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The Cookieless Future, What It Means For Marketers and How to Prepare

The Cookieless Future, What It Means For Marketers and How to Prepare

The announced discontinuation of third-party cookies in Google Chrome is an effort to protect user privacy and personal information, and will surely transform the digital marketing landscape. 

The change was originally planned for 2022, later pushed to 2023, and the current date for phasing out third-party cookies is the second half of 2024. 

Marketers and paid advertising companies rely on browser cookies to tailor the decisions regarding campaigns and strategies. Still, this type of insightful data will soon become a thing of the past. 

To restrict the unlawful use of personal data, Google has decided to remove third-party cookies from Chrome (the number one web browser in the world), and created the Privacy Sandbox, an initiative aimed to develop safer technologies.

Why are third-party cookies going away

First-party cookies are stored by the domain (website) that the user visits. The first-party data can include information including demographics, visited websites and interactions, purchase history, interests, and time spent on the website.

Third-party cookies are created by a domain other than the one the user is visiting. These cookies are used to:

  • Monitor user behavior on different sites
  • Retargeting
  • Show ads to specific groups of users

The main reason these cookies face discontinuation is that companies can sell the sensitive personal information collected by them to other companies without the user’s knowledge or consent. The use of personal information gained in such a way is unlawful, even if it’s used solely for marketing or advertising purposes. 

According to Google, searches for online privacy saw a 50% increase in 2020 compared to 2019. In addition, a Pew Research Center survey found that 72% of people are under the impression that every move they make online is being tracked by advertisers. This global shift in perspective is among the primary motivators behind the upcoming termination of third-party cookies in Chrome and shifting the internet towards increased privacy for all users. 

Preparing for a cookieless future

Considering the impact of this change on marketing and advertising, many companies have already deemed the cookieless future a top priority and are beginning to experiment with new tactics. 

According to Quantcast’s 2022 State-of-the-Industry Report for North America (which surveyed over 600 publishing and advertising experts), 6 out of 10 industry professionals stated that: 

  • Preparations for a cookieless future was their top priority (8%)
  • Preparations for a cookieless future were among their top priorities (52%)
  • 18% were planning to tackle this issue in 2022
  • 4% are waiting for cookies to be obsolete before developing new tactics

Even though targeting new audiences and measuring and attribution will have to change in the forthcoming cookieless landscape, it’s still unclear which new tactics will yield the best results. 

What alternatives will replace cookies

Google anticipated the deprecation of third-party cookies would wreak havoc in the ad industry and created The Privacy Sandbox, an initiative to develop new technologies that will strengthen user privacy and reduce cross-site and cross-app tracking. 

The Privacy Sandbox will also provide new methods that allow businesses to function in the updated digital realm. 

Here are the most popular proposals from the Privacy Sandbox initiative. 

Federated Learning of Cohorts (FLoC) 

The Federated Learning of Cohorts (also abbreviated as FLoC) is a new technology that will place users in large groups (called cohorts) with similar browsing habits, and subsequently targets ads based on the combined interests of the cohort in question. 

The primary goal of FLoC is to prevent tracking of individual users, while simultaneously accommodating highly-specific online advertising.

By blending users into cohorts with similar interests and browsing criteria, ad companies won’t be able to access users' personal data. Still, the FLoC algorithm will continue to allow the targeting of groups with specific interests and preferences. 

However, given how FLoC is receiving a lot of negative community feedback, it’s likely that Google will stop developing this proposal and focus on more promising alternatives. 

Google Topics API

The browser is at the center of Google Topics, as it will determine the type of ads a user will see when they’re online. 

As users browse the web, Chrome will gradually learn about their interests by tracking data on the websites they frequently visit and categorizing them into specific topics. 

Google has around 300 topics so far, which will be used to classify the various interests of users. Based on this personal behavioral data, Google will deliver your personal topics to compatible advertisers securely and privately. 

The proposed functioning of Topics will revolve around Google sharing one user’s topic per week with advertisers, which will use this weekly information to deliver personalized and relevant ads.

First-party data

Finally, as the third alternative to replace third-party cookies, it’s recommended to focus on obtaining first-party data directly from consumers. 

Since the internet will soon become a place where user privacy is paramount, companies should develop closer relationships with their customers online, as relying on third parties will no longer be a valid option. 

Combined with the above-mentioned approaches, first-party data will play an integral role in future targeting and measurement. A recent study showed that 70% of advertisers used first-party data to tailor their marketing campaigns in 2022. 

Obtaining consumer data can also strengthen a brand’s trust, creating a more fulfilling experience for its leads and customers. Even though obtaining first-party data offers many benefits, it’s necessary to have a precise and well-thought-out plan to achieve this objective. 

Convincing customers to share their personal data with your company can be challenging and is usually much easier to accomplish with incentives such as valuable interactive content.

Other third-party cookie alternatives

While we can't predict what the future will look like without third-party cookies, there are a few ground rules worth following. Check out how you can prepare for this change today:

  1. Use omnichannel advertising 
  2. Be transparent and pro-user in your actions with the data
  3. Get the most out of the data you already own
  4. Test and verify the best partners for your digital activities 
  5. Explore a new suite of addressability solutions

Prepare for a cookieless future with an expert marketing agency 

Marketers and advertisers actively experimenting with new techniques before the deprecation of third-party cookies will have a much better position once this change occurs. 

A significant portion of ad-supported online experience in the US is already happening without third-party cookies. This is mainly on less-popular browsers such as Firefox and Safari, which have already discontinued such cookies.

These conditions allow marketers to compare the performance of new alternatives to the environments that still allow third-party cookies, and obtain precious insights before such comparisons are no longer available. 

If you are uncertain how to successfully tackle this change, or are just looking for assistance in your marketing or paid strategies, feel free to contact us or schedule a free consultation.

Uros Pajcin

Author: Uros Pajcin

Uros is our PPC specialist.