The marketing industry has recently undergone significant changes that have completely reshaped and transformed the marketing landscape. With the introduction of GA4 and the rise of artificial intelligence (AI), the familiar ‘day in a life’ of a marketer has become a thing of the past.
Another major change that has many marketers left with a feeling of impending doom is the demise of third-party cookies. A cornerstone of online advertising, these little data packets have allowed marketers to monitor user behaviour for over three decades.
In 2022, Google pushed back on the phase-out of third-party cookies until 2024. The current timeline suggests the phase-out of all third-party cookies by Q3 of 2024.
So, how will marketers adapt to a future without cookies?
Below, we will explore what the marketing landscape will look like in a post-cookie world and provide expert insights into why the absence of cookies does not signify the end of personalisation.
What are Marketing Cookies?
Cookies track and identify users when they engage with a website. Using cookies enables personalised experiences in online advertising and improves user experience. In fact, 75% of advertisers rely on data collected by third-party cookies to drive their marketing strategies.
The term "cookies" refers to small packets of data that websites store on a user's device, typically in the form of text files. These cookies serve as essential tools for tracking users' interests and behaviours, allowing marketing experts to deliver targeted advertisements based on users' online activities.
There are two primary types of cookies - session and persistent cookies. Session cookies are temporary and are deleted from the user’s device once they close their browser. Persistent cookies, on the other hand, remain on the device for a specified period, even after the browser is closed.
In this blog, we’ll focus on third-party cookies and first-party cookies.
A website can place third-party cookies on a user’s device from a domain other than the one they’re visiting. This website may be an advertiser or a social media site.
First-party cookies, however, come only from the domain you are visiting. Usually used for remembering user preferences or settings and, for eCommerce purposes, storing information on items a user has added to their online basket.
As you can see, tracking cookies have multiple uses. Here are a few uses for cookies:
Tracking User Behaviour Online
The primary role of cookies is to monitor user behaviour and interactions on websites. When a user visits a website and provides permission, the site may send a cookie to their browser, which is then stored on their device.
Cookies can store various types of information, including preferences, login credentials and browsing history. This data is usually encrypted, and only the website that sets the cookie can read it.
These data packets play a vital role in user identification. Don’t worry; they don’t know any personal information about you. Instead, cookies assign you a unique identifier, often a random string of characters. This identifier facilitates the recognition of returning users to a website, enabling the delivery of personalised experiences.
The Demise of Third-Party Cookies
While many marketers have benefited from third-party cookies, the decision to phase them out comes from several factors, including privacy concerns, updated regulations and user awareness.
Online Privacy Concerns
Whilst many marketers have reaped the benefits of third-party cookies, the choice to phase them out stems from a multitude of factors. This includes privacy apprehensions, evolving regulations, and heightened user consciousness.
Within this debate, third-party cookies have featured heavily as they enable cross-site tracking by advertisers and data brokers. A report from KPMG on corporate data responsibility found that 86% of their respondents felt a growing concern about data privacy.
From these valid concerns, governments worldwide have recognised the importance of protecting online user privacy. Until 2018, users had no control over when organisations tracked them with cookies.
Regulations such as the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) in the European Union and the California Consumer Privacy Rights Act (CPRA) in the United States have created stricter data collection, storage and user consent rules. These regulations place more limitations on third-party cookies and enable users control over the types of cookies they want to allow.
Resistance and Trust
Users are taking matters of protecting their privacy into their own hands. With many high-profile data breaches and misuse cases, trust has been eaten away by how organisations handle users’ data.
Ad blockers, cookie blockers, and other privacy-focused browser extensions have recently gained popularity due to the lack of trust. With these extensions, advertisers are less able to rely on cookies for user targeting accurately.
The Impact on Marketing
Fundamentally, the demise of the third-party cookie will reshape the marketing and digital advertising landscape. The impact for many will be dramatic.
Three-quarters of marketers still rely on third-party data to shape their ad campaigns, and 41% believe the loss of third-party cookies will be one of their biggest challenges.
In the absence of these cookies, the ability to craft highly tailored ad campaigns based on a user's online behaviour will become notably more challenging. The precision in understanding user preferences and behaviours will diminish considerably.
Marketers will struggle with the attribution of conversions to user interactions, potentially leading to difficulties in accurately measuring the effectiveness of their efforts.
The silver lining for some is that the impact of losing third-party cookies for most marketers will be limited if you only track users on your site. In this case, you’re only using first-party cookies. However, if you rely on user data to understand your audiences thoroughly, there’s a more considerable impact on the way you work.
But all is not lost.
This shift away from third-party cookies puts a new emphasis on first-party data. Data is collected directly from users on your organisation’s website or platform.
Marketers must change their focus towards new strategies, enabling them to collect, manage and leverage their data to target and personalise their campaigns effectively.
Within these strategies will be new ways to track website visitors and users. The demise of third-party cookies will see the rise of new technologies.
Online Tracking in New Ways
As with all significant changes in the tech world, there’s a lot of hard work in the background creating alternative technology to make marketers’ lives more manageable from a cookie perspective.
Enhanced Customer Profiles
Some of this technology may already be in place and integrated into your organisation's overall operations. Leveraging your Customer Relationship Management (CRM) system to build comprehensive customer profiles stands as a critical strategy for achieving personalisation.
Understanding your users’ interactions, purchase history, and engagement can enable highly personalised marketing efforts that will resonate with your audience.
Don’t forget to gain explicit user consent to your data collection through an opt-in cookie banner.
Beyond their website usage data, encouraging users to create an account or sign up for your newsletter can be mutually beneficial. Offering exclusive access to persuasive content, services or deals while you gather valuable data about their preferences and what makes them engaged can be used to your advantage.
Google Analytics 4 (GA4) offers a range of new features, predictive audiences being one of the most interesting and potentially powerful. Predictive audiences use AI to suggest an audience based on predictive metrics such as ‘likely to purchase in 7 days’.
This tool enables you to target visitors more effectively with remarketing or marketing campaigns using predictions from their user behaviour.
You can segment and target specific audiences with tailored messaging that will talk to them personally more effectively than a broad approach.
It’s not just about identifying who to target. You can also use it to understand who to suppress. Predictive audiences will help you identify those users who are likely to convert. You no longer need to waste ad spend for these audiences; instead, you can reinvest it for those needing more persuasion to purchase. As a Google Analytics 4 set-up agency, we are able to help you get the most out of predictive audiences and GA4.
Enhanced Conversions for Web
To help marketers measure their conversions more accurately from Google Ads, Google released enhanced conversions in Google Tag Manager. This feature lets marketers see user actions after clicking on your ad using irreversibly anonymised data.
Using this data will help you understand users’ behaviour within your site. You can improve data-driven decision-making to optimise your Google Ads campaigns and the pages users land on and engage with. Paired with cookieless tracking methods such as Google Consent Mode will help to hone in on your target audience and create winning campaigns.
Not all ads are made equally.
Contextual advertising isn’t a new concept. Banner adverts have been around for nearly two decades, continually evolving. The first banner ad appeared in 1994 with an eye-wateringly impressive 44% click-through rate.
Over time, with the help of technological advances, we can target critical audiences through several ways - many of which have relied on third-party cookies.
Contextual advertising, however, complements website pages and blogs with relevant ads for the viewer of the webpage. An avid reader of Runner’s World may see ads for the latest running shoes while browsing the site.
While this advertising won’t work for every organisation, it’s a fantastic way to reach specific audiences on a smaller budget if your offering allows it.
What Should Marketers Do Now?
As the countdown to the end of third-party cookies approaches, marketers find themselves at a crossroads. It’s time to adapt to the change we’re seeing in the digital advertising landscape. There are many things marketers can do now to get the ball rolling.
Prioritise First-party Data
First-party data will be the lifeblood of a post-cookie marketing world. This data, collected directly from your website visitors and customers, will provide valuable insights into user behaviour, preferences and engagement.
Start by implementing robust data collection strategies. Review and optimise how you’re collecting data currently. Ensure transparency through clear and explicit consent. Leverage user registrations and newsletter sign-ups, decipher what user events are meaningful across your website and apps and ensure you track these as they’ll become valuable moving forward.
Get your ducks in a row when it comes to data collection through your CRM so that you can segment your audience based on behaviours, demographics and other valuable criteria for your organisation. By segmenting, you can create specific, personalised marketing campaigns that will resonate with your target audience by understanding more about their buying habits.
According to Hubspot, 23% of marketing experts plan on investing in email marketing software due to Google’s new policy; personalising your campaigns is as important as ever to cut through the noise.
Evaluate and Reallocate Budget
Evaluating your marketing budget can ensure you’re spending money most effectively. It’s a great time to analyse which channels are working best in terms of ROI and where you could spend your budget better.
Taking a moment to sit back and look at the bigger picture may surprise you on how well your marketing budget is being spent (or not!).
If it isn’t working, it may be worth going back to the drawing board and looking at putting that budget to better use in more fruitful ways.
Invest in Alternative Tools
If you can reallocate your budget, research new tools to help you get the job done.
For example, if you’re looking into contextual advertising, investing in tools which can accurately analyse webpages content and context will ensure your ads align seamlessly with the content where they’re displayed.
You may also find you’re in the market for a more sophisticated CRM and email software.
Investing in the right tools is half the battle when finding new techniques to get your marketing campaigns in front of your audience.
How Different Browsers Will Handle the Post-Third-Party Cookies Landscape
Google Chrome: The Introduction of the Privacy Sandbox
Google isn't simply phasing out third-party cookies; they have a long-term strategy that has been in the works for some time.
Their replacement for tracking cookies is known as the ‘Privacy Sandbox.’
The Privacy Sandbox aims to address privacy concerns while still allowing advertisers and other third-party services to deliver personalised online advertisements. It isn’t just one entity; it’s a collection of several technologies using APIs. It relies on anonymised signals within a person’s Chrome browser to gain insight into that user’s browsing habits.
The data remains within the Chrome browser rather than in the current situation where cookies are embedded into user’s devices.
However, there’ll still be the opportunity to leverage Google ads, as Google will power these ads with Google’s first-party cookies and the Privacy Sandbox tools. Unfortunately, this means that if you also rely on other ad tools which require third-party data, you’ll have to look at alternatives, as these are unlikely to continue to operate in their current form.
Mozilla Firefox: Enhanced Enhanced Tracking Protection
Mozilla Firefox has been a huge advocate of user privacy for a long time. Their Enhance Tracking Protection (ETP) block known third-party cookies by default. It enhances users’ privacy by preventing advertisers from monitoring users across websites.
Firefox is expected to continue strengthening its stance on user privacy. Marketers should consider this when targeting Firefox users and explore alternative strategies that align with ETP settings.
Apple Safari: Intelligent Tracking Prevention (ITP)
Apple’s Safari browser has been a pioneer in privacy protection with its Intelligent Tracking Prevention (ITP) features. ITP has gradually limited third-party cookie tracking and cross-site tracking. This means that marketers relying heavily on third-party cookies may already be feeling the impact when targeting Safari users.
As we move forward, Safari is expected to further enhance its privacy features, which will affect how marketers track and target users on this browser. Consider diversifying your strategies to ensure you can reach Safari users effectively.
Microsoft Edge: Balancing Privacy and Personalisation
Microsoft Edge, while focused on user privacy, also acknowledges the importance of personalised experiences. It has adopted features like "Tracking Prevention" to block known third-party trackers while allowing websites to function optimally.
Edge aims to strike a balance between privacy and personalisation, and its approach may evolve as the post-third-party cookie landscape unfolds. Marketers should keep an eye on updates from Microsoft and adapt their strategies accordingly.
Putting Online Privacy at the Forefront of Marketing Strategy
Although the demise of third-party cookies introduces several hurdles, it also presents an opportunity for marketers to rejuvenate their strategies, put user privacy at the forefront, and forge meaningful connections with their audience through innovative approaches.
The key to thriving is to adapt, innovate and remain flexible until you find your new momentum and what works for your marketing team and organisation. By remaining adaptable and responsive to these changes, you can continue to deliver relevant and personalised experiences while respecting user privacy, ultimately ensuring your success in the post-third-party cookie era.
In need of expert guidance to ensure you’re prepared for the demise of third-party cookies? Our team of skilled reporting and insights analysts specialise in all things tracking and can help you enhance your business's data-driven strategies. Contact our team to find out more.