Third-party Cookies and Personalization in dotCMS

Stefan Schinkel

Each time you visit a website or app, you're leaving a footprint. These footprints are commonly called cookies and record user data. Cookies are used by many different companies for marketing purposes but have been known to expose user data to unscrupulous people.

If you're in the tech space, you probably heard the news about Google phasing out third-party cookies by 2022. If you're not, we will discuss it later. But the gist of it is that the rising consumer expectations for privacy and the new regulations on user data are changing how much information a website can get from a user and how it can use it.

Marketers have used third-party cookies for years to deliver personalized content to users, but if that's no longer possible, how will they provide timely content in an increasingly omnichannel user journey?

In this blog post, we'll discuss what a third-party cookie is, explain how it could impact your personalization efforts and show how a hybrid CMS can help you personalize content without third-party cookies.

What Is a Third-Party Cookie

An HTTP cookie —also called web cookie, internet cookie, browser cookie, or simply cookie— is a piece of data stored on a user's computer. Typically, the web browser collects the cookie while a user is browsing a site. Cookies give the website the following customer data:

  • Items added in the shopping cart,

  • Interactions with the website like clicks, log-in information and pages visited,

  • User information like names, addresses, passwords, and credit card numbers.

Websites place first-party cookies on a site to collect information that improves the user experience, like user preferences and settings. A website can also use first-party cookies to power chatbots and live chats.

Third-party cookies are placed on a website by someone other than the owner of the website you're visiting. They work like first-party cookies but are set by third parties you might not know anything about.

This includes Google Analytics (GA), Facebook Pixel, and Twitter Pixel, to name the most known ones. Third-party cookies create challenges in terms of privacy because they can be used to gather information without consent or knowledge.

The Privacy Challenges of Third-Party Cookies

Since the companies that place third-party cookies do it to monitor user activity and for behavioral targeting, this works for advertisers as they can leverage specific user data points to enhance the success of their marketing campaigns. They can use third-party cookies to help them personalize their content, allowing them to track users across websites and devices.

Most websites and advertisers are not ill-natured and use this information to the users' benefit and to enhance their experience. Still, there are some privacy concerns with cookies related to fraud and invasion of privacy.

The risks associated with third-party cookies fall under two categories: cookie fraud and invasion of privacy.

  • Cookie Fraud: A malicious website uses legitimate website visitors as a proxy in an attack on a website or game tracking systems by attaching false session IDs to a legitimate user's activity.

  • Invasion of Privacy: Websites can use the data they get from users to track them, and offer them advertising and offers with products that make people feel like they're being watched.

Why Google Is Phasing Out Third-Party Cookies?

As more consumers try to protect their privacy, cookie blocking techniques have become commonplace. This encourages other kinds of opaque techniques that still give third parties access to their personal information. Techniques like fingerprinting don't give users control over what they share and how they do it, which is against user experience.

To give advertisers a way of advertising that doesn't run against user experience, Google decided to phase out third-party cookies in favor of new ways that ensure both user privacy and monetization through advertising.

What Does That Mean for Marketers?

Third-party cookies enable marketers to deliver personalized content and track interactions across different devices and touchpoints. For instance, let's say that a user browses for an item on Amazon and leaves the site. Third party cookies will enable Amazon to display ads with that same product on other websites.

First-party cookies are accepted automatically, but now users are informed that they're accepting third-party cookies, the kind of information they're providing, and the amount of data companies can retain from them.

For marketers that only track visitor behavior, preferences, and basic demographic information while they're on the website, there are not many problems. However, for marketers who are on the higher end of the spectrum and rely on third-party cookies to get user data for online advertising or personalization, the phase-out means that a new era for personalization is about to begin. One where marketers will need to make better use of first-party data and contextual advertising and AI-based personalization technologies to deliver the content their users are looking for.

Plus, since Google will still collect first-party data while consumers are using its products like YouTube or Search, it means that marketers will have to work closely with Google to gather user data and be able to target users better.

These are some areas of marketing that aren't affected by Google's decision:

  • Conversion tracking

  • Remarketing

  • Display remarketing

However, the best a marketer can do is to continue to stay up to date with the news related to the phase-out. Start considering alternatives such as contextual advertising, email marketing, and leverage the on-site personalization capabilities a hybrid CMS like dotCMS can give you. Let's take a closer look at how to drive personalized content without third-party cookies using dotCMS.

How To Deliver Personalized Content Without Third-Party Cookies?

It's not a secret that digital advertising thrives thanks to personalization. Personalized content drives customer engagement and increases conversions by delivering content that users are likely to consider relevant to their query.

If customers feel like you understand their needs, they're more likely to come to you. That's why personalization is so important for marketers looking to thrive in the omnichannel landscape.

Luckily for marketers, a hybrid CMS can do just that without the need for third-party data, all through the use of behavioral data. A CMS can deliver hyper-personalized content while at the same time hiding irrelevant content, guiding users along the buyer's journey.

Let's take a look at dotCMS' personalization engine.

You can personalize content for different users with dotCMS. This includes using visitors, personas, and rules. Let's define each element of dotCMS' personalization engine:

  • Visitor: This object identifies each visitor accessing the site and includes information about them in the user session.

  • Personas: Allow you to categorize visitors into different categories with interest in different content on your site.

  • Rules: Enables you to assign personas and tags to each visitor as they browse the site, recording the tags and subjects the user was interested in.

These three elements combine to serve personalized content to different users depending on their most interested tags.

Here are the steps to delivering personalized content without third party cookies:

Define Personas

dotCMS has persona-driven capabilities that enable personalization down to a granular level. Personas contain information about a specific market segment or ideal customer that's useful for categorizing content.

When you're using Edit Mode Anywhere, dotCMS' page editor, you can preview your website based on different personas to correct your personalization efforts. Plus, personas work as just another content type marketers can manage and modify as needed.

Leverage The Visitor Object Model

dotCMS stores visitor behavior and interactions in the visitor object. This object records attributes about the visitor and enables the CMS to track actions like clicking links and accessing content that has been tagged as beneficial for the visitor.

The visitor object contains a treasure trove of customer and visitor information that marketers can easily leverage to fuel data-driven marketing campaigns and understand the audience's interests.

Tag Content and Personas

In dotCMS, you can add key tags to the personas similar to regular tags, tying content to specific audiences, enabling the CMS to display the right visitors' right content automatically.

There's also a field where users can add additional tags to enrich personas and deliver even more relevant content.

Setting Rules

dotCMS uses a NoCode rules engine that enables non-technical users to configure dynamic content based on the visitors' behavioural data. Marketers can use our rules engine and use specific website data to determine actions and optimize the specific device or demographic content.

Pulling Dynamic Content

Besides our NoCode capabilities for non-technical users, we also leverage Velocity scripts and attributes for technical-savvy users. You can pull personalized content using Velocity and query for personalized content using filters.

Users also have access to other personalization features within Velocity. They can find out which rules have already fired in the page attribute or even modify tags within the visitor object using a variety of Velocity methods.

With dotCMS, both marketers and technical users have the tools to deliver personalized content without the need for third-party cookies, reducing the potential risks associated with this type of cookies.

If you want to learn more about personalization in dotCMS, read our article: How Personalization Works in dotCMS or watch our video training: dotCMS Personalization

Stefan Schinkel
Chief Revenue Officer
April 19, 2021

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