Masooma Memon

Progressive Profiling: A Marketer's Answer to the "Death of Cookies"

Third-party cookies have enabled marketers to do some incredible things with online advertising. But, they're soon going to disappear.

Then there's the infamous iOS 14.5 update Apple rolled out in April 2021.

It all paints a stark picture of how little you'll be able to rely on third-party data and cookies in the future. And makes it much harder to create targeted digital ads, retarget your audience, and track conversion success 😱

So, what's a marketer to do?

Answer: Take back control of the data you use.

Bring it all in-house using first-party cookies and progressive profiling to build up visitor contact profiles you can use in remarketing campaigns. (And minimize your reliance on third-parties like Google and Facebook.)

In this post, we take you through all you need to know. Including what progressive profiling is and how to use it in targeted campaigns—both on and off your site.

What is progressive profiling?

Progressive profiling is about building up a profile of individual website visitors and leads over time—pages they've clicked on, segments they fall into, their likes, dislikes, etc. You'll usually add leads as a "contact" or "subscriber" in a CRM before using first-party cookies to continuously update someone's profile as they interact with your website.

Prgressive profiling example

First-party vs. third-party cookies

Before moving on, let's make sure we're all on the same page regarding cookies. Both first and third-party cookies track user behavior on a website, but are collected and used in slightly different ways.

First-party cookies are collected directly by the website/domain you're visiting—usually to gather analytics data, remember shopping cart and login details, and perform other helpful UX tasks.

Third-party cookies are created by domains external to the one you're visiting. They're typically used for online advertising purposes and added to a site via a script or tag—e.g. a Facebook Ads pixel.

Why progressive profiling is crucial to the future of online marketing

Yes, Facebook recently added a first-party cookie component to its pixel. Meaning marketers can still (for the most part) easily retarget website visitors with Facebook Ads.

But, why just limit this to Facebook?

Progressive profiling allows marketers to build up their own data bank of lead information—no reliance on external sites, no third-party cookies that are soon to disappear.

The idea is analogous to the marketing concept of needing to "own your list," as opposed to building up audiences on external communities that could disappear or change at any moment.

Instead, you use first-party cookies to collect data and enrich lead profiles yourself, which can then be used in your on and off-site retargeting campaigns. The process gathers information that visitors willingly share when accepting those cookie popups most sites now have:

Cookie popup example

But that's not all. There's more to the benefits you can drive from progressive profiling. Let's talk about them next.

Benefits of progressive profiling

  • Better conversion rates. Progressive profiling allows you to collect user data gradually over time, meaning there's no need to use one big form or ask for info you've already got.
  • Understand leads better. You'll build up a picture of the behavior and needs of your leads—content they've downloaded, forms submitted, pages they've visited, etc.
  • Personalize your buyer's journey. As you build detailed lead profiles, you can fine-tune and personalize your messaging, targeting the right people at the right time.
  • Improve attribution. Profiles are usually enriched with pages viewed, CTAs completed, channels engaged with, first/last submission pages, etc. So you know what's playing a part in conversions.

Things to remember before getting started with progressive profiling

You've got a rundown of how you can benefit from progressive profiling. Now let's start getting you set up.

Here are a few things to remember first:

1. Know your buyer personas

Adding random bits of data to a contact profile isn't particularly useful for future marketing. So, you'll want to add some structure to the profiles you build up.

This can be as simple as using progressive profiling to align people with your different buyer personas.

At ConvertFlow, for instance, we have four broad target personas. So we start there—segmenting visitors and building up more info over time.

Example of using ConvertFlow survey in progressive profiling

From there, it's a matter of building up the data to fit them into a specific segment that we can market to in a more personalized way.

2. You still need valuable content

Good content is the driving force behind successful progressive profiling. Blogs, podcasts, pages, videos—it's what keeps people coming back to your site to build up their profile.

But here's the catch: good content is subjective.

What's good (perhaps even great) to you might not be good to your audience. A better word choice then is: create relevant content that'll help your target audience overcome its challenges.

And, the best way to find out what's relevant to your audience is by asking them! How so? Three ways:

  • Jump on calls with your target customer and uncover their pain points
  • Listen (technically read 🤓) about your persona's struggle on chat forums and social media
  • Set up survey popups that ask readers about their challenges and what they want to learn—the answers will give you a wealth of content ideas

PRO TIP:

You can use a ConvertFlow survey popup to ask your website visitors about their biggest struggles and problems for you to solve with your content:

3. Be clear about your privacy policy

As long as you're upfront about gathering data and open about why you're doing so, you're in the safe.

In fact:

83% of shoppers are open to sharing their data for a personalized experience. Only a quarter of them complains about brands using their data in an invasive manner–and this is mainly because they feel they didn't share the details directly or knowingly.

So, make sure to get all your data collection tools and processes correctly added to your privacy policy. Then get new visitors to accept the use of first-party cookies:

BBC cookie consent notice

Note: It's required to have a message like this for people visiting your website from certain countries. Check out this post for further information.

Rolling out a progressive profiling strategy

Ok, we now know why progressive profiling is so useful. But how do you actually make use of it in practice?

Let's get to work:

1. Map out your buyer journeys

Start with reviewing all the information you have on your target personas, including their pain points, preferences, and what their typical buyer's journey looks like when interacting with a business such as yours.

Having these insights will help you see through the missing data pieces to start collecting them over time. 

It'll also help you plan different offers and forms (with the right questions to ask) for various segments and stages of the funnel. 

The game plan, you ask? To collect useful data on your leads, instead of random data.

2. Add a tool with progressive profiling functionality to your tech stack

Real talk: there's simply no way you can make use of progressive profiling without an automation tool. So you're going to need to add one to your tech stack if you don't have one already.

We'll (obviously) use ConvertFlow forms in this article.

This allows you to add forms with progressive profiling functionality to several lead capture methods—popups, quizzes, surveys, landing pages, and more.

So you'll be able to automatically create, track, and add to a contact profile on each person as they click around your site:

Progressive profiling contact example

You can also create automations to sync any of this data into custom contact fields or tags in your CRM.

Whether you're using ConvertFlow or a different tool, the end goal is the same. Have something that automatically builds up lead profiles progressively by gradually adding data over time.

3. Build dynamic visitor segments based on your personas and funnel stages

So far, we've established the means to collect data on your website visitors via progressive profiling and first-party cookies. Now it's time to start putting that data to use.

The idea is to:

  1. Create groups of different website visitors based on the contact profiles you have
  2. Send targeted messages to each group both on and off your site

One of the best ways to do this is to create dynamic visitor segments you can use for targeting future messages.

This means you'll have pre-defined combinations of targeting conditions based on any contact profile data you like—fields, tags, pages visited, etc. As soon as someone matches the conditions, they'll be added to your audience.

To set this up in ConvertFlow, head to Settings >> Segments and you'll be able to create visitor segments based on anything in a contact profile:

Dynamic visitor segment build in ConvertFlow

It's best to align these segments with either the buyer personas mentioned earlier or the funnel stage/purchase intent of visitors.

4. Retarget people on your site

Next, you need to create CTAs for each visitor segment and funnel stage you set up in the previous step.

This means different offers and language according to:

  1. The problems you know they're facing
  2. The stage they are in your funnel

It's like setting up retargeting ads, but on your own website.

Progressive profiling also means you can hide form fields on these CTAs if someone's already given you that data previously.

In ConvertFlow, just toggle the switch in the builder:

Progressive profiling in ConvertFlow builder

This means you won't be asking visitors for information over and over again, which helps massively with conversion rates.

5. Retarget people off your site

As already mentioned, Facebook has moved to provide a first-party cookie option with its pixel. So creating retargeting audiences is still pretty simple from inside Facebook.

But you can also use the lead intelligence gathered via progressive profiling to build up audiences for use in ads all around the web.

Since you have a strong lead profile by now, you'll be sending out targeted, better-resonating ads that are more likely to convert—reducing your ad expenses.

Get the ball rolling by organizing gathered data in your CRM in lists of people with certain characteristics. Say, you can have lists of site visitors who:

  • Viewed your pricing page
  • Filled out a form or survey
  • Started your app's free trial
  • Have downloaded a specific lead magnet
  • Purchased something from you in the past

You can then export these lists to use in retargeting campaigns off your site—like creating a Facebook Custom Audience.

PRO TIP:

You can also build audiences in Facebook by firing off Custom Events when someone interacts with a ConvertFlow CTA or form. Just add the event script in the "Fire A Script" box on any button:

Fire a custom script on ConvertFlow button

Learn more about custom pixels, script & CSS in ConvertFlow

Start progressive profiling today

Online data privacy laws are becoming tighter and tighter. And relying solely on the assets of external tech giants puts digital advertisers in a vulnerable position.

Progressive profiling is a way for marketers to take back control of their audience data.

All of ConvertFlow's functionality is done via first-party cookies. So if you're looking for a tool to implement progressive profiling that's fair for all concerned, start a 14-day free trial today.

About the author

Masooma Memon

Contributor, ConvertFlow
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Masooma is a B2B writer for SaaS who has worked with awesome publications like Hootsuite, Vimeo, Trello, Sendinblue, and Databox among others. You’ll usually find her writing in-depth content, making to-do lists, or reading a fantasy novel.