We’re not talking about your grandma’s chocolate chip cookie recipe going missing. Google Chrome is eliminating third-party cookies. As a result, internet users are looking toward a privacy-focused world without certain types of web cookies that track their every move.
How are digital marketers responding and what’s next for the cookieless web?
What You’ll Learn:
- What Are Third-Party Cookies?
- An Overview About Third-Party Cookie Removal
- Laws About Cookie Tracking and Removal
- How Companies are Dealing With the Transition
- Impact on the Future of Marketing
- Ways to Transition to a Cookieless Web
- Ultimate Cookieless Checklist
What Are Third-Party Cookies?
What are third-party cookies, really?
Third-party cookies are a way for companies to track your personal information online.
Digital marketing professionals have widely implemented third-party cookies, particularly for use in honing advertisements. These cookies are placed on a website by a different platform, and data collectors can access them to track every move that led to a conversion and more.
For example, you may have accepted cookies on the MarketWatch website, but you probably didn’t realize that MarketWatch is not the only one tracking you. In fact, there are likely hundreds of other companies tracking you at any given moment aside from the website that you’re actually on.
First-party cookies, on the other hand, are those within the website. These aren’t going anywhere, and they still require overt user approval to go into effect.
What Do Third-Party Cookies Do and Why Are They An Issue?
Data privacy is an increasingly relevant topic.
Third-party cookies are much more intrusive than first-party cookies. It’s not easy for a user to see who is tracking them at any given moment during their web browsing session. There’s also no approval process, which is a major cause for concern for many.
Because data privacy is such a huge issue, Google is using the removal of third-party cookies to combat it. For example, an ad tech company might have their tracking code on literally millions of websites, and can therefore know what you’re looking at from morning until night. This is alarming considering the potential for use with the data. Advertising is one thing, but as we become increasingly reliant on our phones, it makes us wonder just what these companies could be using all that data for.
An Overview of Third-Party Cookie Removal
Cookies are small files that web browsers like Chrome store to hold information and increase ad revenue. They’re a way for companies to track your personal information online.
Third-party cookies are a little bit different because they’re set by a website other than the one you’re currently on.
For example, you may have accepted cookies on The Motley Fool website, but you probably didn’t realize that The Motley Fool is not the only one tracking you based on your browsing behavior. In fact, there are likely hundreds of other companies tracking you at any given moment aside from the website that you’re actually on.
Browsers like Firefox and Brave have already taken a firm stance against tracking. This is because third-party cookies are much more intrusive than first-party cookies. It’s not easy for a user to see who is tracking them at any given moment during their web browsing session. There’s also no approval process, which is problematic. Bigger browsers, like Chrome and its majority market share, are following suit from early actors.
In a cookieless world, 41% of marketers expect their biggest challenge to be difficulty tracking the right data. Clearly, a world without web cookies is one we need to prepare for.
Chrome Removing Third-Party Cookies
Here’s a fun and widely known fact: Google owns Chrome. Chrome has historically operated with cookies, which allows them to aggregate data about individuals who surf the web through their browser. This data, in turn, helps Google develop its advertising.
But that will all be behind us soon.
“People shouldn’t have to accept being tracked across the web in order to get the benefits of relevant advertising. And advertisers don’t need to track individual consumers across the web to get the performance benefits of digital advertising.” – David Temkin, Director of Product Management, Ads Privacy and Trust at Google.
Facebook’s Thoughts About Third-Party Cookies
“Cookies help us provide, protect and improve the Facebook Products, such as by personalizing content, tailoring and measuring ads, and providing a safer experience. The cookies that we use include session cookies, which are deleted when you close your browser, and persistent cookies, which stay in your browser until they expire or you delete them.” – Facebook
Like Google, Facebook earns big on advertising revenue. In fact, ads deliver most of Facebook’s earnings. Facebook is currently fighting against desktop and mobile platforms to keep cookies as they currently are. However, it doesn’t look like they will win.
Laws Surrounding Cookies
Laws about third-party cookies are popping up everywhere.
According to EU data protection laws, cookies are considered “online identifiers.” This makes them subject to regulation.
Some examples of laws are as follows:
- The General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) requires websites to inform users of what data their website collects.
- Privacy and Electronic Communications Regulations (PECR) maintain a standard of consent.
- In Canada, the Consumer Privacy Protection Act (CPPA) requires cookie consent.
- Yet another acronym, the California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA) requires disclosure of what data the cookies collect and how they’re used.
- The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) has rules around cookie banners, which are difficult or impossible to get around for many users.
Updates on Cookies
Google first announced it would phase out cookies in January 2020. The world’s largest search engine announced it would stop using tracking cookies on Chrome by 2022 to chart “a course towards a more privacy-first web.”
At the time, there was a big hubbub over the news, but the company has changed its plans numerous times since then. Digital marketers are just trying to keep up. In June, Google delayed blocking third-party cookies by an extra year. Currently, Stage 1 is set to begin in late 2022. Stage 2 is set to begin in mid-2023. According to Google, “Chrome will phase out support for third-party cookies over a three-month period finishing in late 2023.”
Google isn’t the only company tackling tracking and privacy. Apple’s iOS 14 update prohibits certain data collection and sharing unless people opt into tracking for the app. This is huge for user privacy inside mobile apps (including popular ones like Facebook).
How Companies Are Dealing with the Transition
“There was a definite need for more real-time data to yield greater ROI for our marketing dollars and address the shifting regulatory landscape that underscores the need for more first-party data.” – Greg Lyons, Pepsi CMO
Previously, Pepsi paid multiple vendors for data on media performance. The company decided to build an internal engine that helps them understand their marketing’s impact. This real-time CRM data is combined with a custom-made IBM dashboard for an effective approach.
Google doesn’t plan on leaving marketers high and dry. In response to its news about eliminating third-party cookies over time, Google developed FLoC or Federated Learning of Cohorts.
You can pronounce this like a “flock of birds.” The acronym means “Federated Learning of Cohorts” and kind of represents a flock of individuals online.
FLoC is an API that will function as a browser extension in Chrome. It will separate users into groups. Advertisers can target those groups rather than targeting individuals within groups.
Google says that it’s already run some tests showing “at least 95% of the conversions per dollar spent when compared to cookie-based advertising.”
This is one example of Google’s attempts at replacing cookies. Along with other efforts, this could help marketers continue growing in the digital space.
Google doesn’t plan on replacing cookies with another tracker or personal identifier, so this is something we all must get used to.
Related: Meet FLoC: Google’s Replacement for Cookies
Google is also developing the Privacy Sandbox. The Privacy Sandbox is a way for Chrome to put boundaries (like the walls of a sandbox) on what companies can and cannot do with data. Instead of a single proposal to the problem of data privacy, it’s a collective learning environment teeming with innovation.
Google has said that they’re extremely committed to user privacy, and the Google Privacy Sandbox is indicative of that. It’s also indicative of their commitment to marketing, which is a relief for those who are passionate about digital marketing like myself.
Instead of a single proposal to the problem, it’s a collective environment teeming with innovation. Currently, the Privacy Sandbox is reviewing proposals for advertising ideas on the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) and Github.
The Privacy Sandbox is a massive landscape of ideation. Through it, advertisers can excavate ad targeting and ad delivery ideas. Additionally, they can redefine performance reporting in the new era. Of course, user privacy remains at the forefront of the conversation.
Related: Google Update: Conversion Tracking Proposals From the Privacy Sandbox
How Will a Cookieless World Impact the Future of Marketing?
The end of the cookie era will change the digital marketing industry for good. Here are a few specific ways:
Different Solutions for Retargeting Campaigns and Measuring Attribution
Companies must be flexible and willing to adapt. This means using everything from first-party data to ad serving without the need for personal data.
Unique solutions outside of direct replacements are a must in a post-cookie world.
More Emphasis on CRM Databases
Customer relationship management (CRM) databases help collect data directly from customers. Building a robust database could be a game-changer for companies.
For marketing professionals, there will be a stronger focus on CRM database development. This will help companies cater to cookie alternatives.
Behavioral targeting segments audiences based on web browsing behavior. On the other hand, contextual targeting places ads based on a website’s content.
Contextual targeting could thrive in a post-cookie world. It’s not dependent on third-party cookies and can operate without intruding on users’ privacy.
How to Transition to a World with No Third-Party Cookies
There are a lot of migrations ahead of us as we gear up for a Chrome browsing experience without personal trackers.
First and foremost, it’s a good idea to switch gears now by investing in a first-party data strategy. This means you’ll want to start collecting information directly from the customer themselves. In between first- and third-party data is second-party data, which exists privately between two people (like a client and agent, for example). Obviously, second-party data isn’t used for advertising for this reason, so first-party data is the way to go.
Google Tag Manager helps acquire first-party data. Think with Google suggests a way to do this: building relationships with website users.
Related: How to Use Think with Google to Increase Mobile Conversions by 20%
This is going to make value even more important because you’ll need to offer something in return for the data. I can see content marketing across the board growing in relevance as we speak! Other tools like a convenience factor, loyalty programs, and deals or coupons will also be relevant.
You’ll also want to develop additional metrics besides conversion tracking to get a thorough understanding of your audience—and how they interact with your ads.
Increasing your reliance on cloud technology will be the cutting edge solution in a world with no third-party cookies. Honed software will help you make sense of the data you have and predict outcomes for future campaigns. Additionally, you can use it to keep the data you do have safe. One example of this is the Google Analytics for Firebase software development kit (SDK).
While you’re at it, shy away from old faves that won’t be status quo for much longer:
- Audience lists and personalized ads
- Ad frequency management tactics
- Performance measuring tools like conversion tracking
Ultimately, doing away with third-party cookies won’t entirely secure user privacy, because browser fingerprinting (where ad tech moguls store data on their servers instead of the browser itself) is already in practice.
However, there’s evidence to suggest that behavioral targeting is not as lucrative as it seems—which is why first-party targeting, content strategies and inter-funnel tactics take the lead.
Specific Strategies to Address the Cookieless Web
Don’t sit back and let someone else eat your plate of cookies. Address a cookieless web in advance by using the following tactics:
- Prioritize customer relationships.
- Drive customer loyalty using value exchange.
- Use integrated first-party data to foster results.
- Audit your collection processes.
- Audit your content management system. Make sure you’re using all available features and capabilities you can.
- Implement features and solutions that allow for real-time personalization.
- Invest in testing new and innovative cookieless platforms.
Your Cookieless Checklist
Here’s a five-part checklist to tackle ahead of Chrome’s third-party cookie removal:
1. Build Your Own First-Party Data Collection
You’ll want a robust, flexible and growing collection of first-party data. First-party cookies are those within the website. These aren’t going anywhere, and they still require overt user approval to go into effect. First-party data can come from mobile apps, landing pages, social media, emails, surveys, gated content, and more. Start with the Google Tag Manager to begin acquiring first-party data.
Also focus on zero-party data, or optional info the user chooses to provide. Make sure your value exchange is worth it or you may not get voluntary data. Lead generation campaigns, custom questions, and brand-building solutions can help you deliver value.
2. Use Server-Side Tracking
Server-side data management (aka cloud delivery) features a pixel that sends data to your server. From there, your server passes it on to the destination server.
Server-side data is when “one, central system functions to collect all data, then that system relays data to third-party vendors.”
Server-side data can be a solid tool in your cookieless checklist.
3. Develop the Best Ad Creative
You can’t escape bad ad creative. Make sure yours is the best of the best.
Provide value to your audience by creating meaningful connections through ad creative. Otherwise, you may as well be speaking to a wall.
4. Use tools like Clearbit
Clearbit is “B2B conversion tracking for a cookieless world.” It helps protect conversion data from cookie-blocking tech like iOS 14.
Clearbit is just one example of the slew of cookie tracking replacements coming to the market. Keep your eyes peeled and test these tools. Over time, you’ll learn what works for your brand.
Increasing your use of cloud technology will be the cutting edge solution in a world with no third-party cookies. Honed software will help you make sense of the data you have and predict outcomes for future campaigns. You can also use it to keep the data you do have safe. One example of this is the Google Analytics for Firebase software development kit (SDK).
5. Implement, Test, and Prepare for Change
You’ll need to continuously test out different methods to succeed in a post-cookie landscape.
Start now. Don’t get caught empty-handed when cookies are officially gone.
Google says during Stage 1 of its process to phase out third-party cookies, “Publishers and the advertising industry will have time to migrate their services. We expect this stage to last for nine months, and we will monitor adoption and feedback carefully before moving to Stage 2.”
FAQs About Google Chrome Eliminating Third-Party Cookies
1. Will the elimination of third-party cookies make advertisers suffer?
Not really. It just requires a pivot and a shift in mindset. You’ll still have access to third-party tracking codes, just not cookies. Plus, it’s a chance for you to prioritize first-party data, which is a much more lucrative strategy for data allocation in terms of your ROI.
2. When is Chrome removing third-party cookies?
Google first announced the future removal of third-party cookies on Chrome in 2020. They shared that the change will go into effect prior to 2022, so we can expect the quiet shift sometime this year. The May 2020 algorithm update may or may not align with this.
3. Do other browsers use third-party cookies?
The list of browsers saying goodbye to third-party cookies is actually growing, especially since Google’s initial announcement. This is not just a phase, but a real redirection for the web to come. Marketing professionals should heed the calls if they want to be successful. (If digital marketing is about anything, it’s keeping up with the times.)
Apple Safari and Mozilla Firefox actually began phasing out third-party cookies in 2013, so Google is actually not the leader in this category. However, Chrome’s two-thirds market share undoubtedly makes this more impactful.
Third-party cookie removal is coming whether you like it or not. For users browsing the web, the need for privacy is strong. For regulators, the need for rules is growing even stronger.
The elimination of third-party cookies from Chrome, as well as the introduction of Google Privacy Sandbox and FLoC, isn’t cause for immediate action.
Stay ahead of the curve by beginning to test alternatives now if you haven’t already started. Focus on first-party data collection, ad creative, and server-side tracking. Contextual targeting and CMS auditing can also help improve your performance.
In short, don’t sit around and wait for a cookieless world. Trust me—it’s coming!