First-party vs. third-party cookies: Legal marketing in a “cookie-less” world

en flag
es flag

If your law firm runs any kind of paid advertising, the success of your campaigns almost certainly depends on third-party cookies. By the end of 2023, that will all change.

Third-party cookies are a small text file containing information about a user’s actions that a website sends to a browser (like Google or Bing), where it’s stored and eventually sent back to the website owner. Cookies track user behavior, like their browsing history, on-site actions such as scrolling and mouse movement, and IP address. Advertisers like Google use this information in their ad targeting process, so law firms like yours can reach their ideal clients. This information is essential for the ad-buying process, but it’s not very good for individual privacy.

Cookies have been contentious technology in the last few years, mostly because of concerns over consumer privacy. The California Consumer Privacy Act or 2018 (CCPA) was a landmark law that promotes consumer privacy, choice in how data is managed, and consent to tracking. The CCPA is why so many websites now have pop-ups that ask you to accept cookies before continuing.

Following California’s lead, Google announced a cookie phase-out plan for Chrome (its popular browser) in 2021 that is set to be complete by 2023. (Web browsers Safari and Firefox haven’t supported third-party cookies since 2013.)

To understand how the changes will affect your ad-buying strategy, you need to know how third-party cookies impact your ads now.

Because third-party cookies track and save user actions, they allow your firm to target people online based on their individual actions and browsing habits.

This is especially helpful if you want to reach people who are deep in the process of lawyer-shopping with a re-targeting campaign. These ads target people who have taken a certain action—like visiting your website, watching a video, or interacting with your content—and serve them an ad to follow up and keep your law firm at the top of their mind.

Let’s say your firm wants to take on more commercial trucking cases. A re-targeting campaign would use cookies to see who viewed your truck crash practice area page and then show these individuals ads about your services later, after they’ve left your website.

The end of the third-party cookie means the end of these types of campaigns as we build them now. But like anything online, when one trend ebbs, another arises to take its place. The key to keeping your advertising operating as smoothly as possible is to understand and prepare for the ebb before it actually happens.

Other aspects of law firm marketing that will change after Google Chrome blocks third-party cookies

In addition to the loss of retargeting options, here’s what else you can expect to change once the third-party cookie goes away.

Ad targeting will get less specific

Most ads rely on third-party cookies to serve people specific, relevant ads. Less powerful targeting options means the ads you see will be less spookily accurate and more general and seemingly random.

This isn’t entirely a bad thing, especially if your focus is on a practice that can affect anyone, like motor vehicle accidents. However, these campaigns will be broader, and you won’t be able to use historical data from third-party cookies to target specific types of crashes or injuries.

Ad-buying will be de-centralized

Right now, there are a handful of options for ad buying online, especially when it comes to targeting power; Google is popular, along with Bing, programmatic display ads, and social media. What many experts expect is for different companies will form ad coalitions using their own first-party data. So, while you might use Google to reach people based on certain parameters, you might also buy ads through a coalition that includes Disney, ABC, and ESPN, for example.

Social media’s advertising process will change

Currently, law firms can use their website’s data to target people on social media. In a world without third-party cookies, these ads will look very different. Firms will not be able to use Facebook targeting, for example, from their own websites without importing a list of leads and clients.

These list uploads, rather than third-party cookie data, allow you to run a re-targeting campaign. The difference is that these campaigns target people who are already in your marketing pipeline and have willingly given you their information, instead of using third-party cookies to gather it.

The transition away from cookie-based advertising doesn’t spell the end of digital marketing. In fact, it invites new tactics that make the most of the data you already have, targeting people who are already interested in your firm.

RELATED: Law firm marketing strategies: What they are and why they matter

The transition away from cookie-based advertising doesn’t spell the end of digital marketing. In fact, it invites new tactics that make the most of the data you already have, targeting people who are already interested in your firm.

Consent-based marketing in a post-cookies landscape

If the changes to paid advertising feel overwhelming, take a deep breath. There are plenty of options for making the most of the data you do have, and LaFleur’s team of experts have built strategies to get ahead of paid advertising’s evolving demands.

Consent-based marketing will become an increasingly important part of your advertising strategy. While third-party cookies are going away, first-party data is not. When someone visits your website, provides you with their contact information, or engages with your online brand, you can use this data to nurture awareness and drive conversion.

We’re encouraging law firms to adopt the following tactics:

Building a robust email strategy

The most practical strategy for dealing with the loss of third-party data is simple: make the best use possible of the data you already have access to. The first place we recommend you look is to your email lists. Target your specific audiences—leads, current clients, past clients, and professional connections—with email content that speaks to their questions and needs and helps them take the next best step.

Curating these lists and targeting specific audiences can feel like a full-time job. We recommend working with a marketing partner like LaFleur to identify the different groups you communicate with and create empathetic, helpful content.

Curating these lists and targeting specific audiences can feel like a full-time job. We recommend working with a marketing partner like LaFleur to identify the different groups you communicate with and create empathetic, helpful content.

Engaging people while they’re on your website

Once a potential client is on your site, it’s in your best interest to engage them as much as possible. There are many ways you can interact with your website’s visitors, including chat and lower risk calls to action.

Chat windows are a great way to capture their attention—and their details. Plus, many people prefer to text or chat about their case, rather than call. At LaFleur, we have several different chat integrations that we use with clients. These chats have great options for scripted conversations managed by real people, video options, and timely responses.

Additionally, chats can automatically screen unqualified leads so you can focus your time and energy on the cases with the most potential.

But not everyone is ready to start a chat or schedule a free consultation. To connect with top-of-funnel visitors, consider adding different calls to action and offerings. Downloadable resources, like guidebooks or worksheets, might be more appealing to some legal consumers—and feel like less of a commitment than a case evaluation.

And once people complete a form on your website, you can start nurturing a relationship with them using email, ads, and other tools.

Using high-quality campaign landing pages

When a user clicks on an ad, they’re taken to a page on your website that’s only accessible via that ad; this is called the landing page. Landing pages are used to collect data, track ad conversions, and provide insights into how successful your campaigns are. However, this information will be even more valuable in the absence of third-party data from cookies.

Your landing pages need to be robust and unique to each ad set, especially if you’re A/B testing.

If campaigns are on a budget, the first “cut” to save money is often the campaign’s landing page. It’s not uncommon to use the same landing page for multiple campaigns, or even to use an existing page on your website. While these can be effective cost-saving measures, they’re ineffective data-gathering measures. Without cookies to track users, landing pages will become an integral part of your campaigns.

Adopting a robust CRM system

What good is data if you can’t see it, analyze it, or use it to make the best decisions possible? Having a powerful, integrated customer relationship manager (CRM) to manage this data is essential. LaFleur is a proud SharpSpring Platinum Partner; we use SharpSpring to manage data, track leads, send emails, and more.

When the digital landscape changes, you need a marketing partner you can trust

There’s a reason LaFleur describes itself as your marketing partner—we truly collaborate as an extension of your business so we can focus on emerging industry trends and building effective campaigns so you can focus on litigating.

Our team is ready to help you achieve your marketing goals, stay agile in times of change, and identify opportunities to grow your business. To learn more, schedule some time to talk with our team at (888) 222-1512, or by sending us a message.

We look forward to speaking with you!

RESOURCES

Bump, P. (2021, September 20). The Death of the Third-Party Cookie: What Marketers Need to Know About Google’s 2022 Phase-Out. HubSpot. Retrieved from https://blog.hubspot.com/marketing/third-party-cookie-phase-out

State of California Department of Justice. (2018). California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA).Retrieved from https://oag.ca.gov/privacy/ccpa

amy h

Amy Hinman is the social and paid media editor at LaFleur, where she crafts content, paid media, and social media strategies for highly regulated industries. She graduated with honors from Grand Valley State University, earning a degree in writing and Spanish. Amy is active in the literary community and is an avid gardener and cyclist.

Linkedin