No more third-party cookies. What’s next?

The digital world has been rocked by the news that Google plans to completely phase out support for third-party cookies in Google Chrome.

Pranita Tamang
4 MIN|July 3, 2020
Illustration meeting giant cookie on whiteboard

The digital world has been rocked by the news that Google plans to completely phase out support for third-party cookies in Chrome, its web browser. Why has Google made this decision? When do they want to have finished phasing out third-party cookies? What does that mean for internet users, businesses, and digital marketing?

In this blog, we’ll explore how the changes will affect everyone, as well as the steps businesses can start taking in order to make the transition. But first things first. Some of you may be wondering, “What is a third-party cookie, anyway?” Let’s cover that quickly.

What are third party cookies?

Cookies record your individual preferences for the websites you visit. They’re used to identify individual users and give them a personalised browsing experience – the website ‘remembers’ who you are, so what you see is tailored to you.

  • First-party cookies are created and stored by the website you’re visiting at the time – a first party. They’re used by them when you visit to collect analytics data, remember preferences such as your language settings, and generally ensure that your user experience is smooth and personalised.
  • Third-party cookies are created by sites other than the ones you’re visiting – third parties. They’re commonly used to track users across multiple sites, and for retargeting and serving ads to them. If you’ve ever felt like you’ve been “followed around the internet” by an ad or product which appears time and time again wherever you go, it’s likely you’re seeing third-party cookies in action.

Internet privacy issues

Being tracked around the web using third-party cookies and served targeted ads is an experience many find pretty spooky, and one that some find downright creepy. These sentiments are part of a wider backlash that’s taken place recently, critical of businesses seen to be compromising internet users’ privacy for commercial purposes. Tech ethics in general is a huge talking point right now, from data protection discussions around legislation like the GDPR to responsible deployment of AI.

Google is one of many companies making efforts to be on ‘the right side’ of Internet privacy. Back in August 2019, they announced their plan to develop a set of open standards to enhance privacy on the web: the Privacy Sandbox. The ultimate goal is for someday all a person’s browsing data to be stored in this ‘sandbox’, on the user’s device, instead of in cookies. And this data will also be anonymised for privacy compliance.

Phasing out third-party cookies is the next step toward that goal. The likes of Firefox and Safari have already phased them out, but Google is taking a more drawn-out approach, over a period of two years, to ensure that online advertisers can make the transition successfully. As of March 2020, the Google Chrome browser accounted for around 63% of the global market share for internet browsers. That’s why, although others have already blocked third-party cookies, this is the definitive event that truly sounds their death knell.

But what does all this mean for you, in the here and now?

Major consequences for pay-per-click (PPC) advertising

These developments are sure to impact the world of paid media advertising very significantly. That’s because PPC ads rely heavily on using third-party cookies, and data gathered using them, to find, identify and target marketing prospects all over the web.

However, all is not lost. Even without third-party cookies, there are still ways to achieve highly targeted and effective marketing.

What are the alternatives?

  • Targeted ads in social media. You can launch targeted ad or promoted posts in social media. You can target audiences in terms of their industries, demographics, and similarities with your own followers.
  • Contact list retargeting. Retarget prospects on your contact lists on platforms including LinkedIn. Your contact list is cross-referenced with their member list, so you can serve ads to leads you’ve already identified.
  • Make the most of first-party cookies. You can still use first-party cookies on your site to obtain valuable user data. This can be used to refine your personas, create campaigns and improve your marketing.
  • Ramp up email and content marketing. Use existing and new data gathered via first party cookies, social media insights and more to make content marketing and email marketing really hit the mark.

A web without third-party cookies

Although the death of third-party cookies may pose some initial problems as businesses and markers phase them out and adopt other forms of marketing, in the long run it’s a necessary step toward fostering greater trust.

It’s also an opportunity for businesses to differentiate themselves from the competition. The more other businesses and consumers trust that your data protection practices are above board, the more comfortable they’ll feel sharing their own data and giving you their custom. As with most tech ethics issues, the winners in the world after third-party cookies will be those who turn data protection into a point of pride, not a thorn in their side.

Want to discuss how you can make the most of your marketing without third-party cookies? Get in touch with the team at Fifty Five and Five today.