more privacy.
To appeal to the public, browsers, starting with Apple’s Safari in 2015, began to slowly limit cookie tracking in favor of consumer experience and higher privacy standards.
Other browsers followed in Apple’s footsteps and as of 2022, cookies are blocked or limited in all major browsers apart from Chrome.
Google Chrome, earning nearly 150 billion dollars from ad revenue each year, was the slowest to introduce any changes. With a staggering 92% worldwide desktop market share, it’s the most popular search engine.
Additionally, Google Ads are one of the most competitive areas of affiliate marketing.
Although Google’s reluctance to go cookieless can be explained by the importance of cookie-based targeting to advertisers and affiliates, the introduction of data protection acts made it increasingly difficult to collect data. The shift towards cookieless targeting and tracking was inevitable.
Despite delays and changing plans, Google promised to replace third-party cookies by 2023.
Who Will be Affected by Third-Party Cookie Phaseouts?
Those who relied on third-party cookies to track conversions will undoubtedly be affected.
This is a popular and straightforward method that’s been widely adopted by the industry.
However, affiliate networks that still use it, are at an increased risk of losing data when encountering end-users who choose to block third-party cookies.
While most advertising formats allow for different tracking methods, e-commerce, native, and social media ads are often tracked that way because of the easy and fairly reliable setup.
Since Google announced that third-party cookies will be abandoned in the near future, many affiliate networks and offer providers switched to server-to-server or custom tracking solutions.
If you’re not familiar with the notion of ‘conversion tracking pixel’, you might already be using an updated method and third-party cookies shouldn’t concern you.
Can First-Party Cookies Provide a Replacement?
First-party cookies are often cited as the best base for an advertising strategy going forward.
Customers of each product, app, or service, can choose whether to opt-in for an experience-enhancing use of first-party cookies or not.
Unfortunately, affiliate marketers who rely on PPC advertising don’t have the same data collection opportunities as app owners and large e-commerce shops.
Hence, if you’re a PPC/PPV enthusiast, this might not be the best solution for you.
Why Should You Care About Cookieless Ad Formats?
Whether you’re only beginning your journey with affiliate marketing or you’re already on your way to try new ad formats, cookieless advertising is back in fashion. Using ad formats and tracking methods that revolve around cookies is simply becoming too risky.
Understanding Cookieless Tracking
You can no longer be sure that a tracking pixel will ensure successful conversion attribution.
What’s more, personalization and targeting will no longer be nearly as accurate.
That’s why, if you want to continue serving relevant ads without hiccups and unpredictable obstacles, the switch to cookieless ad formats should be amongst your marketing strategies for 2022.
Best Cookieless Ad Formats for Affiliate Marketing
Ad formats that function without the use of third-party cookies are often called zero-click or redirectless ads.
They are easily tracked using postbacks between the affiliate network, traffic source, and an affiliate tracker.
If you’d like to future-proof your affiliate marketing business, Zeropark has the following cookieless solutions to offer.
Pop ads are the staple of affiliate marketing.
They are treated as the most universal ad format.
They are perfect for beginners because a well-matched offer and geo combination makes them the cheapest ad format available.
What’s more, they provide a solid source of income for more experienced marketers thanks to their stability and scalability.
When it comes to targeting, pop ads don’t gather behavioral information so targeting is limited to keywords, location, and type of device.
Of course, there is an added benefit of using a particular ad network for a longer period of time.
You get to know the traffic and you can see how it matches your offers.
Whitelists created by yourself are the best way to ensure that you’re targeting the right group of people.
Beginners can reach out to the support team to receive a personalized whitelist with traffic that’s been historically known to perform for a given vertical.
Push traffic is another ad format that doesn’t need third-party cookies nor first-party cookies to perform.
Users receiving push notifications had to previously intentionally subscribe to these notifications (often with hopes of catching good deals and promotions).
Hence, by opting for push traffic, you’re sharing your offers with a wide variety of consumers, all interested in staying up to date with the latest best offers.
In affiliate marketing, push traffic has been on the rise since its invention in 2009, and even while the affiliate marketing industry was experiencing a period of slower growth, push notifications were as strong as ever.
Postback is the most common way of tracking push ad revenue.
That makes push notifications a cookieless ad format that is native to the sort of experience it provides, especially to mobile users.
Domain redirect ads are yet another cookieless ad format that will not be impacted by the changes happening around online privacy.
Domain redirects are pricier than push and pop traffic, however, that’s still cheap compared to e.g. Google’s search ads.
The quality to pricing ratio is adequate and the directness of this ad format makes them an excellent choice in 2022.
What’s more, Zeropark offers keyword targeting for domain redirect ads. With this option, advertisers don’t need to worry about less accurate targeting that comes with cookie-less ad formats.
Can Contextual Targeting Replace Third-Party Cookies?
If you’re one of the advertisers who will be affected by the third-party cookie phaseouts, there are many options available to mitigate the consequences.
If you’re insistent on staying with ad formats that predominantly relied on cookies for tracking and targeting, you will need to keep your finger on the pulse.
Google is already planning to replace cookies with Topics API.
This is a system that will gather weekly information about users’ browsing habits in order to categorize their interests. This audience targeting method will ensure that you have enough user data to target consumers interested in your product without gathering any personal data.
If your concern is with cookie tracking, the safer option would be to utilize Postback URLs.
This is not a problem when choosing offers from established networks, and merchants, however, smaller companies might not offer a proper tracking management system.
If you’re looking for new solutions or thinking about exploring alternative targeting methods, contextual targeting is a good alternative to cookies.
Be it search ads matching ads with queries searched by the users, or keyword targeting displaying your ads on a site with thematically related posts, user experience has been proved to increase when the ad fits the content of the website.
Any diligent affiliate marketer needs to be aware of the developments with cookies in the world of online advertising. Even affiliates and advertisers who previously used cookieless solutions should focus on ensuring that no data gets lost due to stricter privacy policies.
The future of your campaigns depends on how you track your conversions and what targeting you rely on. Either way, going cookieless doesn’t mean the end of your affiliate marketing business.
Advertisers who stick to tried and tested solutions like cookieless ad formats, might not even notice the changes around them.
If you’d like to learn more about pop, push and domain traffic, head over to the Zeropark website and choose traffic that converts.
Marketing Manager at Zeropark
A content marketer turned marketing manager, Bart is planning and executing all marketing actions for Zeropark, an industry-leading traffic source for push, pop and domain ads.
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