Are We Headed for a Cookieless Internet?

We are heading toward an Internet that does not support third-party cookies, which will impact your digital marketing. Let us share tips on how you can adapt.

If you have been in the digital marketing landscape for any time, you know the push-pull relationship between behavior tracking and privacy. Marketing teams are always looking for ways to build robust user profiles to improve customer relationships. Customers have a reasonable expectation of privacy. This push-pull has been leading us toward a cookieless internet. After several consumer privacy legal victories in the European Union, the death of third-party cookies seems certain.

What does this mean for digital marketers? Traditional methods of tracking and analyzing consumer behaviors will change dramatically. If you’re a digital marketer looking to maintain high levels of engagement as the internet moves away from tracking user behavior with cookies, here are some key strategies you should be aware of for effective digital advertising in a cookieless internet environment.

What are Cookies?

Cookies are small pieces of data stored on a user’s device by websites they visit. This user data plays a key role in advertising strategies and user experience by allowing websites to remember information about users, including login details and preferences. This can create a more personalized browsing experience and serve users more relevant ads. Not all cookies are the same. Here are some basic cookie types you’ll need to know.

Remember, each web browser handles cookies slightly differently, so what you read here may not apply, depending on what specific browser you are using.

First-Party Cookies

First-party cookies are set by the website a user is visiting. These cookies primarily improve the user experience by remembering login information and preferences. They are considered more privacy-friendly since the data is only accessible by the website that sets the cookie.

Third-Party Cookies

Third-party cookies track activity across all websites. Social media platforms are a common example. Platforms like Facebook add tracking cookies to build a more robust user profile. Third-party data is often used to track user behavior across different sites, which allows Facebook to offer highly targeted ads. This programmatic tracking of internet behavior has raised data privacy concerns. Legislative changes like the EU’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), the California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA), and tech company initiatives from Google and Apple are leading to the deprecation of third-party cookies.

Persistent Vs. Session Cookies

Cookies can be further separated into persistent and session cookies. Both first-party and third-party cookies can be persistent or session cookies.

  • Session cookies are temporary. If you are filling out a form and navigate away from the form page to look something up, session cookies can remember what data was already filled out, so you don’t have to start the form over again. This only lasts as long as the browser is open. You can close a tab, and the information is retained, but session cookies are lost once you close the browser.
  • Persistent cookies are much more permanent. They remain on the user’s device for a predefined period or until the user deletes them. Persistent cookies are useful for storing user preferences and login details, providing a consistent session experience. For example, a persistent cookie might remember your language settings or keep track of your browsing history to help you pick up where you left off on return visits.

What Does a “Cookieless Future” Mean?

A cookieless future refers to a digital ecosystem where third-party cookies are no longer used to track user behavior. This shift will impact user tracking, lead generation, retargeting, marketing attribution tracking, and user behavior analysis, challenging marketers to find new ways to understand and engage their audiences.

Events like Google’s announcement to phase out third-party cookies in Chrome by 2024 and Apple’s introduction of privacy features in Safari and iOS have accelerated the transition. The complete transition is expected to take place over the next few years.

Strategies for Cookieless Marketing

While third-party cookies make it easier to reach your target audience and understand their shopping and browsing habits, there are still plenty of ways to stay ahead of the curve with your online advertising as privacy regulations crack down on access to personal data.

Improving First-Party Data Collection

First-party data (i.e., CRM) is becoming increasingly valuable in a cookieless world. This type of data is gathered with user consent across various touchpoints, ensuring compliance with privacy regulations and fostering trust with your audience. Tools like Google Analytics can track page views, click-through rates, time spent on pages, and user navigation paths.

If your business has a mobile app, it can be a rich first-party data source. Analyzing in-app behavior, such as feature usage, time spent, and user flow, provides insights into user preferences and pain points.

Email marketing is also an effective way to gather first-party data while engaging with your audience. You can gain insights into what content resonates with your audience by tracking email open rates, click-through rates, and user responses.

This information helps tailor content and marketing efforts to meet user needs better and enhance customer experience.

In short, invest in a relationship with your audience. Create honest, transparent systems for learning more about the people interested in your products and services.

Strengthening Contextual Advertising

Contextual advertising targets ads based on a webpage’s content rather than user behavior and customer data. This contextual targeting approach ensures that ads are relevant to the context in which they appear, offering a consumer privacy-friendly alternative to behavioral targeting.

Utilizing Alternative Identifiers

Alternative identifiers allow marketers to identify and target different demographics while respecting user privacy. Hashed emails, for example, transform email addresses into anonymized strings of characters, ensuring that personal information remains secure while enabling precise user identification across platforms. Mobile ad IDs, unique identifiers assigned to mobile devices, can track user interactions within apps without infringing on personal data. Unified ID 2.0, an open-source framework, replaces third-party cookies by using encrypted, privacy-compliant identifiers that enhance user transparency and control.

Establishing Incrementality Testing

Incrementality testing measures the true impact of marketing campaigns by comparing the performance of targeted versus non-targeted groups. It involves setting up control groups not exposed to the campaign and comparing their behavior to that of the targeted groups. This method helps identify what would have happened without the campaign, quantifying the incremental lift generated by the marketing activity. This approach helps marketers understand the effectiveness of their strategies without relying on third-party cookies.

Leveraging Google’s Privacy Sandbox

Google’s Privacy Sandbox initiative aims to develop new standards for tracking and targeting users in a privacy-preserving way. This initiative is designed to create a web ecosystem that allows users to enjoy personalized content and ads without compromising their privacy.

One of the key features of the Privacy Sandbox is Federated Learning of Cohorts (FLoC), which groups users into large, anonymized cohorts based on their browsing behavior rather than tracking individual users. This approach allows for continued ad personalization while minimizing the risk of user identification.

In addition to FLoC, the Privacy Sandbox includes other technologies, including the Trust Token API, which helps distinguish between bots and real users without relying on cookies, and the Aggregated Reporting API, which enables the collection of conversion data in a way that protects individual privacy.

Partner with First Media for a Cookieless Future

If your marketing strategy relies heavily on third-party cookies, it’s time for your team to experiment with new tools. At First Media, we can help your brand thrive as the market transitions to a cookieless future. We already have well-developed, well-understood audiences. We already have first-party data systems in place and are ready to help you use that data to find innovative solutions. We can help you reach your audience at every stage of the marketing funnel with digital creative and performance marketing solutions. Learn more about how we work today!