The End of Third-Party Cookies
Data is essential for effective digital marketing strategies; without it, the job becomes challenging. While Firefox and Safari have blocked tracking cookies by default since 2013, Google's Chrome browser only recently joined the third-party cookie-blocking fray. However, unlike other browsers, the search giant has announced that it will not roll out alternative user-level ad identifiers to replace third-party cookies.
For years, brands have been using cookies and tracking pixels to track website visitors across the interwebs, improve the user experience, and collect data that helps marketers drive conversions by targeting ads to the right audiences. Over time, users found that the use of third-party cookie data wasn't necessarily scrupulous, which led to the passing of several privacy laws.
While companies were quick to respond with cookie-consent opt-in options, browsers such as Safari and Firefox opted to block tracking cookies by default. Now not only has tech giant Google announced they would phase out the third-party cookie on Chrome browsers by 2022, but they will also not roll out alternative user-level tracking identifiers to replace third-party cookies.
You may be asking yourself, why now if users must already opt-in to cookies? One reason may be that consumer trust is at an all-time low. Pew Research Center found that 72% of people feel that almost all of what they do online is tracked by companies, and 81% say that the potential risks they face because of data collection outweigh the benefits.
In regards to their plans, Googled shared, "We don't believe these solutions will meet rising consumer expectations for privacy, nor will they stand up to rapidly evolving regulatory restrictions, and therefore aren't a sustainable long term investment. Instead, our web products will be powered by privacy-preserving APIs which prevent individual tracking while still delivering results for advertisers and publishers."
What does this mean for you and other marketers?
While change is coming, marketing as we know it will survive without third-party cookies, and solutions are already in the oven.
First-Party Cookies Remain
First-party cookies are not in danger. Websites employ first-party cookies to collect information about users who have chosen to interact with them. First-party cookies are essential to a convenient web experience as they allow us to navigate back to previously visited websites without restarting our entire interaction. This form of tracking is useful for web users when shopping online or purchasing tickets to an upcoming show. A privacy issue came into play when third parties began to track users across the interwebs without ever initiating an interaction with the unknown party.
Rapidly Changing Politics
This change aligns with recent legislation passed throughout the world, such as the European Union's GDPR ruling. If your website only catered to local or domestic users outside of the affected countries, you are likely not significantly impacted. However, international websites took a major reporting hit as numbers from Google Analytics -- which relies on cookies -- started to appear inaccurately low.
Between the browsers removing support and GDPR-style rulings that impacted data tracking, it's become apparent to marketers that the third-party cookie was at risk of governance or other tech company changeups that could render it obsolete. Therefore, this move away from third-party tracking does not surprise us, and we can expect the market to develop more sophisticated first-party tracking tools.
First-Party Tracking and Revitalizing Older Strategies
While emerging options might be different from your third-party cookie solutions or require some new strategizing, they would still allow you to target and learn about relevant audiences without getting intrusive. Marketers should take this change as the push needed to understand your first-party data truly. By better understanding their customers and how they interact with their brand, marketers can design unique experiences tailored by website behavior, customer surveys, purchase history, location, and more.
Marketers may also consider revisiting older strategies such as contextual advertising. Contextual advertising differs from ads that use third-party cookies because instead of targeting people who fit a specific user profile, contextual ads target people by matching keywords. While contextual advertising requires marketers to devote their attention back to SEO and keyword efforts for their online presence and advertising, customers are less likely to feel targeted by the marketer's brand than if it were to follow them around online.
While the demise of third-party cookies is here, marketers who assess their situation now will be positioned for success as a first-party data future is a reality. The death of third-party cookies doesn't have to be a reason for despair. Marketers' concern needs to be turned into planning and concrete actions.