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Is it all doom and gloom with the looming cookie death?

You might have heard how Apple’s operating system is limiting companies’ abilities to track people around the web, most notably Facebook. This is how its Safari browser blocks tracking cookies. Firefox is also blocking these by default and Google’s Chrome browser will do too in 2022.

The questions on all our minds as marketers and advertisers are what can we do without third-party cookies? And what does this mean for everyday users? Will it break digital campaigns that rely on audience targeting? Does this mean the end of retargeting ads? Wait why did the term third-party cookies sneak in here?

What are cookies?

A cookie is a tiny data file stored in your browser as you surf the web. It keeps track of your browsing activities, such as which website pages you viewed. They can also help pre-fill some form fields (e.g. name, email, etc).

Cookies make browsing the internet convenient: A website that remembers where you left off, your language preferences, or products added to your shopping cart is helpful. Imagine how cumbersome it would be without these kinds of cookies. You’ll have to manually enter your login details each and every time you visit a website or if you accidentally close the tab, re-add items to the cart.

But it’s not these kinds of cookies that are phased out. It’s the third-party cookies.

First and third-party cookies

First-party cookies are used to remember your login details, website preferences, products added to your shopping cart, or pre-populate some form fields. They’re created and stored by the website you’re currently visiting to provide a good user experience and to allow the website owner to collect analytics data. So, it’s up to the website owner to decide what information to collect and store.

The main downside to first-party cookies is that they can only be read when a user visits the site. This is the reason why they’re not useful for advertising or retargeting on other websites.

Third-party cookies are also a small piece of data stored in your browser. But they’re not created by and not stored by the website you currently visit. They also keep track of your browsing activities and your behaviour.

They’re used by a third party which also explains the name. Their purposes are for advertising, retargeting, analytics, tracking, and adding additional functionality such as live chat. They’re placed on a website through a script or tag.

Third-party cookies can track users across many websites and collect long-term browsing history. Suppose you’re viewing a pair of boots on Amazon. Now, a third-part cookie keeps track of what you’ve viewed, what products you clicked or added to your shopping cart.

This way, what you’ve viewed on Amazon follows you around on the web. That’s what’s called retargeting or remarketing. Amazon is not the only company using them. You’ll not be surprised to know that many social media sites and search engines as well as publishers use them.

Of second-party cookies you don’t hear much, because they’re not considered cookies. Cookies are either first or third-party cookies. That is they’re either stored by the website you’re visiting or by another domain, third-party.

How do browsers treat cookies?

Considering the business models behind each browser, they all have different goals. This can be seen with first-party cookies. Even though they’re supported, some limit their lifespan.

Firefox and Safari are blocking third-party cookies. But considering that Apple sells products, it can adapt the position for privacy and against tracking.

Google’s business model relies on collecting data about consumers. So Google Chrome’s goal is to block third-party cookies without impairing its advertising business.

Don’t forget that

  • users can block or delete first-party cookies
  • they can install browser plugins and ad blockers such as Ghostery
  • when they surf in incognito mode, browsers don’t load third-party cookies

Cookies are messy or why third party cookies are problematic

Instead of the dreaded fear of loss, why not justify its loss by saying it wasn’t that great anyway?

Ok, ok, with third-party cookies, brands could create user profiles based on their online behaviour and activities. But that’s problematic in many ways.

The third-party cookies are often set by brands the user has never heard of. The actual data collection process is not known, shady. Moreover, these cookies then need to be synced with cookies data of the various data management platforms so they know when they’re dealing with the same user. This process is not as precise as you may think.

Cookies are not person-specific. If you’re sharing a device or allowing your children to play on your laptop or phone, the next thing you know, you’re bombarded with Fortnite or Minecraft messaging. Cookies are device-specific which means that as a marketer, you may paying for impressions that are not even seen by the target audience.

Also, do you use only one device only? Is it not so that you use multiple devices interchangeably during the day? Third-party cookies can’t hop over from one device to another. This means, the user journey is not fully tracked and conversions may not be correctly attributed.

All of these mean that you may very well be wasting your ad budget or missing opportunity.

What does it mean for digital marketing?

Third-party cookies provide live chat and social media buttons, but their main task is tracking used for remarketing. This means that behavioural targeting with remarketing campaigns as the core of your marketing strategies needs to be evolved, since it’ll play a smaller role when third-party cookies are scrapped.

It’s not all doom and gloom. First party cookies are still safe and going to be more valuable than ever. You can see what a user did while visiting your website, see how often they visit it. In short, it gives you basic analytics that can help you develop your marketing strategy. The downside is that you’re flying blind regarding their activities on other websites.

If you’re using Google products such as Google Analytics and Google Ads, you can still make use of behavioural tracking cookies within the universe of Google products. Even if Google is scrapping cross-site tracking and targeting across the open web when Chrome blocks third-party cookies, advertisers can still target ads on non-Google sites through Google.

You can still target ads on Google assets such as on the search engine results page or YouTube, using your first-party data, or when someone is logged into their Google account. Feel free to reach out to me if you want to know more.

Ready to future-proof your digital marketing?

The death of the third-party cookie might be sharing up digital marketing, but it really isn’t a surprise in the wake of all the new regulations for privacy (GDPR) or the latest iOS update.

Connect with me if you need expert advice and guidance in your digital marketing during the transition.

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