Dubbed “Clear History,” a Facebook Newsroom post by vice president and chief privacy officer Erin Egan said that the upcoming feature will “enable you to see the websites and apps that send us information when you use them, delete this information from your account, and turn off our ability to store it associated with your account going forward”.
The ability to limit the amount of data gathered by third parties is nothing new. Google Chrome’s Incognito mode will be 10 years old at the end of 2018, and other major browsers have a long history with their own “private” browsing modes. In addition, Google offers a tool that allows you to delete some or all of the data Google has collected about you.
Facebook probably won’t be able to reach the level of privacy that Google and other web browsers achieve. After all, users have to be logged in to Facebook to access the platform.
However, by adding Clear History to help users protect their privacy, Facebook has taken a positive step to address the concerns raised in the wake of the Cambridge Analytica scandal. The outlook for marketers who use Facebook, though, seems less positive — for now.
Who took the cookies?
Internet browsers do not track or save cookies and site data when users enter private or incognito mode. Based on Facebook’s announcement, Clear History will work in a similar fashion. Facebook says that it gathers user and device data via cookies for many purposes, from security and user experience to analytics and ad-targeting.
Depending on how many Facebook users take advantage of Clear History to erase and prevent data collection, Facebook advertisers and social media marketing companies may lose the ability to precisely target consumers based on narrow geographic and demographic criteria. However, it seems unlikely that Facebook will allow Clear History to disrupt its multi-billion-dollar stream of ad revenue.
Facebook may be taking a calculated risk that the vast majority of consumers will never take the time to use Clear History. And Facebook may believe that users who do try Clear History will not do it again once they realize how it negatively impacts the user experience.
But, should a significant number of Facebook users choose to Clear History, advertisers will need to find alternative marketing options to capture attention, drive website traffic, and generate leads.
Facebook is seemingly caught between two sets of expectations. The clarion call among privacy advocates and regulators for better security and privacy is louder than ever. Meanwhile, advertisers still push for access to data that improves ad performance.
In light of recent events, Facebook is giving priority to the former camp’s demands. Should marketers see diminished ROI for ad campaigns as a result of these changes, organic search marketing provides a viable alternative for several reasons.
An alternative approach to analytics
Google Analytics and Facebook Analytics show similar sets of data about user traffic and interactions with websites and pages, respectively:
The amount and quality of data in Facebook Analytics, Ads Manager, and other reports may change with the launch of Clear History. Marketers will already be facing difficulties in ad targeting due to the removal of interest, behavior, demographic, and psychographic data from third parties as Facebook starts its shutdown of Partner Categories on the advertising platform.
Marketers will only see the true impact on reporting once Clear History launches. But, as you can see, Google Analytics tracks some of the same metrics, enabling marketers to get audience insights outside of Facebook. These include data on specific user actions, including repeat visits to the website, pages they access, referral sources, and device types.
In addition, query data in Google Search Console (which can be connected with Analytics) provides insight into the terms users enter into a search engine when looking for brands, services, and products.
By analyzing these organic search queries, you can identify trends in browsing and buying behaviors. These characteristics can inform both organic and paid campaigns in search as well as display and online video advertising and social media marketing strategies.
Building on branded search
The presence of significant search queries for the name of a business signals that consumers respond to the brand and actively seek it out. Similarly, if most search queries center on non-branded terms (pain points, solutions, etc.), this also presents an opportunity for businesses to present themselves as the answer or the authority on their industry.
You can access this information for free in platforms like Google Analytics and Search Console. What’s more, the data originate from everyday user interactions in organic search results, rather than activities within an insular social networking platform that gives users the ability to limit the availability of data to third parties.
Link earning for the socially inclined
Engagement on Facebook is tied to features that might be displaying significantly less data in the future. Cookies drive just about all aspects of personalization, data gathering, and advertising on the platform, and Clear History is poised to let users erase vast amounts of it. The corollary to engagement in SEO circles, on the other hand, is backlinking, which has considerably bigger impact than a series of likes.
Instead of relying on Facebook users to disseminate content, marketers who pivot their strategy to drive other users and websites to link to their site, not just share it, increase the likelihood of better rankings and results. In addition, Google’s increasing emphasis on local search means that locally relevant backlinks and traffic are critical to marketing success.
Consistently high traffic from genuine users is a positive ranking signal, especially in local search results. Facebook might give you access to an entire global audience, but success within organic local search results is becoming more and more influenced by the actions of users within your area.
Combining SEO and social media marketing
The true impact of social media on SEO results is a longstanding debate. Google principals have contradicted each other on the matter, and the advent of a tool that limits Facebook data to marketers is not going to provide any clarity.
That’s why effective online marketing requires more than just social media advertising. As a marketer you must find ways to engage with potential customers on their terms. If those terms mean you have access to less data to target ads effectively, organic social media engagement can help.
Managing a Facebook page or other social media account requires customer service skills and a deft balance between self-promotion and community engagement; not every business owner will excel at this. But marketers can close the attribution gaps between social media and website traffic and lead generation results through tactics like UTM codes, dedicated call tracking numbers for social engagement, and a well-defined strategy that emphasizes diligent tracking and measurement.
By making your website a destination for multiple marketing campaigns, you communicate to Google and Bing that you deserve to stand out in search rankings that bring new users to your website. With Facebook and other social media platforms serving as conduits to drive new and repeat visitors to your website, you will be able to draw on data from a host of ongoing marketing efforts — without becoming too reliant on data gathered directly by Facebook or any other social networking website.
Dan Goldstein is president and owner and Adam Rowan is content specialist Page 1 Solutions, LLC.