What Does Apple’s New Cookie Change Up Mean for Pardot Users?

As you may have heard, Apple made a move that significantly limits the ability advertisers and companies have to place cookies on your devices.  Changes are coming down the pipeline for iPhones, iPads, and Macs.  Cue the advertiser freakout.  

Or, maybe you haven’t heard — it hasn’t gotten all that much coverage, and when I Googled “new apple cookie,” the first result was for Pillsbury Salted Caramel Apple Cookies.

So now, I’m hungry.  But setting snacks aside for a moment, let’s think through what this means for Pardot users.

Start from the beginning — what’s a cookie?

Cookies are small files that are dropped on a website visitor’s computer to capture/store information about their behavior.  It’s what keeps the items in your cart when you go away for a while.  It pre-fills your data on forms.  It’s also what makes those shoes stalk you everywhere, no matter how far you run and hide.

In Pardot, cookies are what allow us to get all kinds of awesome analytics of who is engaging with what content.  A cookie is dropped as soon as a visitor engages with a Pardot asset — a tracked webpage, a custom redirect, a downloadable file, etc.  

At first, we / Pardot may or may not know who that user is, but when they fill out a Pardot form or click on a link we sent directly to their inbox, voila!  We can connect the dots and say THIS device belongs to THAT dude, and associate all of the information that Pardot’s been gathering about that visitor behind the scenes.

And old cookies are still delicious

Pardot can track cookies for a LONG. LONG. TIME.  This means if Joe Schmo visits your website (with a Pardot tracking code in place, of course) and then comes back months later and buys something, we have a rich history of data on him we can consider when analyzing what influenced his purchase.

This is really helpful for B2B companies with a long sales cycle, where buyers may pick up / put down the buying process, consider vendors seasonally, or just take their sweet time to make a purchasing decision.  

The default (and maximum) duration of Pardot tracking cookies is 3650 days — 10 years!  If Joe finally buys from us 10 years later, we can tie him back to his initial interaction with us on MySpace, Vine, or [insert other dead platform here.]  This is assuming that Joe hasn’t wiped his browser history or deleted his cookies, in which case, we lose this data.

The duration of this tracking window can be manually adjusted, but the minimum number of days Pardot allows is 180 days.

What is Apple changing about cookies?

In Safari 11, which is included as the default browser on the new macOS High Sierra, Apple is saying “we’re watching our figure, please hold the cookies.”  

They’re calling it “Intelligent Tracking Prevention,” and long story short, they’re deleting 3rd party cookies after 24 hours, and they’re deleting 1st party cookies after 30 days.

This only affects Safari users, so your cookies dropped via Explorer, Chrome, etc. are safe.  But Safari accounts for roughly 55% of US mobile browser usage, and of 10.5% desktop browser usage — so no small potatoes.

Hold up, what’s the difference between a 3rd party and 1st party cookie?

Good question. I had to spend some time researching this to try to really understand it.

Cookies that a website uses to track visitors on its own site (like the ones we use from Pardot) are first party cookies. 3rd party cookies are those by advertisers and other aggregators of data to achieve cross-site tracking and ad retargeting.  

This may be a bit more nuanced, but that’s the basic distinction.  If any readers have some specialized knowledge of the intricacies of cookies and can share some inside intel, PLEASE chime in via the comments.  

Why are people hot and bothered?

Advertising platforms depend heavily on cookies to allow them to do their thing.  In an open letter, a lot of the big organizations teamed up to give Apple a piece of their mind, accusing them of “sabotaging the economic model for the Internet” with an “amorphous set of shifting rules.”  

They’re not wrong.  This impacts a lot of businesses, and unsurprisingly, stock immediately plummeted for several major ad platforms.

Another negative consequence is that this further consolidates the power of Facebook and Google. Because their ad platforms are so widely used, you’re likely going to stumble across their cookies on the majority of sites you visit — meaning their cookies won’t expire.

Comparatively small ad firms (like Criteo or Adroll) are getting hurt the most by this.  90 cents of every dollar spent on digital ads goes to Google and Facebook, so the litte guys are going to have a hard time getting the volume of traffic they need to keep their cookies fresh.  (More detailed explanation of why this is here.)

Okay, so get to the point — what do I need to do with Pardot?

Apple is going to do Apple.  Unless you have millions to invest in lobbying for a change, we have to play by their rules.

For starters, I’d recommend checking Google Analytics to see how much of your traffic comes from Safari in the first place.  This is a useful data point when deciding how much to care about this.

But mostly importantly, give users a reason to keep coming back to your site.  30 days is the number to beat — so what content, email offers, or other things can you share with your audience to keep them engaged?  

What’s your cadence for content?  If the answer is “monthly,” you need to step up your game or risk losing some really valuable data.

How this impacts other platforms… pure speculation

I’m interested to see how advertisers shift their strategies.  Would it be fruitful to change campaign targeting criteria to block or show different content in Safari?  Or would that just incent users to flock to Safari to get a reduced-ad experience?

You could also show dynamic content on your own website based on the browser that the visitor is using.  I’m curious to see if anyone comes up with something creative to target those visitors differently and/or entice them to switch devices.

What do you think of all this?  What questions did you have?  Did I miss anything in this breakdown that impacts how we should be thinking about this?  Please share in the comments!

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