5 min read

The End of Third-Party Cookies & What To Focus On Now

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In January 2020, Google announced what many saw as the death of third-party cookies. Namely, that Google would stop supporting them within their Chrome browser by 2022.

While Apple's Safari browser has already done this, the Google Chrome announcement was significant for two reasons:

  1. Chrome owns most of the browser market share (69% as of 2021), so the impact of this move would be far-reaching.
  2. 90% of Google's revenue is from advertising, and removing the use of third-party cookies would complicate marketing for their customers.

Google hinted at the level of these complications when they pushed the initial 2022 goal date back to mid-2023, claiming "it's become clear that more time is needed across the ecosystem to get this right."

And, if we're honest, Google isn't the only one that needs more time to figure this out. The 2021 Adobe Digital Trends survey found that only 37% of companies are "very prepared" for a world without third-party cookies.

So now that we have more time to prepare, what should we do? To answer that, let's first get a quick refresher on what a third-party cookie is.

What is a Third-Party Cookie?

A cookie, or HTTP cookie, is a text file created and stored within your web browser when you visit a new site. The cookie helps the browser track, personalize, and save information about each user's session, allowing the website to personalize your experience and any related advertising based on your previous sessions on that website or others.

As an example, a client recently recommended a product to help me deal with the mosquitos here in Georgia, the Spartan Mosquito Eradicator. I googled it to check it out and now see it included in ads that follow me online.

 

Third Party Cookies Example | Spartan Mosquito Eradicator | Digital Agency | Mighty Roar

By clicking on the more info icon in the upper right-hand corner of the ad, I can see that the ad is using my recent activity on Chewy.com to retarget to me across various websites, social channels, and YouTube.

Third Party Cookies | Why Are You Seeing This Ad | Digital Agency | Mighty Roar

Third-party cookies are behind this marketing. When you allow access to third-party cookies, you're providing a trail of data that relays information about your web history across multiple websites and sessions that help tell companies more about you, which allows them to create more personalized experiences.

Without third-party cookies, this type of activity will go away. However, the good news is that first-party cookies will still be unaffected.

The difference is that first-party cookies are created and stored under the same domain you are currently visiting, and do not follow you from site to site. They only collect data on behalf of a site or app owner and will not share that information with Google or other third parties.

For example, first-party cookies provide functionality like saving your login data and user information across separate pages of the same site so you don't have to login every time you visit, remembering your preferences, or storing your shopping cart so you can check out later.

How to Prepare For Removal of Third-Party Cookies?

  1. Leverage and maximize your use of first-party cookies

    Consider the various user journeys on your site and explore opportunities to apply first-party cookies and encourage users to share more data with you directly.

    Consider using events, newsletters, and valuable downloads to obtain more information about your customers and prospects that you can use to fuel marketing automation and ad-buying tools.
  2. Utilize contextual ad targeting

    If data is no longer available from third-party cookies, contextual targeting may be your best bet. While contextual targeting does not require third-party cookies, it will require you to have a solid understanding of customer personas and segments.

    Understanding your user and the specifics of their unique shopping journey will allow you to insert your advertising where and when it's most relevant and helpful (unlike the example above showing a mosquito solution within an article about the U.S. murder rate).

    In fact, your target audience may respond to this type of marketing better since it's contextual. If the ad were shown on a yard maintenance article instead, it's more likely that the user would be in the right mindset for the product or service. Plus, contextual targeting can be less 'stalker-ish' which third-party cookie tracking can sometimes be.
  3. Reassess and align your KPIs

    Just as we recommended in our advice on preparing for iOS 15's email privacy changes, it will be important to review your campaign reporting to identify where you currently rely on third-party cookies and if there are any metrics to track moving forward.
  4. Double down on your on-site content

    If third-party cookies disappear, the goal will be to make your content searchable and valuable. By doing this, you'll increase your odds of visitors to your site providing their information to you.

    Additionally, ensure you have content that addresses each stage of your target audience's buying journey. This will allow you to understand the context in which your user is engaging with you and provide the ability to market to them with that context in mind.

The eventual removal of third-party cookies will have an impact on your marketing; however, the degree of this impact is up to you. Make important changes to your site, content, and gather audience intelligence information now, in order to gain a competitive advantage when the change takes effect.

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