This is a transcript of episode 83 of the Let’s Get Data-Driven Podcast

I’m Lanie Lamarre and I love restaurant cookbooks. Do I make the things in the cookbooks? Not really. There will usually be 2 or 3 things that I actually make from the book but the photography for restaurant cookbooks stands apart for me. A recent favorite is the cookbook for The Turkey And The Wolf in New Orleans, one I use the most is from Mandy’s Gourmet Salads in Montreal and their house dressing is in my weekly rotation, and my all-time favorite is for The Balthazar in New York City. If you have a recommendation for me or if you wanna nerd out over restaurant cookbooks, please hit up my DMs @omgrowth on Instagram because I’m here for it.

I’m also here for sassy questions, which today’s episode is full of so without further ado…

There’s a specific kind of question I get for Office Hours within the Membership To Get Data-Driven that never fails to make me smile and those are the ones that hold a mirror up to what I’m doing. For instance, I had one member ask me “why don’t you use UTM parameters in your emails?” and I chuckled because it means this person went through my links to look at what I was doing and wondered “wassup here? does she not practice what she preaches?” and I love both the curiosity and the sass of it all.

For the record, when I email my overall list, I most certainly DO use UTM Parameters on the links I’m sharing. These enable me to track and see my performance as it relates to the things I’m promoting. When I email my members within the Membership To Get Data-Driven, I’m not promoting my offers but rather, I’m delivering on the offer they purchased. Any links I share with that segment of my audience is provided as a convenience to things like Office Hours submission forms or maybe I’ll remind them of the workshop they have access to and provide them with a handy link. I don’t track the click-through on the links I share with members because I’m not promoting anything with those links. It’s kind of like how it’s redundant to sing “Take Me Out To The Ballgame” when you’re already at the ballgame; you’re already there, kiddo, so you don’t need to ask.

The whole point of tracking your click-throughs is to better understand how your promotions are performing, and if you aren’t promoting anything, there’s nothing to track. This why my method of tracking your campaign always starts with the question “what am I promoting with this campaign” because that’s where it all starts, and think it’s a good idea to always start from the beginning.

But we’re already off-track and I digress because that’s not the sassy question we’re tackling today. The sassy question in question today was: “If the use of Fathom and Plausible Analytics to track your website don’t require cookie agreements, why do you still have a cookie disclaimer on your site? I assumed it meant you could remove that?” (I told you it was a sassy question, right?)

So yes, I use Fathom and Plausible Analytics on my website. These are privacy-compliant analytics software that I recommend over Google Analytics for most small online business owners and if you want to hear the reasons why, I have episode 53 and 54 covering all of that in-depth so I won’t rehash that here.

But this is a great question because while Fathom and Plausible may be privacy-compliant, you can’t just install this software on your site and take your victory lap. After all, analytics software is unlikely to be the only thing you have installed, embedded or linked on your website that is being tracked through the use of cookies.

For instance, if you have YouTube videos embedded on your website, chances are you’ve embedded Google tracking cookies onto your site when you embedded that video. There are ways around this, which I’ll get into, but whether or not you knew that embedding that video in your page would install cookies on your site, you are in a position where you HAVE these cookies on your site and you ARE expected to disclose this fact.

“But Lanie, how am I supposed to disclose what I don’t even know?!”

The thing is boss, that you are… well, you’re the boss, apple sauce, and that makes it your responsibility as a business owner to know these types of things. But you don’t know what you don’t know so you can either hire someone to take on this responsibility on your behalf or you can do what I’ve done and use a compliance solution that will inform you of such things. I personally use a service called Termly that will scan your site for cookies you may not have been aware of and it even provides the cookie banner that informs visitors of which cookies are tracking what, which is what that member was talking about when they asked about when they asked why I have a cookie banner if I’m using privacy-compliant software.

I’ll admit that even *I* was a little head-smacking emoji when I first scanned my site because I had a lot of referral links – which, OF COURSE referral links are tracked, genius! *insert head smack* – but for some reason I hadn’t put that together. The results of my first scan was also the result of some very colorful language because I was like, “I have HOW MANY cookies tracking my site?!”

What I ended up doing was that I moved my Recommended Resources to a separate sales page that lives off on its own, outside of my website. This way, people who visit my site won’t be tracked with all this additional stuff when they read my blog or whatever, and it’s only the people who actively choose to click on the resources I refer that will be tracked, should they opt-in to allow cookies to track them.

All this to say, using privacy-compliant software doesn’t negate or neutralize everything else you have linked, installed or embedded. It’s up to you to confirm any tracking you have in place on your website, whether you were intentional or realized you had installed cookies or not.

But I digress once again because the title of this episode is “what’s the deal with all these cookie banners?” because that’s the core concern here. Even as recently as a year ago, the prompts for website visitors to manage their tracking preferences were far and few in between; today, they’re omnipresent and I’ll say it for you, they’re hella-annoying, amirite?

I’ll go ahead and get my crystal ball and tell you what I think we have in store for our future with these and I honestly don’t think cookie banners will last, although I think they’re necessary at this point in time. Why do I think they’re necessary right now? For the same reason why you may have just learned that embedding YouTube videos installs tracking cookies on your website: we as online citizens have a lot to learn and grow aware of, and online businesses have a lot of catching up to do when it comes to transparency.

Think back to when cigarette companies pushed doctors to encourage their patients to smoke and this was normalized, endorsed behavior because in the 50s, we didn’t know cigarettes were bad for you. I truly believe this is the same situation where our lack of awareness has driven us to take certain actions we weren’t fully aware of the consequences for, and we will have laws and education and boundaries imposed where we won’t need to manage our tracking preferences on every site the same way you don’t have to sign a waiver agreement every time you walk by a smoking section or buy a pack of cigarettes; we’re all much clearer on and in-the-know of the consequences engaging in these activities by now. Just as advertising companies have boundaries around how they can promote cigarettes in print – for instance, they can’t say exploitative, misleading information on their ads anymore like “when smokers changed to Philip Morris, every case of irritation cleared completely and definitely improved” – my belief is that advertising companies will have to default to less exploitative and more transparent practices with the way they’re operating online as well, and that the way we’re doing things now is going to seem equally archaic in 10 years time. I see this as the same media story, in different formats and different times.

But for now, as we figure out what we can agree to, I see us as being the equivalent of the pregnant lady smoking darts in the car with the windows up and our other kids in the backseat wondering why the whole family has asthma. That’s where we’re at right now. But there are lawmakers who are playing catch-up to the digital age and putting laws in place that say “you have to tell people! they have to know what you’re doing to them and they have the right to consent.” The reason you’re seeing all these cookie banners now is because these laws aren’t just pieces of paper anymore but we’re also beginning to see them enforced and as such, online business owners are having to disclose the information they’re collecting about their website visitors and visitors have the option to say “yeah, I’ll pass on that.”

It’s interesting times and it’s going to keep being interesting. If you don’t like change, I don’t know what to tell you other than you either need to find a way to embrace it or you need to get offline, because I can PROMISE you this time next year, there will be something else that is literally everywhere and on every web thing that we don’t even know about today.

But you know I’m always looking out for those things and I love using this podcast to share them with you so hey! if you’re not subscribed, let’s go steady please, and tell your biz besties about this podcast, leave a review – all of this helps me help bosses like you better understand what-the-hey is going on in this ever-changing landscape.

Talk soon – baieeee!