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The cookie has crumbled: the imminent death of 3rd party cookies

In our increasingly privacy-first world it’s no real surprise that Google will cease third-party cookies in Chrome by the end of 2021. Third-party cookies have long been seen as conflicting with user privacy.

New regulations such as Europe’s GDPR and the California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA) require a lot greater control over how and when cookies can be used, and their competitors are ahead of them.

Safari and Firefox have already limited cookies and website data analysis to reduce cross-site tracking. This has gained Firefox market share by positioning that they offer better privacy than competitors. Despite still having more than 60% of the market Google don’t want to be left behind. Since as far back as 2017 Apple Safari have used Intelligent Tracking Prevention (ITP) to protect user privacy by restricting their data tracking across the web. Mozilla Firefox then launched Enhanced Tracking Protection (ETP) which now blocks third-party cookies by default and in August 2020 they started to roll out ETP 2.0.

What are 3rd Party Cookies?

There are Also known as “tracking cookies”, “browser cookies” or simply “cookies”, third- party cookies are well established as the most widely used method for tracking consumer behaviour and gathering data. These third-party cookies are usually delivered by tracking pixels or Javascript code in order to target ads more effectively. Some of the key functions of third-party cookies are:

  • personalized ad targeting
  • cross-site retargeting
  • social buttons posting
  • third-party services placing (such as chatbot);
  • impressions measuring to user actions
  • detailed analysis

Cookies technology enables publishers and ad buyers to show relevant advertising to specific users and get impressions that are valuable assets in programmatic advertising.

Are Google banning all Cookies?

To be clear Google (so far at least) aren’t banning all cookies. Google will only phase out third-party cookies from its browsers. First-party cookies that track basic data about your own website’s visitors are unaffected.

First-Party Cookies

First-party cookies are a piece of code that’s generated when visitors come to your website. The code is stored on their computer by default when they visit your site. These first party cookies are often used to support user experience as they can be responsible for remembering passwords, collecting basic data about the visitor, and other preferences. They also allow you to track what the visitor did on your site, what they looked at, how long they stayed, how often they’ve visited. First-party cookies allow you to understand a lot about a users’ interaction with your website. What first-party cookies do not do is give you access to data related to a users behaviour elsewhere on the web on websites unrelated to your domain.  That’s where third-party cookies come in.

Third-Party Cookies

Third-party cookies let you know what the visitors to your website do elsewhere on the internet. You can discover which websites they frequently visit, what they’re interested in on other websites, even what they’ve bought.  This kind of detailed information delivered to you by third-party cookies allows your digital marketing team to build robust visitor profiles and create a retargeting list so you can send ads to your previous website visitors and “look-a-likes” users with similar web profiles. This is what is happening behind the scenes when you visit a website to look for a pair of shoes and then lo and behold everywhere you go for days you’ll see adverts popping up – seemingly on every website you visit for the exact same brand of shoes.

The impact of losing 3rd Party Cookies

Whether we like it or not the third-party cookie is the underlying means by which virtually the entire digital advertising ecosystem transacts and communicates. Data collection, audience targeting, measurement, and attribution analysis will all need to change. As will how advertising is tracked and measured. Different methods to gather data on user behaviour will emerge or old techniques will resurface. How campaigns and websites will be optimised will all be revised.

So yes, there will inevitably be a significant impact, but digital marketers are resourceful creatures and the desire to communicate with their audience is a mighty strong driver to find alternatives and there are already several promising solutions entering the marketplace.

What replaces 3rd Party Cookies?

The Google perspective is that in place of third-party cookies, let advertisers buy into a Google initiative called Privacy Sandbox that runs targeted ads without having direct access to users’ personal details. So even without Chromes’ based third-party cookie data you can still target Google Ads via Google Chrome’s first-party cookies and Google Privacy Sandbox tools. This of course cuts out all the existing third-party ad platforms that use existing third-party cookies to generate revenue and sticks that revenue firmly in Google own pocket.

As we lead up to the third-party cooking finally crumbling interested parties around the globe are exploring innovative solutions and existing alternatives such as contextual targeting.

Contextual Advertising

Unlike behavioural targeting when Ads appear to users based on third-party cookies tracking their online behaviours, contextual targeting is done through matching keywords and topics. Ads shown on the page actually relate to the content on the page. Contextual advertising scans keywords in the text of the page and renders related ads to that content. To get this match contextual targeting requires a good grasp of marketing fundamentals such as your buyer persona and your buyer’s journey.  When these are clear consider websites that your audience might visit during their journey and list keywords to match those sites and create ads to fit.

Building a first-party data strategy

First-party customer data has suddenly become that much more appealing.

The rise of the off-line evolution

In a strange twist of fate, the crumbling of the cookie is prompting online advertisers looking for data sources that aren’t cookie dependent and to revisit offline data.

Data derived from actions taken in the real world such as a house purchase which would indicate a potential need for items such as paint and other home improvement products, kitchen appliances, furniture, house plants and everything else that goes with settling into a new home.

In the past it was seen as too labour intensive to onboard offline data (that was already perceived as stale because it wasn’t “live”) and then match it back to a targeting cookie in order to deliver an ad message but with today’s technology it’s much easier to on-board off-line data.

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