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Ready for a world without third-party cookies?

Claire Locking Feb 17, 2022 1:58:25 PM
What the end of third-party cookies will mean for marketers

2022 will be the year we see the demise of third-party cookies on Google. So how will these changes impact your marketing efforts and success?

Not all cookies are created equal

First-party cookies

are those created and owned by your business. They monitor visitor activity only on the pages of your particular website, the content your visitors are viewing, the products they are purchasing. They are designed to collect data that will help you improve your website and service.

Third-party cookies

are substantially more powerful. They can track a user’s browsing history across multiple websites, gaining valuable information on a person’s interests, the content they are viewing, the products they are purchasing. This third-party cookie data is what drives targeted paid advertising on platforms like Google, Facebook and LinkedIn.

What’s changing?

Consumers have been pushing tech providers for increased data privacy since 2020 and Google have now joined Safari and Firefox in implementing anti-tracking policies. From the end of 2023, Google will no longer use third-party cookies as a means of tracking web users’ behaviour.

Why?

Whilst advertisers adore cookies, for the consumer they leave a bitter taste. In the era of GDPR when we believe our data is protected, the thought of our browsing history being available to unknown entities is not acceptable to many.

Let’s remember that third-party cookies were originally designed to store information anonymously, but they’ve increasingly been used by organisations such as Google and Facebook to amass huge quantities of valuable customer data to help them measure, create and monetize very targeted advertising to individuals.

What will this mean for marketers?

In a recent survey by HubSpot, many marketers expressed concern:

41% believe their biggest challenge will be an inability to track data

44% predict they will need to increase their spending in order to reach the same goals

23% plan on investing in email marketing software instead

If you’re a marketer who has built a marketing strategy on retargeting ads to audiences gathered from third-party data, you’ll now be concerned about how to react and move forward.

What are the alternatives?

Without access to third-party cookies, marketers that use targeted online advertising will need to change their ways of working. Non-owned data is going to be more difficult to find, meaning targeted ads may never be the same again. But don’t despair, there are ways to navigate this new cookie-less climate.

Research the alternative means of collecting data

Google are trying to respect the privacy wishes of consumers with the commercial needs of advertisers, so they are looking at alternatives. As marketers it’s important to keep up to date with these initiatives. The exact details of the ‘Google Privacy Sandbox’ are not yet known, but broadly it aims to protect the privacy of users whilst still tracking some of their activity. It’s likely this will allow paid advertisers access to some data, but with restrictions in place. Watch this space!

Boost your first-party cookie strategy

First-party cookies are here to stay, and they are your ticket to monitoring the behaviour of visitors to your own website. It’s essential that you now make capturing and using your first-party data a priority.

Now is the time to analyse how you are collecting and storing first-party data.

  • Is there any first-party data you are missing?
  • Are you collecting data from all potential capture points? First-party data can be collected from your website, apps, social media platforms, advertising analytics, and the information that aggregates into your CRM.
  • How are you analysing and using the customer data you have available?
  • Check you have data capturing tools in place, such as the Google Tag Manager, which will ensure you are collecting as much first-party data as possible on your own website.

Gain consent

Update your privacy policy to make clear how you use and intend to use first-party data. If you are a website that functions in the EU, be belt and braces and add a consent banner to comply with the GDPR and the ePrivacy Directive.

Find opportunities to grow your first-party data

Although people are becoming more data savvy, they can still be persuaded for the right incentive. Encourage your audience to volunteer information by offering something of value - Engaging content like e-books, research findings. Access to expertise. Discounts on products.

Research the opportunities available through Browser Fingerprinting

Also known as Device Fingerprinting, Browser Fingerprinting is a process through which information about a device is collected via JavaScript code, or more recently via the canvas HTML element (known as ‘canvas fingerprinting’). Information collected in a ‘browser fingerprint’ includes: IP address, time zone, O/S, language, screen size, time/date, browser version and other HTTP data.

Whilst it does not perfectly identify an individual, the collective fingerprint is used (confidently) to assume it is the same person and therefore is be able to operate in the same way as a cookie. And, unlike cookies, fingerprints can’t be blocked or delete by users.

Make sure your ads stand out

If you intend to continue with paid advertising, make sure your content stands out. You’re no longer going to be able to rely on the fact that you are directly targeting a hot audience of people with an existing interest in your proposition. The data collected from the third-party alternatives is going to be a little fuzzier, so your content is going to have to take this change into consideration.

Rediscover the power of email

What has been considered something of a dinosaur is now regaining its value in a cookie-less world. The power of 1:1 communication should be harnessed.

Conclusion

This move to placing greater importance on first-party data may in time be seen as a positive. It will force businesses to prioritise and value their customer data and provide more relevant, personalised experiences. It will also turn the attention on brand building and creating compelling content. If you need to become more reliant on first party data, you need to make your business an attractive proposition that customers want to engage with.

The future may be cookie-less, but it’s still bright!