How Google phasing out third party cookies will help build a more private web

Senka Pupacic-The-Canadian-Business-Quarterly

Earlier this year, Google announced they would begin works to block third party cookies – which are used to track user activity and enable targeted advertising based on browsing habits – from their web browser within the next two years.

While marketers the world over had initially been perturbed about the news of the tech giant’s plan to phase out third-party cookies from their Chrome browser, web users will likely be collectively sighing in relief. Although the move is intended to enhance user privacy, marketers will still be able to implement and measure advertising campaigns, but only following the standards of Google’s recently proposed Privacy Sandbox.

What is Google’s Privacy Sandbox?

Google’s plans for its cookie-free future are aimed at increasing privacy and fraud prevention measures while still supporting targeted and measurable advertising. Rather than completely upending the online marketing world by blocking third-party cookies in one fell swoop, Google will be rolling out their proposed standards over the next two years, whereby companies who rely on these cookies to track web users will have to adhere to the standards and newly-implemented measures set by Google’s Privacy Sandbox.

In place of third party cookies, Google will be rolling out five application programming interfaces, effectively creating and providing an alternate pathway for the advertising industry to follow. The Privacy Sandbox will not block third-party cookies, but instead, provide anonymised signals within the Chrome browser to enable profiteering from Chrome user’s web browsing habits.

Boiled down to its essence, the standards set by the Privacy Sandbox means that the tracking of user activity remains the same in principle, but is instead implemented according to Google’s standards, while also allowing for a much more private and secure online environment for web users.

However, marketers running targeted ads using the Google Marketing Platform would be affected by any Privacy Sandbox changes, although these changes would mainly affect ad campaigns using Google Analytics running on non-Google-owned websites.

Developers will also be discouraged from using other tracking techniques such as fingerprinting. This involves using various snippets of information that varies between web users, such as which device they use to browse or the type of fonts they’ve installed, to create an identifiable, and therefore trackable profile that – unlike cookies – cannot be cleared by the user. 

In response to user requests for increased privacy online, Google’s Privacy Sandbox is aimed at providing users of its Chrome browser more control of how their information is collected and stored.

The problem with third party cookies

Third-party cookies are useful for digital marketers as they record various amounts of web user activity, enabling ads to be targeted to users based on their browsing habits. For example, if you were to check out an online music gear store and browse through their guitar section, you’ll be likely to see related guitar ads when you visit other, non-related websites.

While some users may consider this useful at times, the issue with third-party cookies is that over time, disturbingly large amounts of information is aggregated into a database of online profiles for each user. This invasion of privacy is not only considered creepy by many, but – more significantly – these databases also pose as a security risk should they be hacked by criminals or leaked into the public domain, allowing for potential identity theft or use for impersonation schemes. Another possible use for such information is the tracking of user movement and connections by government agencies.

In recent years, public awareness of these issues has risen dramatically, with web users increasingly desiring to opt-out of or block third-party cookies, which has led to a more private and secure alternative being developed.

What’s in the Google Privacy Sandbox?

In response to the web user’s desire for increased privacy and security, Google’s initial intentions were to make cookies more configurable and transparent for users of their Chrome browser, while also completely blocking fingerprinting techniques.

However, Google has now shifted its focus to completely block third party cookies, with the transition to a cookieless Chrome browser over the next two years. Advertisers wishing to receive information for targeting users will now have to perform an API call to Google’s Privacy Sandbox, which will provide anonymised data rather than information about individual identities.

The tech giant will begin testing click-based conversion measurements that will be tracked within the Chrome browser, rather than through the use of cookies. All required information will be delivered to the advertiser, but now without any information that could be personally identifiable. 

Challenges from the advertiser’s end

Although advertisers and publishers are concerned that Google’s intention to block third party cookies eventually will decrease their ad revenue, the Privacy Sandbox initiative aims to balance the scales with the increasingly desirable user privacy.

Changes brought on by the Privacy Sandbox will inevitably affect marketers using the Google Marketing Platform and Google Analytics to implement and measure their marketing campaigns. However, this will only affect ads delivered on sites not owned by Google. However, as the company aims to use their first-party cookies, this is unlikely to affect advertising campaigns being run through Google-owned sites such as their search results or YouTube.

Furthermore, although the Privacy Sandbox initiative aims to block third party cookies, new opportunities could be created for publishers and marketing companies that have already aggregated their databases of user data.

Google’s motivations

While Google’s intentions may appear admirable, it is entirely possible that these changes are being brought upon simply due to a global outcry for more robust personal data privacy and online security. The FTC recently fined the tech giant $170 million for a violation of the COPPA (Children’s Online Privacy and Protection Act) standards because of their use of cookies to track users.

Furthermore, Google’s tracking protocols are also currently being reviewed by European data protection authorities who are concerned the company are not complying with the GDPR.

Another motivational factor for Google to phase out their support for tracking cookies as that competing web browsers such as Firefox and Safari have already implemented measures to block third party cookies – a move which has proved to be highly popular with internet users.

The Privacy Sandbox is still being developed in real-time.

Senka Pupacic is the founder of Top 10 SEO, www.top10insydney.com.au.

How the GDPR affects email marketing today

Marketing managers across the globe have been losing sleep since the introduction of the EU GDPR earlier this year. But what is the GDPR and how does it affect email marketing?

Ever since the European Union rolled out its new email spam laws in May 2018, the General Data Protection Requirement (GDPR) has been a focal point for businesses worldwide. The introduction has also created a plethora of dilemmas for many organisations: does their business have to comply? If so, how? Will compliance affect customer acquisition and retention?

Companies will have had to work tirelessly to ensure the transition to GDPR compliance was as smooth as possible, while also affecting the way their business is conducted within the European Union. Naturally, companies relying heavily on email marketing will be especially affected.

Until recently, email marketing was a simple-to-implement yet highly effective marketing strategy. Now the GDPR has been rolled out, it’s an area requiring much consideration.

How does the GDPR impact email marketing today?

While personal data protection laws were already in place, the EU has effectively updated these laws to further protect consumers from unwanted digital junk mail.

The overall reach of the GDPR is perhaps the most significant change to the previous laws. It’s not just EU-based organisations that the new laws apply to, but any company storing or processing personal data of any European citizen.

So, what constitutes personal data? The GDPR states a name, photograph, IP address, medical information, or indeed anything related to an individual is considered personal data. As registering for an email account often requires divulging a wealth of personal information, an email address is a prime example of the type of personal data the GDPR aims to protect.

How many emails are being circulated globally in 2018?

In March 2018, the Radicati Group estimated the number of active email accounts worldwide to be 3.8 billion, with over 281 billion emails sent daily. According to the research organisation’s calculations, the number of daily emails will rise to 333 billion within the next four years.

Just as most households regularly receive unwanted junk mail through the post, so too do our electronic inboxes. Statista.com state that 60% of emails sent in September 2017 were spam. Although anyone who occasionally checks their spam folder could testify to this statistic, this is a significant decrease from recent years. Statista found that 71% of emails received in April 2014 were caught by spam filters – meaning almost three-quarters of emails were unsolicited digital junk mail.

That’s a lot of emails – and exactly the reason GDPR regulators have updated their spam laws. Since the update, businesses will now require the consent of their recipients or other legal means to send marketing emails.

The new rules now stipulate that even an email sent to a specified group of recipients from a personal account is considered email marketing.

With such stringent rules in place, it’s important for all business owners to understand how they may be affected. To help your business comply with the new GDPR rules, here are some of the processes you will need to implement.

1. Acquiring permission from previous subscribers

The most often asked question regarding new GDPR laws is whether subscribers obtained prior to 25th May 2018 can still be contacted.

The answer is twofold. If your subscribers chose to opt-in to your list, then you may continue to send email correspondence. However, if your subscribers were automatically opted in – through a purchased list, a pre-checked box, or other means – then you must obtain consent again.

Thankfully, regaining consent is as simple as asking your subscribers. In fact, seeking permission then storing a record is the basis of the GDPR. Consider running a ‘re-permission’ campaign to obtain permission from subscribers.

2. Obtaining new subscribers and email permissions

Most marketers assume that prospects who have submitted their email address can be added to a marketing campaign list. While this may have been common practice prior to 25th May, it is no longer allowed.

You cannot pre-tick a box to acquire an email address, nor can you simply hide your communication policy somewhere in your privacy statement. Since the new regulations came into force, prospects must now explicitly agree to receive marketing emails or newsletters from you.

It’s up to you to ensure you’re GDPR-compliant

Perhaps due to its convenience and relatively low cost, email remains the marketing medium of choice for Business-to-Business companies. However, you must ensure you and your organisation comply with the GDPR rules or face a hefty fine for each breach of protocol.

Despite the recently updated regulations, email marketing is here to stay. While the GDPR may appear complex, there are steps you can take to make sure your email marketing campaigns comply with the new regulations:

• Ensure marketing emails are only sent to subscribers who have explicitly chosen to opt-in
• Direct a re-permission campaign to existing subscribers to regain their consent
• Refrain from using automatic decision-making methods using your subscriber’s data
• Make it easy for your subscribers to unsubscribe from your email lists
• Provide a method for subscribers to manage their content options

It’s important to remember that the GDPR is about managing and providing content to people who explicitly choose to receive correspondence from you. This will almost certainly mean losing a portion of your subscribers who don’t open and read your emails – although, in marketing terms, these are the people you should be removing from your lists anyway. It’s the people that explicitly opt-in that you should be focusing on, to ensure your email marketing campaigns are productive.

While these new regulations may appear intimidating, complying to these rules will lead to improved open rates and higher overall revenue. Rather than being fearful of ensuring GDPR compliance, look forward to the resulting improvement in your email campaigns.

Senka Pupacic is the founder of Top 10 SEO: www.top10insydney.com.au.

What is Search Engine Optimization?

Senka-Pupacic

Despite the profound benefits Search Engine Optimization provides businesses when applied correctly, this marketing method remains something of a mystery to many business owners the world over.

By first understanding its definition, we can begin to appreciate what Search Engine Optimization has to offer.

At its simplest, Search Engine Optimization, or SEO can be defined as a process that maximizes the number of web users visiting a website, by ensuring it is displayed as highly as possible on page one of keyword searches that the search engine will select for you.

However, this definition barely scratches the surface of what SEO has to offer, nor the processes involved in implementing a successful SEO campaign, and why it’s such an effective marketing strategy.

A brief history of search engines provides an illuminating insight into not only how they have changed the way we conduct many of our daily activities, but also into how SEO came to be.

Search engines have revolutionised the ways in which we obtain information, conduct research, search for and purchase products and services, entertain ourselves and connect with our peers.

At the back end of nearly every online destination – be it a website, social network, blog or app – lies a search engine. In fact, search engines are now so prevalent in daily life that the word ‘Google’ has itself become a noun.

With the amount of information on the web continually increasing, search engines were born out of necessity. They gathered and displayed the vast swathes of information available in a concise, easily accessible and presentable manner. Now artificial intelligence is being used to help organize much of this data.

Around 1997, when Flash was being used to create sites, search engines were still listing websites alphabetically – a far cry from the algorithms used today for determining which order to display sites.

Only a handful of inquisitive and knowledgeable web providers discovered that by reading the code of sites being displayed on the first page of search results, a unique code could be applied to other sites they worked on ensuringthey would also appear on the first page.

Applying this method resulted in increased customers for businesses hiring those that could successfully implement this strategy. However, despite the clear results, a degree of skepticism remained in some regarding the relativity of the code and its direct influence on increased visitors to the sites, and therefore, increased business. Those that changed their websites completely and lost the unique code invariably found their leads rapidly drying up and left wondering why.

The Google Revolution began in 2000

In 2000, Yahoo partnered with Google, allowing them to power their organic search results instead of Inktomi, which resulted in every Yahoo search result displaying ‘Powered by Google’.

This move, which is considered to be the worst strategic move in the history of search, inadvertently contributed to Google – who, although little-known back then, were Yahoo’s biggest competitor – becoming the household name they are today.

Prior to this point, search engines mainly ranked sites based on their on-page content, domain names, and ability to get listed in relevant directories, and their basic structure and code formation.

Google’s introduction of their algorithms and web crawler in 2014 was revolutionary for online information retrieval, while also setting the bar high for it’s competitors.

Whether or not we’re aware of it, SEO is a necessarily pertinent component of web usage. It ensures users are directed to the information most relevant to their search terms and is a powerful tool for businesses seeking more qualified leads.

If knowledge is indeed power, then understanding how results are delivered serves as an essential element to any business owners’ marketing toolbox.

First and foremost, search engines aim to provide the most accurate results to web users’ queries. They use over 250 plus ranking factors to determine the most unique, high-quality content relevant to a particular search term and display each result in a corresponding order. These factors can be loosely defined as on-page, which considers the quality of a site determined by a highly technical algorithm – and off-page, whereby sites are graded by their overall popularity.

A site’s popularity is determined by many factors, with the most applicable influencers being the number of high-quality backlinks from other websites, and the level of engagement on various social media channels.

The former is achieved through publishing highly informative and useful content on quality websites with the aim of earning backlinks, whereas the latter is accomplished by encouraging engagement on the myriad social media platforms that are linked to the website.

Skepticism about the effectiveness of SEO remains rife, with many still questioning the time, effort and financial investment in improving a website’s organic SEO. However, the acquisition and monitoring of relevant data is an integral part of SEO, and the results gleaned from this data lends credence to the benefits search engine optimization has to offer.

1. The Results Cost Relatively Little Compared to PPC and AdWords

When implemented correctly and successfully, organic listings are a worthy investment for business owners as it is long lasting.When organic SEO starts to dominate, the need for paid listings such as Google AdWords can be reduced and in time paused so the business owners do not remain dependant on this service. The services of a results proven SEO professional is a worthy investment, as consistent levels of increased traffic can be directed to a website regularly. By contrast, traffic levels typically drop back down to zero once a paid campaign is paused.

2. Increased Trust in a Brand is Invaluable

Web users trust organic listings as much as they trust Google to provide them with reputable brands in searches. In other words, the higher a site is listed in the top ten organic search results on page one, the higher the levels of trust in a brand – and that trust cannot be bought. In fact, most web users tend to ignore paid listings in favour of highly ranked organic listings. Furthermore, the lower a site ranks, the less likely web users are to trust the brand.

3. Significantly Higher ROI (Return on Investment) Than Standard Ads

While a paid ad might convert a small percentage of visitors into making a sale, the same visitors from SEO will typically yield a much higher conversion rate, thus deeming SEO as the superior marketing method – both in terms of ROI and effectiveness. Furthermore, many web users often accidentally click on Pay Per Click ads that the business owners still need to pay for regardless, whereas those same accidental clicks on organically placed listings from SEO cost nothing. Essentially, a click on an organic listing is considerably more valuable than on a paid ad, resulting in a much higher ROI.

4. SEO Provides Permanent Results

Although an SEO campaign may take some time to secure the coveted first page status with various keywords being targeted, the results gleaned from these efforts can be everlasting. Through the continued publication of high quality content, it would be highly unlikely a website would lose its high-ranking positions. On the contrary, sites that are paying for their positioning will disappear into the ether of the internet once they pause their campaigns or run out of budget.

The Importance of Content with Artificial Intelligence

Creating great content is the key to online success – and this holds especially true with the continued development of Artificial Intelligence (AI) and SEO. Publishing engaging and interesting content across a variety of websites, blogs, videos, social media channels and guest blogs means that should one piece of your online presence be affected by an AI-related shift within your site, it won’t affect your overall online presence to the same degree.

When creating content for SEO purposes, your focus should be on the relevancy and value to your visitors. Keyword phrases should be replaced by the content that is centred on a key concept related to your particular keyword. Therefore, rather than repeating the same keyword in your content, it is much more prudent to write a blog post, or a series of blog posts all relating to one another that focus on a single topic while taking a broad approach to the subject.

To achieve success in an artificial intelligence powered organic search world of today, it is imperative to focus on creating a positive user experience. This is accomplished by continually creating and publishing high quality, interesting, valuable and relevant content that is easily accessible across all devices.

About Senka Pupacic

Senka is the founding Partner and Principal Consultant at Top 10 SEO. As an author, speaker, and consultant, she has advised and worked with companies and organizations across two continents in web analytics, regular testing of algorithm updates, web design, content management and online search engine marketing. Her aim is to assist businesses with their visibility on the world wide web bringing them in front of the people that matter, their future clients.