Marketing Without Third-Party Cookies (And Why it’s Not All Bad)

Marketing Without Third-Party Cookies (And Why it’s Not All Bad)

Erin Foley, Digital Marketing Specialist

As a digital marketer, receiving invites to webinars regarding the loss of third-party cookies has been almost a daily occurrence so far in 2021—with good reason! In January of 2020, Google made the announcement that it will be phasing out the third-party cookie from all Chrome browsers, with a goal of removing it completely by 2022.

Losing third-party data yields big changes in the world of digital advertising, and marketers everywhere will need to pivot and change their data-gathering tactics by the end of the year. But what are those changes and why is it such a big deal? Let’s start with the basics—what is a “cookie”?

What are cookies in digital marketing?

A cookie is a piece of code that is placed on a website and used to identify your device (computer, phone, tablet, etc.) and track your behaviors. Also known as tracking cookies, they allow websites to remember your login information, where you left off on your last visit, what you left in your shopping cart, and any other customizations you may have made on the website. This is why it feels like you’re being “followed” by ads on the internet, the cookie remembers nearly everything about you, including the things you’re most likely to purchase. A little creepy, right? Lots of people think so too!

Other types of browser cookies

If there are third-party cookies, does that mean there are other types of browser cookies that collect data? Yes—there are both first- and second-party cookies. What’s the difference? In short, they’re a little less invasive.

First-party data is data collected by the website owner, who has a “direct relationship” with the website visitor. For example, if someone fills out a form on your website, you own that data about the person. Second-party data is that same first-party data, but it is given to someone else who is not the website owner. This is usually because the first party and the second party have some kind of data partnership. Lastly, third-party data is collected through placing a cookie on a website that you don’t own. This means there is no relationship between them (the third party) and the website visitors they are collecting data on.

Why is the third-party cookie going away?

The third-party cookie is going away because Chrome users are asking for more privacy and control over how their online behavioral data is used. In fact, Safari and Firefox, who are overwhelmingly behind Chrome in browser market share (Chrome has about 64% market share globally, per statcounter), have both been cookie-free environments since 2013. Will the loss of third-party data mean the loss of market share for Chrome? At this point, it is difficult to predict, but there are things an advertiser can do to be pro-active before the third-party cookies are no longer used.

Strategies to adjust your marketing efforts

The most significant tactic an advertiser can do is to put your first-party data (or that of your clients) to work. First-party data has always been an advertisers’ best strategy, as it guarantees more qualified leads. Other tactics, which aren’t necessarily alternatives to the third-party cookie but certainly extend your targeting efforts, are to re-target your existing contact lists and to use targeted social media ads. These strategies won’t be going away, so use them to your advantage.

It’s also a good time to look at the content marketing big picture and incorporate ways to reach your audience and build your own first-party data list in the process. Landing pages, webinars, events, customer surveys, and newsletter subscriptions are just a few ideas to add to your content marketing arsenal.

How Google is adapting for business without third-party cookies

Since the announcement from Google, the company has been working on alternatives for the third-party cookie in the form of something they call the “Privacy Sandbox.” What this will include is still unclear. However, according to Justin Schuh, the Director of Google Chrome Engineering, it will be “a secure environment for personalization that also protects user privacy.”

While Google hasn’t yet announced what this will consist of, one of their ideas is called Federated Learning of Cohorts, or FLoC for short. According to Google, FLoC proposes a new way for businesses to reach people with relevant content and ads by clustering large groups of people with similar interests.

There isn’t a great deal of information on how this idea can be used by advertisers, but with the loss of third-party cookies happening in the next eight months, Google is sure to provide more insight within that timeframe.

Don’t panic, just pivot

It’s important to remember that the end of the third-party cookie doesn’t mean the end to data measurement. Rather, it simply means how and what we measure will change. Until we have more information regarding the Privacy Sandbox and other tools to use as alternatives for the third-party cookie, the best thing you can do as an advertiser is to leverage your existing first party data and get comfortable in using it for targeting.

Continue to keep your eye out for more ideas and information from Google—this year, like last year, is already full of change and advertisers need to keep up!

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