Have you heard of the ‘cookiepocolypse’? We promise it isn’t a world-ending tragedy… although some marketers may believe so!
If you’re a standard browser, you may regard cookies with mild annoyance. So many users find themselves half-consciously saving the hassle by clicking ‘accept all cookies’ – despite not wanting the site to scrounge their data. However, there is a method behind the madness: businesses rely on this data for helpful metrics, to improve user experience, and to target content to the right audiences. Therefore, it isn’t surprising that the third-party cookie crackdown is perceived as a significant loss for many marketers.
But first things first: what is a cookie, and why are they beneficial to brands online?
Third-Party Cookies: Uncovered
Put simply, a cookie is a small chunk of data (not chocolate chip, unfortunately) designed to collect web user information. This minuscule internet file has the power to collect and store a wealth of data to help sites remember your movements online. Whilst first-party cookies are created by the domain owner, third-party cookies do what they say on the (biscuit) tin: they are placed on a website by a third party – essentially anyone other than the site owner. For example, advertisers and social media networks are key third-party cookie culprits, as they collect user information from different websites to monitor data and target their ads. For this reason, third-party cookies are often referred to as ‘trackers’. Cookie trackers allow third parties to keep an eye on user activity across different sites, storing website analytics for future reference. However, the term ‘tracking’ encapsulates why so many users object to cookies’ intrusive nature. But more on that later!
First, let’s explore the perks of third-party cookies for marketers. As a digital marketing agency, we can tell you first-hand the benefits of having access to user data. Cookies can track browsing activity, which allows digital marketers to target said users with further relevant advertisements. Also, cookies inform marketers of how many unique visitors they get to their site through their unique ID. This allows them to accurately analyse website traffic – without accidentally inflated results when a user pays regular visits! All in all, third-party cookies enable digital marketers to provide users with a personalised experience, and target advertising campaigns to the right audiences.
The Third-Party Phase-Out: When Did It Begin?
But times are changing. The phase-out of third-party cookies was first announced in January 2020 – a soft launch, if you will – yet it wasn’t until a year later that word truly spread. In March 2021, Google announced they were looking towards “a future where there is no need to sacrifice relevant advertising and monetisation in order to deliver a private and secure experience.” But regardless – cue digital marketer panic!
However, there is no denying that Google was merely responding to the rising concerns for consumer privacy. Frankly, in a day and age where people are becoming increasingly concerned that our phones are listening to us (because they clearly are – right?!), it isn’t surprising that more and more website users have grown sick and tired of the ‘cookies’ pop-up. Google claimed that users are demanding “transparency, choice and control over how their data is used”: a right which third-party cookies infringed.
Marketing and advertising agencies, on the other hand, reacted less than favourably to the news, with some claiming that this change threatens the infrastructure of the internet as we know it – without providing a viable alternative. Frankly, many marketers felt utterly left in the lurch. In one survey, GetApp found that 41% of marketers believe their biggest challenge will be their inability to track the right data.
Despite this, Google was determined to implement this change in a way which had the least detrimental effects on the online advertising world. As with any situation, a phase-out can be deemed more palatable than a ‘rip off the bandaid’ approach. Therefore, rather than default blocking third-party cookies as some browsers did (we’re looking at you, Safari), Google Chrome decided to phase them out over two years to ensure the least possible collateral damage. However, with Google Chrome being the last of the browser giants to phase out the third-party cookie, 2023 is set to be a clean, cookie-less slate for marketers.
How Marketers Can Navigate a Third-Party Cookie-less World
Now, we are well aware of the benefits of third-party cookies, and we’re mourning the loss as much as you are! However, as our namesake suggests, we are always adaptable to new, uncharted territory – and all marketers should follow suit. The truth is, whilst Google Chrome’s new and improved privacy endeavours will certainly impact digital marketing as we know it, we can easily navigate this new normal. For example, since Google’s announcement was first made, alternatives have been introduced – such as Google’s Privacy Sandbox, identity solutions, PPIDs and digital fingerprinting. Also, we aren’t navigating an entirely cookie-less realm – those all-important first-party cookies are still alive and kicking! So, if your marketing strategy revolves around data collection – don’t fret! You can still track and analyse data about your own website’s visitors with ease.
Alongside Google’s own Privacy Sandbox, other technological developments allow data to be tracked in a less intrusive way. For example, FloC tracks groups of people, as opposed to invading individuals’ online privacy. Google’s initial statement claimed: “Our latest tests of FloC show one way to effectively take third-party cookies out of the advertising equation and instead hide individuals within large crowds of people with common interests”. With FloC, everybody wins!
Finally, as advocates for adaptability, we advise fellow marketers to use this shift as an opportunity for innovation. If anything, the third-party cookie crackdown has exposed many marketers’ reliance on such technology – when, really, we are paid to look outside the box. Think about ways you can identify and target relevant audiences – without being that annoyingly intrusive pop-up. If we want audiences to relate to us, the last thing we should be doing is pushing them away. So, be creative with your alternative solutions! Also, one final word of advice: be reactive at all times. Keep your ear to the ground, email alert those industry updates, and continuously stay ahead of the curve. So, whatever the future of user data holds, you know you’ll be prepared.