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The Dos and Don’ts of Collecting and Using Cookies in Your Digital Marketing Strategy
No, the other kind.
There’s no getting around it: digital marketing means gathering data. Gathering data means that some personal info is going to get caught in the net, and that’s where we start tussling with issues of privacy around internet cookies.
It’s the eternal ethical issue of the digital age: how do you balance data collection for marketing, giving a good customer experience, and keeping things private?
First off: what ARE cookies?
Defining ‘cookies’ is probably a good starting point. Put simply, they’re tiny bits of data that websites store on your device as you browse.
What data do cookies collect? In a nutshell, these bite-sized pieces of text help out with all sorts of tasks, like remembering your usernames/passwords, remembering what items you have in your shopping cart, and (for the website owner) tracking your activity.
Basically, they make websites a little smarter, while providing data on what visitors get up to.
How cookies are used has become a hot button issue, especially with data collection for marketing, with sweeping policies like the GDPR introduced to make sure data is being used correctly.
Something else that needs some unpacking is the GDPR: the General Data Protection Regulation. It covers a lot of topics, but one of the most well known is how websites in the EU have to be up-front about the cookies they’re gathering, and how to collect data for marketing.
Ever visited a website and run up against a screen-blocking popup, asking if you consent to cookies? It’s likely because of the GDPR.
Does this apply in Australia? We won’t delve into the deep legalese (here’s an article if you want to check it out in detail), but in short: unless you’re catering to an EU audience, you’re not bound by the GDPR.
Is gathering personal data ethical?
Here’s the thing: when it comes to data collection for marketing, you should only be gathering the basic, surface-level data that forms a big picture. Marketing data isn’t peering through webcams or making extensive lists of an individual customer’s purchases; it’s looking at the broad strokes of how people tend to use a website, where they tend to click first, how often they leave in a few seconds if something doesn’t load properly, or what ads they’re more likely to click on.
This is called first-party data, or data you collect directly from your audience.
Is it still personal data? By definition, yes, which means the question of how to collect first-party data still needs to be handled with care. But since cookies are really just tiny tidbits of data giving info on brief snatches of behaviour, it’s still an ethical practice, so long as all the proper privacy steps are taken.
In the end, you want cookies to work for your website visitors and customers, giving them a more personalised experience and letting you streamline the way they engage with you online.
How can I make sure my cookie collection is above board?
There’s a sentence that would cause double-takes twenty years ago.
When it comes to how to collect data for marketing, cookie collecting is very unlikely to cause major privacy issues. Third-party marketing tools (e.g. Google Ads) don’t want to be seen scraping too much of a person’s data, so they have fairly robust protections in place, and transparency around their policies.
So, what’s next?
The digital landscape is constantly changing. Data collection for marketing is getting better, activity tracking is becoming more accurate, and new laws are always in the works to define how we respect privacy online.
If you’ve got digital marketing in place, especially if it’s integrated with your website (and it really should be), then it pays to stay informed. Educate yourself on privacy laws, do your due diligence on any new tech/software, and always treat customer data with absolute respect.
Remember: cookies are meant to make the user experience better, faster and smoother for everyone. You can’t control third-party platforms, but you can keep your customers’ best interests in mind.
Want to learn more about data collection for marketing, digital strategy or creating a smooth user experience?