It’s finally happening. By 2023, Google will completely phase out third-party cookies from its Chrome browser. These little snippets of data track and save behavioral information like browsing history, purchasing trends, and activity on a website.
You may be surprised to learn that Safari and Firefox already phased out third-party cookies nearly a decade ago – so why is everyone freaking out about the change to Chrome? Probably because Google Chrome accounts for more than 60% of all global web traffic, making it the biggest of the three juggernauts to take this step. Also because Chrome is handling their third-party cookie phased out a little differently – but we’ll get to that later.
While as a consumer the idea of enhanced online privacy is exhilarating, from the marketing perspective, it can be anxiety-inducing. What do these changes mean for marketing personalization? How can marketers shift their strategies to meet the moment?
Third-Party vs. First-Party Cookies
Before we answer some frequently asked questions on this topic, we must first establish a shared understanding of what we’re talking about. These changes are set to affect third-party cookies only—not first-party cookies. But, what’s the difference? Here’s a helpful breakdown:
| ||First-Party Cookies||Third-Party Cookies|
|Where do they originate?||On the website a user navigates to when they open their web browser||From a third-party website the user visited|
|Who sets the cookies?||The publisher of the website you’re visiting||Ad servers, social media sites, live-chats, etc. |
|What is their purpose?||They enhance the user experience by saving personalized information like logins, preferences, and shopping cart items||They track behaviors across websites to inform advertising and retarget prospective customers |
FAQ’s About Chrome’s Third-Party Cookie Phase-Out
What do marketers need to know about this third-party cookie phase out? We’ve compiled some of the most frequently asked questions below.
Q: Will this affect first-party cookies?
A: As mentioned above, this change only affects third-party cookies. Domain providers will still be able to use first-party cookies on their websites.
Q: Will we have to pay or “sign in” to visit websites now?
A: Presently, some websites require users to login or pay to access their content, thereby identifying themselves. Some have expressed concern that this shift away from third-party cookies could signal the end of an open internet. While a few marketers may opt for a gated approach, the end to an open internet is not a realistic concern. Marketers will simply be forced to reimagine personalization throughout the customer journey. Tactics like the ones we list in the next section will help them do that.
A: Safari and Firefox still support third-party cookies, but users must opt-in via their browser settings to receive them. Chrome is phasing out third-party cookies completely. Firefox and Safari also still let third parties access the user agent which provides key (but anonymous) attributes they can use to create relevant marketing messaging. Chrome began limiting user agent access in April of 2020.
Q: Will Google Analytics still work without these cookies?
A: Yes, but in a new way. Google will shift its analytics approach to advanced machine learning models that identify conversions as a percentage of people who trigger an event instead of identifying them by the percentage of people who visit a webpage. The models were designed to be inherently privacy-centric and will learn from trends, regardless of cookies. One benefit Google is touting for its new Analytics tool is the ability to measure web and app analytics together to understand the combined impact of marketing efforts.
Q: How does Google propose advertisers target and measure campaigns now?
A: Google is developing something called the “Google Privacy Sandbox” to replace third-party cookies. The sandbox will act as a secure environment where advertisers can access anonymous user data to target and measure campaigns. User-level information will be stored and processed on the user’s device. Then, companies will request an API call to the Sandbox to gain personalization and measurement data that omits that user-level information. Through this approach, they create anonymity and protect privacy for the user.
Revised Marketing Strategies for a Cookie-Less World
So, where do we go from here? How can marketers adapt without third-party cookies? Here are a few ideas:
- Use contextual advertising: Contextual advertising uses algorithms based on keywords and metadata to place ads on relevant websites. For example, a water bottle advertised on an article about triathlons.
- Convert to the new Google Analytics: You can upgrade to Google’s new analytics now to start learning its features and utilizing its comprehensive tracking. Google explains how in this support article.
- Try IP-based personalization: The inability to gain user-specific data doesn’t mean an end to personalization. Targeting ads based on IP addresses can still uncover intent data. Geo-targeting will allow you to tailor content to a specific area, like a conference center or the headquarters of a particular company.
- Maximize your first-party data: Data captured via forms is just the beginning. Surveys, mobile and SMS communications, focus groups, social media polls, website analytics, webinar metrics, and emails can all help you build more accurate customer profiles.
- Use AI-based bidding: Google’s Smart Bidding feature bases bid strategies on optimizing conversions. It makes decisions based on signals like location, time of day, language, operating system, and more to help you get the most reliable results as you auction for ad placement.
Remember when GDPR terrified us all? Everything worked out just fine! Marketing and advertising are always changing, and the removal of third-party cookies is just another logical evolution that marketing professionals must adapt to. Instead of stressing about these changes, use the moment to evolve your marketing practices adjust to the new normal. You got this.