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How to successfully advertise without third-party data

An artistic representation of using first party data for audiences.

After all the talk clears and the dust settles on Apple and Google’s third-party data changes, what will become of digital marketing? Unlike some have led us to believe, this won’t be the end of digital marketing. It won’t even be the end of digital marketing as we know it. It does, however, mark the beginning of new and innovative ways to find customers who are ready to listen to, and act on, the messages we share.

Here are a few points to show how the shift in digital marketing will affect some initiatives, and make room for new ideas.

Thinking deeper about first-party data

Using first-party data is by no means a new tactic, but without the amount of third-party data we all once had access to, this first-party data should be looked at in new and more clever ways. 

This may be as simple or complicated as optimizing your website to glean more information from site visitors. Do you have tracking in place to know who’s interested in your products, enabling you to better message and respond to them on other digital platforms? 

These visitors are already part-way down the sales funnel, and may only need a small bump to take them all the way. While it may seem like work up front to optimize your website for a more robust tracking system, the payoff for finding stronger-interested parties can be worth it.

Creating smarter lookalike audiences

The science of data is here to stay, and the implications for what it can do are immeasurable. Algorithms are being created every day to pull in data sets and produce predictive responses to numerous questions around the world—and advertising is no different. 

Like most algorithms, the more data points that can be factored in, the better the outcome. Or in advertising terms: the better the lookalike audiences that are created. In addition to strong lookalike audiences, it’s important to find the right platform for those audiences to be targeted. 

For example, a lookalike audience for a healthcare company marketing to insurance providers may be useful on LinkedIn, but not as useful on Reddit. Whereas a specialty sneaker company might easily find a strong audience on Reddit, but not on LinkedIn. 

Allowing ideas that might fail

Before you completely fight this idea, hear it out. In no way are we proponents of bad ideas just for the sake of trying anything. But we are proponents in making calculated risks that might just win big—and allowing trials before jumping full in. 

One of the greatest things about so many forms of digital marketing is that they are easy to try, track and improve. There are countless times where simple things like A/B testing can prove helpful to finding the strongest social media ad, the better ROI for SEM, or the landing page design that produces the most leads.

With third-party, first-party or lookalike audiences, it can sometimes be the unexpected message that resonates best. Or the outside-the-box offer that adds brand loyalty from current customers—further strengthening the first-party data already accessible to a company for marketing. 

Pain Points and Solutions for Optimizing Retargeted Ads

target with arrows

So you’ve built your ads, you’ve gotten clicks, visitors have come to your landing page—now what? If you haven’t already pulled the visitor through the sales funnel, it’s time to retarget. And as we’ve been discussing conversion rate optimizations as they apply to both initial ads and landing pages, it’s time to share how to best optimize for retargeting. 

The first step is to determine the desired outcomes and audience types you’ll be retargeting.

  • Is this for brand awareness, conversion, lead generation, etc.?
  • Did the audience see an ad already?
  • Did they visit a landing page from an ad, but abandoned a cart or dropped without conversion?
  • Or are you using 1st party data to retarget?
  • Did the viewer visit your site recently?

Initial Strategies for Retargeting Optimizations

Depending on the previous interactions, the audience’s mindsets are in different places. Retargeting is created to incite a new behavior, but depending on where they are in the funnel their receptiveness to this message may be easier or harder to access. 

From our own experience with client objectives, which matches with data from eMarketer, the top two reasons for retargeting are increasing brand awareness and driving sales. To simplify types of optimizations we will focus primarily on these two objectives for this article, but strategies learned can be applied to other objectives as well. 

Primary Objectives for Retargeting According to US B2B Marketers

Tailoring Audience Segmentation

Just like with initial ads, one of the easiest optimizations is creating separate ad groups for each retargeting audience. Segmenting these can be based on a few criteria, and it’s important to keep in mind your audience types, initial ad goals and retargeting goals.

For users that have seen your ads, you can segment them based on which part of the website they visited. This makes it possible to optimize the retargeting message to something that will best resonate with them. 

Along with audience segmentation, bid strategies are an important factor as well. There are numerous strategies that can be run depending on the end goal, and it’s important to organize based on how you want the ad to run. 

If you want a user to perform a certain action (buy something, fill out a form, etc.) on your website, you would optimize the bid strategy for conversions. But if your aim is simply for people to visit your website, your bid strategy should optimize for clicks.

Tailoring Messaging and Creative

The other side of optimizations lies with the actual ad being shown. Should you update the ad you display or use what you’ve previously done? Rethinking messaging and imagery doesn’t mean recreating an entire campaign. But it can be helpful to revisit the difference in strategy between the first and second touchpoints.

If the retargeted audience has already been served an ad, it’s especially important to consider how you can update their second interaction. Think about what they’ve already seen, and what your follow-up should be.

Limiting Ad Fatigue 

This takes us to another side of retargeting ads: being careful not to over-advertise to your audience. Anyone seeing the same ad over and over will at best start to ignore it, and at worst feel negatively towards the brand. 

Updating messaging and imagery can be one way to help with ad fatigue. For added brand awareness, slight nuances can feel refreshed but increase message views. Or if you’re trying to sell or convert to someone who previously dropped off, it could be helpful to add an incentive that increases that conversion for those sitting on the fence.

Another way to avoid ad fatigue can be as easy as monitoring what is being shown at any given time. Watch the frequency of the ads being served, and set up guardrails to limit the amount of ads. No matter what type of ad you’re showing, too much is too much. 

Following these strategies can help ensure the ads being created are targeting an audience that is most receptive, with a message that really resonates. And similar to optimizing initial ads and landing pages, these optimizations can lead to improved conversion rates with lowered acquisition costs. 

Digitally Improve Conversion Rates & Lower Acquisition Costs

The last article published gave a lot of insight and ideas for improving conversion as it pertains to click-through rates. To follow up on that, we’re going to take a look a little further down the sales funnel to where a person will go when they make that click: landing pages. 

This is one of the items in the sales funnel that pulls a lot of weight. Customers may be intrigued by an ad, but if they click to a landing page that is unsatisfactory it can result in a missed opportunity for the company. Many ads lead to brand websites, or pages within them, but having dedicated landing pages for an ad campaign can really help conversion rates. 

Focus on the User Journey

To optimize landing pages and increase conversion rates, it is important to hone in on the user journey. Thinking about all aspects of the journey they took before reaching the landing page can provide a strategy to satisfy what they need when they get there. This can be applied to everything from photography to forms. 

This isn’t meant to imply that one layout needs to be a unicorn of landing pages. What it does mean is that landing pages should have variants to increase optimization. From testing and research, Instapage recommends that variants should have around 20-50% differences to match varied ad groups a user falls into. Some examples of user journeys to consider: 

    • Location: if ads are being geo-targeted to different audiences, make sure the landing page matchings the ad. For example, someone in NYC clicking on a real estate ad should be taken to a landing page with city images, not suburbs. 
    • Demographics: similar to location, landing page imagery should be optimized to allow the user to see themselves as a potential customer. 
    • Verbiage and tone: Landing page headlines and body copy should align with whichever ad was clicked on. This allows consistency in a message that is working for the user. 
    • Previous platform: Did the user click on an ad from a desktop website or a social media post on their phone? Knowing this can provide key insight to the amount of time and attention span they have for the landing page.
    • Purchasing state-of-mind: did the user come from more of an awareness ad or something meant to get them lower in the funnel? Providing actions and info relevant to where they are in the journey can greatly increase the wanted outcomes. 



Utilize Technology & Testing

Beyond the front-end optimizations like imagery and copy, technology behind the page can also play a big part in user experience. 

Thinking back to how a user got to the landing page—be it from a website, social post, etc—should influence how a page is created. If you have a user clicking an ad from Snapchat they are in a mindset to expect quick info. No one likes a slow-loading page to begin with, but in these cases the attention span is even shorter. Avoid the bells and whistles of a mobile landing page in favor of clean, fast-loading pages to deliver information quickly. 

Heatmaps are a simple and effective way to determine the performance of a landing page in totality. Viewing where people spend their time, or how they click can be effective in knowing how to tailor content. For example, a user may try to click on an area of a page that is not a link or a button. A heatmap can show where areas of improvement can be made, like creating new clickable areas to allow better user flow through the funnel. 

Another widely used optimization method is A/B testing. Pages with variant messaging, layout or images that are tested against each other can reduce acquisition costs by up to 50%. It is important to remember the variants you are testing, and not make the pages so different that you aren’t sure what part of the variant is leading to your success. And the general rule of thumb is to test no more than three landing pages at one time; this means one baseline page, and two testing options.

Overall, experimenting with variants, testing and user flows can help with conversion metrics like lead generation, product trials and more. These types of optimizations need buy-in from the entire team, including strategy, design and marketing because they can require more work than a generic landing page. But the results can easily outweigh the work put in by raising conversion rates and lowering acquisition costs.

Top Ways to Optimize Ads for Increased Conversion

True conversion takes multiple parts of a sales funnel, which means there are always a few different angles to evaluate and optimize when looking to increase conversion rates during a marketing campaign. 

For this article we’re going to start at the top of one path of the digital funnel: ad optimization. But stay tuned for a couple forthcoming articles for a full scope of optimization techniques. One of the first things to think about in terms of strategy is that ad optimizations are not a one-size-fits-all approach. Ad placement can really determine what mindset a consumer is in when looking at the ad, and can sway what strategy works best.

Facebook Ad Optimizations

People looking at Facebook often get targeted by the same ads over and over again. The algorithm will keep pushing ads it thinks are best, but may not always realize it may cause ad fatigue. Or it may be that ads are not placed correctly for the audience it’s trying to reach. 

To increase ad interactions it’s always recommended to create several variations. These variations should include differences in creative, messaging and brand benefits. Utilizing A/B testing up front provides data for which variations perform best on the audiences you are targeting. After testing is complete, choose 2-3 top performing ads, rotating them to avoid ad fatigue. 

Google Ad Optimizations

Optimizing a Google ads campaign utilizes a lot of strategy within message copy and keyword usage. Like Facebook ads, creating variations of ads helps to aid in finding the most optimized ad options for the desired outcome. 

To start, messaging copy should align closely with wherever the ads are headed. It’s easy to understand why Google’s algorithm wouldn’t want to display an ad that doesn’t link to a page of the same topic. No one wants to click on an ad for winter boots that takes them to a landing page about fish tanks. But even if your ad topic aligns with your landing page, copy should still be given a second look to make sure your customer will find exactly what they want after clicking an ad.

The second part of Google Ads is looking at keywords. This means refining keywords at the start of posting, as well as ongoing analysis to determine what is and isn’t working. Doing this gives a chance to purge underperforming keywords for better ad dollar spending. It is also a chance to see if there are opportunities to add new keywords for targeting. 

In the same way we use keywords for targeting, utilizing negative keywords allows you to exclude specific search terms. This helps to focus on only the keywords that really matter, again optimizing targeting and ad dollar spend. 

Another data point to track is the CTR (click-through-rate). The higher the CTR the better your ranking, and the lower your cost for conversion. The click-through-rate is also a key factor in Google’s quality score formula, which they use to determine your ad position and actual cost per click. And just like keyword analysis, if no one is clicking it’s an easy way to determine changes need to be made within the campaign. 

For whichever digital ad type, optimizing the capability to attract a user and lead to conversion is highly dependent on flexibility for change. Work is front-loaded for ad variants and targeting, but once posted it is imperative to track the data. This is necessary for completing optimization at every step of the ad process. 

When is Google Removing Third-Party Cookies?

hammer crushing cookies

It’s been months since Google first announced they’d phase out third-party cookie tracking from their platform—or as one news outlet named it “the cookiepocalypse.” But since their internet-breaking announcement, we’ve yet to see it actually happen. Just what is the holdup on this plan, and what does it mean for your company, both now in 2021, and for later years?

What are Third-Party Cookies?

First, let’s set the baseline on just what third-party cookies currently do. You may have noticed the cookie disclaimer that pops up when visiting websites for the first time. In the simplest terms possible, it helps the site keep track of what you’ve been doing on the site. 

Agreeing to website cookies can be a useful thing for user experience. It’s how a website remembers your language preference, what country you’re visiting from, or how a shopping cart remembers what you put in it the day before. It also helps a company see things like user flows and popular pages. 

Third-party cookies mean someone outside of the company that owns the website might be tracking your data too. They don’t typically track things quite as refined, but they may have something on the homepage just to let them know you visited. 

The biggest way they use that data is to retarget ads based on your preferences. One of the easiest examples of this is when you visit a shoe site, and almost immediately after you see ads on Facebook for that same shoe site, or others they think you may like as well. 

Why is Google Removing Third-Party Cookies?

Some browsers, like Safari and Firefox, already limit third-party cookies. The reason Google’s announcement is so newsworthy is that they have the lion’s share of users, so their decision to cut data has larger repercussions on the advertising industry. 

But so far, no real updates have been made. The initial news said mid 2021, then there was news that they were planning to slowly fade out the options. And now it seems the plan may not be in effect until 2022. 

So, how much push is coming from Google to remove third-party cookies, and how much is coming from industry pressure regarding privacy policies? The answer can depend on who you talk to. 

How Can We Track Usage Without Third-Party Cookies? 

Although the changes haven’t happened yet, agencies around the world are already prepping for what things might look like without the ability to advertise as we’ve been doing for years. 

Google, for one, has already stated that they are coming up with their own ways to track usage. But what they’ll do exactly remains to be seen. Will their updates push more automation from their own platform? If they keep more data within their own site, it will force companies to use only their platforms, and may result in less ability to pinpoint more nuanced audiences. 

Another plan is to rely more on what Google has coined FLoC (Federated Learning of Cohorts). Proponents of this method say it’s a more privacy-first way to advertise, but opponents say we’ll lose a lot of structure that’s needed to keep ROIs where they are now. 

So what is FLoC? It’s a way to target based more on basic profiling; relying mostly on audience groups. It would be a more contextual way of advertising. More like how traditional ads of the past worked, like TV and magazines. You may not know your audience went to the exact shoe site, but based on demographics and other information you can make an educated assumption they’ll be interested in the shoes you want to advertise. 

Because of the way this will most likely work, retargeting will be limited, and will be limited to Google’s cookies for information and advertising. 

How much will this affect ROI? How well will FLoC work to target smaller audiences? Will creatives need to change to adapt? All of these questions are still in constant debate, and we won’t know answers for sure until we see the new plans in action. 

What we do know is that similar to all digital advertising, this can be approached with a strong strategy and a readiness to quickly adapt and change as needed to reach appropriate audiences and guarantee positive outcomes. 

Are you Getting the Most Out of Search Advertising?

One thing is certain from this last year: online spending is not going anywhere. Which is why through all the ups and downs other industries faced in 2020, search advertising has raised expectations for spending this year. 

Spending for all touch points, which combine desktop, mobile and tablets, is forecast to increase by at least 10%, and as much as 25% in some areas. That makes it the fastest growth since 2018. This is good news for anyone looking to increase conversions for your brand.

How did the pandemic affect search advertising?

When news of shutdowns first hit, uncertainty was high, and advertising responded in kind. In Q1 and Q2 many advertisers took a cautionary step and lowered ad spending. But as more people began to look around online, and order things directly to their doorstep, things changed. While advertising spending overall will likely increase from some of the flattened numbers of 2020, search advertising is forecast to do especially well. 

How can search advertising increase conversions?

Like any good marketing, the best way to reach your audience is where they’re already at. And right now everyone is online. Increasing conversions through search engine marketing works with a consistent strategy and well-researched keyword usage. 

Targeting audiences through the right keywords can be taken a step further by combining other targeted points like website visits and interests or behaviors. This use of custom audiences can make sure your ad spend is working its hardest to reach the correct users.

Various conversions can exist within the user journey, and each should have a desired CPA. Campaigns or ad groups defined by those different users should be segmented as such and can be organized by different keyword types: priority keywords, head terms (low hanging fruit), longtail, impression share, and conquesting (competition) to name a few.

How can search advertising increase sales?

Targeting your audiences for clicks or conversions can include a variety of strategies. The top way to optimize is by dividing into useful campaign/ad group segments, which are based on keyword groupings. With these divisions made, the next step is to use separate bid strategies for each grouping. These would ideally have Target CPA’s set to control costs.

These groupings allow keyword research, audience segmentation and strategy to work together. When everything is properly in place, your advertising will find ready audiences with the type of communication that will get their attention the best.

Offline Conversion Tracking – Data You May Be Missing

A couple of our favorite things about digital advertising are the ability to reach an intended audience more precisely, and to more accurately measure the Return On Investment (ROI) for each ad that is placed. Not only does this data help advertising be more impactful, it gives us data to better strategize future advertisements as well. 

Yes, tell you something you don’t know, right? Did you know that Google offers conversion tracking for offline data too? Google Offline Conversion Tracking helps track things like offline sales, phone calls, form submissions, and downloads. And although it’s there for anyone to access, we’ve found many companies underestimate the value of tracking offline conversions.

Why Offline Conversion Tracking is Important

Without tracking offline conversions it can be hard to tell the quality and value of the leads that the ads are driving. This data can also provide better insight about the Return On Advertising Spend (ROAS) of a campaign. Analyzing where and how these conversions are happening will help to get the most out of an advertising budget, and improve a bid strategy. 

For example, let’s say someone clicks on an ad that takes them to a landing page about a specific product. If they read about it, then call a sales rep and give their information, you can have the whole process tracked. It can help you know how the sales call went, and where that customer is in the funnel, and it can all lead back to data on how the original ad is working.

How to Improve Offline Conversion Tracking

 Depending on the needs and intended outcomes for Google Ads, each client can have varying strategies working into their ads at any given time. Our recommendation for companies to benefit from Google Offline Conversion Tracking would be to integrate their CRM data with Google Ads. You can find out more about how to import that data here

This process allows for data and feedback to work together, and help get the highest performance and reach out of the Google Ads that are running. But there are caveats to how this can work properly. For example, ad content from CRM data cannot imply the knowledge of personally identifiable information or sensitive information about your customers.

As with original ad strategy, knowing what to include and exclude can differ depending on your brand and targeted needs. But the more data points that can be analyzed the more improved the contact points can become, leading to increased conversions overall.

Are Animated Social Posts Worth Your Time?

On a daily basis we work with clients to support their marketing objectives through different social media platforms. While there are best practices and platform focuses, some of this can vary depending on the client. We recently did internal research for a company going through a brand refresh to determine what was working best to connect with their current followers and potential customers.

Our goal in all of this was to understand how audiences were responding to different types of ad formats across different content topics.

What we analyzed

Our first step was to gather data on three months’ worth of paid media across three different sub-brands within the same company. This resulted in data from advertising across Facebook, Instagram and LinkedIn for three separate social media accounts each. We then categorized this data based on ad format and content type, specifically focusing on movement and production amount.
Static images: no movement
Standard animation: simple use of product or text, typically using still images
Advanced animation: custom animations and longer production schedule
Videos: clips of longer client assets, usually cut to an average of 15 seconds

Once categorized, we analyzed performance by the following metrics: click-through rate (CTR), thruplay rate, conversion rate and cost per click (CPC). Using multiple metrics helped pinpoint if ad format value varied by conversion type.

What we discovered

For all three brands that we tracked, standard animation posts were the top performers. It was also noted that specific content topics could sway the performance of these posts as well. On average, CTR was higher on standard animation and video posts, with CPC under one dollar.

In some cases, advance animation performed slightly better from one brand to another, again based on content topic. Although this type of finding sounds generalized, knowing which topics performed better for each brand will be helpful insight for future marketing.

From the outcomes received, we were able to evaluate holes in the data, such as content types that did not have ad formats to test. With this realization we have moved on to A/B testing certain content types as standard and advanced animation ads.

Takeaways for future strategy

With all brands, audiences can have distinct personalities and hidden motivations within their viewing and interactions. While this case study helped us find data to better serve a client in the midst of a brand pivot, data collection and analysis is something we are constantly reviewing for every client and social account we support.

Seasonality, personal preferences, outside trends…all of these things can contribute to a shift in what your audience responds to at any given time. The pro and con of social media is that it is always changing, always allowing for new ways to connect to your customers. Keeping on top of these changes with similar fluidity is necessary to keep your metrics performing at their best.