“It can’t end like this!” said the third-party cookie. “I’m not ready to go!
In January 2020, Google announced its plan to remove third-party cookies. As a UK-based Premier Google Partner agency we had our suspicions months prior to the announcement.
“What about all that data I bring in?” asked a dejected cookie. “I’ve still got so much to offer!”
Google tried to explain: “We love you, but third-party cookies follow people without their knowledge. The web is more fun when you can relax and not worry about what companies do with your data.”
The cookie wasn’t ready for this news— but experienced marketers saw the writing on the wall.
“You’ve been great— but it’s time we all move on.”
By late 2023, advertisers and publishers will no longer be able to track users across websites. Google will offer no comparable service in its place.
The question on marketers’ minds is what happens next?
First-Party vs Third-Party Cookies
Most people have heard of cookies, but others may not fully understand them.
First-party and third-party refer to how code interacts with a web visitor’s browser. With a “first-party” cookie, you can track basic analytics, such as session length, bounce rates, and referring sites. The first-party code only preserves data for the owner of the domain.
The third-party cookie is known as the “tracking cookie.” This code tracks users across websites and sends data to advertisers about their surfing habits. This information helps shape future ad campaigns.
The personal data collected includes:
- Demographics, e.g., name, age, and gender
- Behavioral Data such as browsing habits and social media activity
- Interests Data gathered from other content and site visits (e.g., entertainment or sports) (Facebook)
The third-party tracking cookie is the most common tracking method for ad-tech and mar-tech platforms. With the cookie’s demise, marketers must discover new ways to capture customer data.
Why Is Google Phasing Out Third-Party Cookies?
The obvious answer is user protection. Regulators are pressing Google to protect user data, mainly since GDPR went into force in May 2018. As a result, privacy issues have become a growing concern (we’re looking at you, Facebook). The bill persuaded businesses that further rules were on the way.
But advertisers’ reliance on cookies is already waning. In 2017, Firefox and Safari restricted third-party cookies in their browsers. By 2020, they’d banned them entirely. Apple is also looking to gain a competitive edge by positioning itself as a “privacy-first” technology company.
Some industry experts believe Google’s move is a preemptive tactic to minimise legislation and protect its multi-billion-dollar ad industry.
Marketers for an Open Web (MOW) – a coalition of small tech companies and publishers – worry Google’s reforms could dictate how websites monetise and operate. A spokesman warned:
“Any business that buys or sells advertising will be reliant on Google for a part of the process, whether they like it or not. This will reduce the ability of independent players to compete with Google, strengthening its monopoly control of online commerce.”
As Google Chrome accounts for 60% of remaining browser usage, its decision to phase out third-party cookies effectively ends cross-publisher advertising.
Death of an Online Salesman?
The move away from third-party cookies has been a long time coming, and many experts agree it’s for the best.
However, because most tracking technology employs cookies for ad targeting, it may appear that Google is consigning ad publishers to the scrap heap.
Google has pledged to collaborate with advertisers to create less intrusive advertising methods. Their solution, the “Privacy Sandbox,” hides users among large groups of people with similar interests, protecting privacy while keeping web content open. The sandbox should also combat covert tracking.
Google estimates the Privacy Sandbox will be up and running by late 2023. The extended deadline should give marketers more time to adjust.
So What Are the Alternatives to Cookies?
This may be the end of an era, but it doesn’t have to be the end of your advertising strategy.
Advertisers must rethink how they use data. Some options to better target users include:
- Using email addresses (people tend not to change these)
- Utilising Universal IDs (e.g., ID5’s, NetID, Admixer ID)
- CRM audience segmentation
Advertisers may need to shift their budget to older strategies such as contextual advertising. Consumers continue to favour relevant ads, so targeting niches rather than demographics may be the way to go.
For over 20 years, the digital marketing industry has been harvesting and selling personal data. Now Google is closing the cookie jar. This is an opportunity to review and update your marketing strategy. You can book a complimentary discovery call with our team to dive into opportunities into driving more sales from digital marketing in the coming year. Contact us today.
Google’s decision to phase out third-party cookies should send a message. The industry must rethink its values and monetise user data responsibly or risk further loss of public trust.