Google’s plan to phase out third-party cookies has seen a one-year delay, but their stance remains firm on the issue, the current reported date being the end of 2023. Third-party cookies are on their way out, which has sent marketers and advertisers scrambling to stay on top of things as the marketing industry is changing.

Safari and Firefox are already blocking third-party cookies by default, but the Chrome browser was the final nail in the coffin. Google owns 67% of the browser market share and with that comes more or less final word on such matters. They are on the same page now, looking to join the default blocking by late 2023.

Google’s decision to delay the changes is most certainly related to the fact that it gets 90% of its revenue through advertising, but no matter the reason, they came out and made one thing perfectly clear:

You can no longer rely on third-party cookies.

The question now is “What will you do to adapt and come out of this better than before?”

What The End Of Third-Party Cookies Means For Your Business

In this article, we aim to answer this question and more, as we talk about how the issue came to be, the full extent of it, how your business may be affected and how you can take that into account and move forward.

The history of cookie use in digital marketing

To understand the full scope of what we are currently facing we need to go back and take a look at what exactly are cookies and how they have been used for the longest time.

Cookies are small blocks of data created by a server and placed on your device so as to remember certain details about your visit to a specific website, like what links you clicked, how long you stayed on a particular page or your preferences (like dark mode for nighttime viewing or a preferred language). They are so named because you leave a sort of trail of crumbs as you go from website to website, which advertisers and marketers can use to track people’s habits and make educated guesses as to their preferred spending habits.

The distinction to make before moving forward is between first-party and third-party cookies. Third-party data, as the name implies, is gathered from websites other than your own, and stored in a cookie for you to access and use said data as you see fit. A first-party cookie encompasses all user data that you harvest from web pages on your own domain. 

Third party cookies have been a staple of digital marketing since the late 90’s when the whole business was built around tracking users to understand their real needs and desires, and showing them tailor-made targeted ads.

The current trend and associated issues

Although it has been around for a very long time, the third-party cookie has come under fire in recent times, following the Facebook scandal a few years back. That growing public sentiment of distrust towards the practice has culminated with firm regulations being put in place (for example, the GDPR is the reason users in the European Union have to consent to cookie tracking every single time they access a new website, and in California, CalOPPA is doing much the same thing, requiring operators to disclose their cookie policy). 

The feeling of advertisers creating an in-depth profile of them (especially without their knowledge or consent) and selling it to the highest bidder, just so they could get more invasive ads left a sour taste in people’s mouths. Many have taken matters into their own hands and employed the use of ad-blockers. This whole atmosphere threatens the stability that some dependant on ad-revenue rely on. 

There is nothing inherently wrong in using third-party cookies, since they create advertisements that take a user’s interests into account. If an advertisement is going to be displayed on a certain website no matter what, why not have it, at the very least, match your interests? Moreover, if we don’t know the context of the consumer we can’t say where they are on the customer journey, so they might not get the proper ads and be annoyed or become disinterested in the product all together. (Think about it, if you just found out about a service, you would consider ads to BUY! BUY! BUY! as annoying spam and you would associate that negative experience with the product, massively decreasing your chances to ever engage with it.)

What is being done about it

As we mentioned in the beginning, Google has a huge stake in this matter, so it comes as no surprise that they are spearheading the movement towards an alternative. They have already put in extensive work on their Privacy Sandbox, a set of standards that can hopefully become the new norm in the industry at large. 

In addition to this, they are developing a new algorithm that advertisers can use, called FLoC (Federated Learning of Cohorts). The titular cohort is a group of at least 1000 individuals, categorized by similarities in their browsing history. This is being touted as the ideal compromise: No one person can be taken out and identified, and yet those users are segmented enough so that they will receive relevant ads that won’t waste their time. 

This is all in the future though, as it is in early testing and nobody knows if it will even be accepted as GDPR-compliant. What you can do right now, however, is start leveraging the first-party data that you already have and start harvesting it in a transparent and respectful way. To this end, consider installing a CMP (Consent Management Platform).

Another thing worth looking into may be contextual advertising, which is the model used by magazines, who show ads based on their general topic. The same effect can be achieved online through keyword networking. By using topics related to your product in your ad keywords, you tether it to those categories, making it much more likely to come up when somebody searches anything related to them. 

Final Words on Third Party Cookies

Customer trust is a vital resource to any company. You may not take a hit at all during all of this, but if your business leans greatly on third-party cookies (and almost all businesses at the moment do!), take the time to look the alternatives over and be respectful and up-front about customer data harvesting, as users have made it abundantly clear that privacy is something highly important to them. 

Google’s research states that almost all publishers stand to lose 50-70% of their revenue if they do not change the way they manage ads and data by early 2022. Like any major, industry-disrupting change, while some will be swept under, others will rise to the occasion, making the necessary adjustments and thriving in this new landscape. It can be a death sentence for those who refuse to evolve, or it can be a launching pad for your business. The choice is entirely up to you! 

If you need a helping hand to make the transition to a cookie-less future, you can always reach out to us right here, and we can start talking about helping your business adapt to the recent impactful changes to the marketing landscape!