In today’s digital environment of increasing government scrutiny around consumer privacy, the screws are tightening on the tech giants and that is showing in the decreasing life expectancy of browser cookies. Consumers are getting increasingly savvy when it comes to clearing their browser cache and/or utilizing an ad blocker to thwart cookie tracking all together. Statistically, over 75% of browser cookies expire or get deleted one way or the other every 35 days. Yes, so roughly ever 35-45 days is the current life expectancy of a browser cookie. Let’s be generous and say 60 days. This means that for any brand who either has a sales cycle longer than 60 days, or, offers lifestyle or repeat purchase products must now pay to drive that same prospect to their site multiple times until they close, indefinitely.
“But wait, I’m using pixels from Facebook and Google to harvest my site visitors so I’m set, right?” Wrong. Those lists are mostly based on browser cookies so your traditional retargeting lists are shrinking as time goes on unless you’re constantly filling them. Worse, (not if, but when) your retargeting list prospects’ cookies expire, those users are no longer in your “suppression list” and therefore your “front end ad campaigns” are targeting them again as if they are new prospects who have never been to your site. Your front-end ad campaigns will likely always be more expensive (higher CPC) than your retargeting campaigns. Therefore you’re also paying more for those prospects who actually belong in your retargeting campaign to now be in your front end campaign again. You could be paying for to drive that same visitor onto your traditional retargeting list 3, 4, 5, or more times per year depending on how long their cookies survive. This method of using browser cookies as a reliable tracking mechanism is not only unsustainable, it will likely be almost dead within the next couple years according to some experts. For example, the Government’s pressure on Facebook has raised rumors of Facebook putting a big button in the corner of the page that will be like a big “Clear Everything” (cache) and “forget me” feature. If implemented, this will not only further shorten the life expectancy of browser cookies and the ad giants’ ability to effectively track and show relevant ads to consumers, but it will also make the need for a truly persistent identifier that much more important to have.
Over the last few years, the more savvy and forward-thinking ad tech companies have started using a much more reliable, persistent identifier for storing and tracking website visitors: the hashed email. A hashed email is really just the visitor’s email address but in an encrypted format, typically using the SHA256 encryption or MD5. By encrypting the email address, that adds an important layer of privacy for the visitor, but still enables any major ad platform to connect that identifier back to its associated device IDs and run ads to that user all over the web. The hashed email has now become the ideal method for creating a “permanent identifier” for website visitors, both for ad tech purposes and even just for data storage as an digital asset for the brand.
“Ok, so how do I start capturing my anonymous website visitors and convert them to hashed emails?”. There are a number of vendors out there with enterprise-grade identity marketing products available, but virtually all seem to restrict their findings to stay within their walled gardens. This means that the vendor is happy to charge you a bundle for baking their tech into your website, identifying the visitors, and then pushing that data into your various ad platforms, but there are very few (or none) that actually turn over the visitors’ hashed emails to you. So while they do “unlock” your 1st party data for you, they don’t necessarily turn it over to you. With them, you still don’t fully OWN your data.
Once exception to this is the rising star in the ad tech marketing space, HUSdigital, offering a suite of powerful martech services. HUSdigital has a solution that not only identifies your website visitors, but also enable brands to “OWN your data” as HUSdigital puts it in their tagline. By the brand owning and controlling their first party data, they now have a permanent identifier on their website visitors; a data file they can take to any major ad platform for retargeting… indefinitely. Owning and controlling your visitor data in a permanent way also has benefits in terms of digital assets and company valuation. Possessing millions of prospects in the form of browser cookies is like owning a depreciating asset since it constantly needs to be replenished to keep its value. By storing those same millions of prospects in the form of hashed emails is an appreciating asset because they never expire, and those emails can always be matched back to existing (and newly found) device IDs to deploy ad campaigns.
One benefit of creating a permanent identifier for anonymous website visitors is to create a suppression list out of it. Let’s use our example above where you’ve got your direct ad campaigns and your retargeting ad campaigns. The goal should be to keep your identified site visitors out of your front end campaign because they’ve already been to your website and they belong on the cheaper, higher ROI retargeting side. So you simply need to take site visitor match file from HUSdigital and import that as a custom audience, then create a suppression rule for that audience on the front end campaign so those ads don’t get shown to your custom audience (past site visitors). Many of you may think you’re already doing this using your Facebook or Google or Adroll (or name another) pixel’d visitor list but remember that those are almost always based on browser cookies and those cookies expire, inevitably letting prospects who have already been on your site sneak back into your front end campaigns. The goal with this effort is to eliminate ad waste on your front end campaign; stop paying 3-5 times per year to drive the same prospect to your site via your front end campaigns. This opens up a big chunk of your front-end budget to focus on net-new prospects and should visibly increase your overall ROI.