You could call me a Pollyanna for saying it, but I remain convinced the results of the cookie deletion trend are not all bad. Several months ago, I wrote a column based on a conversation I had with Young-Bean Song, director of the Atlas Institute. The conversation was prompted by a JupiterResearch report that indicated Internet users were deleting cookies at an alarming rate. At the time, Atlas published a report suggesting things weren't as dire as JupiterResearch had suggested. It occurred to me if people were deleting cookies, our standard ways of measuring were actually underreporting actual campaign performance.
Recently, JupiterResearch issued another report indicating more people are deleting their cookies than ever before. JupiterResearch now reports "over 48 million Internet users are running anti-spyware applications that delete third-party tracking cookies. And nearly 38 million are using aggressive anti-spyware applications that remove nearly 75 percent of tracking cookies."
Cookies are important to our businesses. But the people we work so hard to place and track have become increasingly fed up with spyware, its impact on their computer systems' performance, and its negative effect on their overall Internet experience. So they're taking action, which is compromising the integrity of cookie-based tracking.
As I had talked with Young the last time, I thought it only fair to talk with Eric Peterson, the JupiterResearch analyst covering the issue this time. Peterson has unfairly been painted as the bad guy for bringing the matter to the public's attention. Clearly, publishers, tracking technology companies, and agencies don't want to hear about the inaccuracies in our long-held measurement practices. But he isn't trying to bring down our industry as much as he's alerting us to a serious issue that can be overcome with a little work. Peterson proved to be an incredible resource in helping me to further understand the trend. Below, an excerpt from our conversation.
Lerma: What is the big picture trend? Will cookies go away?
Peterson: At this point we have no other feasible way to track Web site user behavior. People have suggested Flash local shared objects (essentially a "persistent cookie"), but those run the risk of additional consumer fallout. So cookie tracking will not likely go away.
Lerma: Do you think consumers could be educated to a point where they wouldn't delete cookies?
Peterson: I moderate a discussion at Yahoo [Groups] about Web site analytics with 1,500 participants and there has been a debate raging about risks, benefits, and the value associated with cookies. These are well-informed, savvy Internet users. How can we expect consumers to understand?
Lerma: What do you recommend marketers do about this trend? How can we continue tracking the effectiveness of our online campaigns?
Peterson: My guidance is don't panic. But also, don't stick your head in the sand either. Marketers should work with site publishers and technology vendors and push them to assess the impact of cookie deletion on campaigns. At that point, it becomes a statistical issue, and the variable will differ from site to site. But once you know what that variable is, you can apply that to your performance metrics. The key is not to ignore it.... You know what happens to the ostrich with its head in the sand, right? The lion always comes along and eats it. Don't be that ostrich.
Thanks, Eric. The truth is that cookie deletion is an important issue, and it will take a significant amount of work to more accurately track the effectiveness of our online efforts. I would encourage you to become as informed as you can about this topic so you can form your own opinion and get involved. As always, we hold the future of the industry in our own hands.
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Many of ClickZ's leading expert contributors will be at ClickZ Live, the new online and digital marketing event kicking off in New York (March 31-April 3). Hear from the likes of: Jeremy Hull, Lisa Raehsler, Andrew Goodman, Bryan Eisenberg, Mathew Sweezey, Aaron Kahlow, Stephanie Miller, Simms Jenkins, Jeanne S. Jennings, Dave Hendricks and more!
March 19, 2014