Google is getting rid of third-party cookies in 2023. These have been the primary tools marketers used to retarget their ads and track their customers’ website traffic. The change is likely in response to the public growing concern regarding data privacy and security, as news of data brokers with their information continues to plaster news outlets across the country.

Many marketers are freaking out about the change, and perhaps that’s justified. The change blows a massive hole in years-long marketing practice. But not all is lost; marketers can still accurately target their audience without third-party cookies, helping to better respect their customers’ privacy in the process.

Why Is Google Getting Rid of Third-Party Cookies?

Google nixing third-party cookies may primarily be a response to the growing outcry about Google’s handling of their customer’s data privacy. For example, the rise of data brokers, who sell data captured from third-party cookies, has led many to question the ethics of allowing businesses to track users across the web.

This move by Google would be more surprising if they were the first to do it. However, they are actually one of the last major web browsers to block these cookies; Safari and Firefox both started blocking third-party cookies for their users back in 2013.

However, Google is also promoting its own data privacy model: The Privacy Sandbox. This new product’s purpose is to allow websites to access their users’ information without compromising privacy standards or using third-party cookies.

Why Are Marketers Freaking Out?

It should be no surprise that many marketers are freaking out about this new change. This freak-out isn’t necessarily without reason—according to Statistica:

  • 83% of marketers are reliant on third-party cookies
  • Marketers spent $22 billion on third-party audience data in 2021

In the wake of losing those critical cookies, marketers are scrambling to find a suitable replacement. Many marketers are worried about tracking the right data and keeping their audience research costs as low as they’ve been in the past. This may result in many companies losing some sales opportunities in the months following the cookie’s departure.

Why Those Marketers Are Wrong (or just Misguided)

While the marketer freak-out isn’t without reason, it’s a tad short-sighted. Complaining about the demise of third-party cookies most likely means you’re not keeping up with the latest news about data privacy laws.

Data privacy and security is an increasingly fickle thing, with the rise of national and state-specific privacy laws putting tools like third-party cookies into question. As these laws continue to evolve, they will likely make third-party data trading an illicit activity. 

Simply put: it’s in everyone’s best legal interest to let third-party cookies remain a marketing tool of the past.

Additionally, there was always some moral grayness surrounding the use of third-party cookies. Marketers never really needed to know who exactly was buying their products at what time, but it was convenient to do so. It’s moved many marketers away from losing focus on a strong brand presence and over-emphasizing individual outreach.

Benefits of Ditching Third-Party Cookies

Aside from the legal implications, there are other benefits to gain from transitioning away from third-party cookies:

  • More privacy for internet users: Cookies track a lot of information on everyone who uses them. Search histories, home addresses, bank information, and other personal information can be revealed and sold to virtually anyone who wants it. Cookies going away lets you respect the privacy of your customers (and even promotes your own privacy).
  • More trust between companies and customers: The data third-party cookies track is no secret. The number of people who choose “accept all cookies” has decreased over time, likely due to the increased understanding of what accepting all cookies really means. So, by abandoning the practice altogether, you can improve trust with visitors to your website.

How Will Removing Third-Party Cookies Affect My Current Strategies?

Third-party cookies were primarily used to better identify and communicate with online audiences. This was possible through three strategies: audience targeting, personalization, and ad tracking. Let’s go over how losing cookies will affect each of these strategies.

Audience Targeting

Cookies offer rich insight into the specifics of a customer’s online behavior, which allows you to target them with incredible accuracy. Cross-site tracking cookies also let you follow customers wherever they are on the web, letting you show your ads wherever they are.

This kind of passive targeting will all but vanish when third-party cookies are blocked. That means you’ll have to put in a bit more effort to target your audience through first-party data and other methods (more on that later).

Personalization

Third-party cookies offer rich insight into the specifics of a customer’s online behavior. This lets marketers make hyper-specific personalization decisions to the ads shown to an individual. For example, a car company may show ads for SUV models to people with children and luxury sedan ads to suspected bachelors/bachelorettes. 

Without cookies, it will be much more difficult to automatically customize your ad approach per internet user.

Ad Tracking

Cookies also let you track and measure the performance of your digital ads, showing who clicked on the ad and how many purchases came from those clicks. Getting rid of cookies means you’ll have a much harder time attributing sales success to digital ad placements.

9 Digital Marketing Strategies to Use Instead

You’ll always need strategies that help you find your audience and target them with the right messages. But if you can’t use third-party cookies, what hope is left for optimal audience targeting? Well, as it turns out, a lot of strategies are still applicable. 

Here are nine different strategies to start prioritizing in anticipation of the end of the third-party cookie—some are tried and true, while others might be news to you:

1. First-party Data and Cookies

While third-party cookies are on their way out, first-party cookies are here to stay. These are the cookies that allow websites to remember preferred settings and pertinent information about the visitor, like sign-in credentials, language preferences, etc. This information is stored directly on the website, so there are no nefarious backdoor deals happening with user data—these are strict to improve the user experience of the visitor.

There is also nothing stopping you from collecting data about your website’s visitors (first-party data). You can easily collect contact information about your customers with tools and incentives like:

  • Promo codes
  • Gated content
  • Pop-up ads
  • Newsletter sign-ups

Remember: you have to make something that people think is worth giving up their email for. Our next tip discusses how to be respectful once you reach that inbox. 

2. Email Marketing

Some readers may see email marketing as a dying strategy—with today’s spam folders, what are the chances your customers will ever see those emails you worked so hard on?

Statistics suggest email marketing is still pretty viable—you can expect to see an average ROI of $36 for every dollar spent on email marketing. Why? Because customers who willingly offer their email addresses are much more likely to engage with an offering from your business.

A proper email marketing strategy should be a good mix of product and content offerings. And with today’s email marketing and automation strategies, you can create segmented email lists that can separate your audience by the likelihood that they’re interested in a particular offer.

3. SEO-Enriched Content

Organic reach is no joke—it currently comprises 53.3% of all web traffic. And the best part? It’s free to do (minus the man-hours required to craft exceptional content).

The simplest way to approach organic-ranking content is through SEO best practices. That means:

  • Targeting specific keywords and phrases
  • Organizing your content to be highly scannable by web crawlers
  • Using metadata
  • Creating content that has a genuinely unique value to readers

That last point is perhaps the most important. It’s relatively easy to put keywords in the right place, but making unique and meaningful content is much more difficult. If it’s not valuable, your bounce rates will skyrocket and Google will take that to mean your content isn’t worth reading, which leads your rankings to plummet.

To make your content more valuable, think about what unique perspectives you can offer to a common problem or a trending topic. If that perspective is interesting and understated, you’ve found the sweet spot.

4. Paid Ads

Paid ads on Google and social media platforms let you set specific targeting data to get your marketing messages to the right audiences. 

While this won’t be quite as targeted as your third-party cookie-powered strategies, it can still be incredibly effective. You’ll have access to Google’s billions of users with the ability to adjust your bids at any time. The result is a cost-effective way businesses of any size can promote their messages.

5. Contextual Advertising

Contextual advertising is the process of using the web page’s content to determine which ad you should promote. This algorithm uses clues like keywords and topics to pinpoint suggested ads. You can then use these algorithms to find web pages that are best suited for your products.

For example, if you’re a water bottle manufacturer, you might target web pages related to being environmentally conscious. While this method is relatively limited in its targeting capabilities, it does allow your brand to follow niche audiences around the web.

6. Social Media Monitoring

Who follows you on social media? Who engages with your content the most? Most social media platforms have built-in insight trackers that give you rich data regarding your audience’s age, gender identity, and other basic demographic information. You can compile this data to create audience profiles that rival some third-party data sources.

7. Identity Solutions

Identity solutions leverage personal data like phone numbers, email addresses, and login ideas to track users across the web. These data points are often permanent user identifiers, meaning they are indefinitely valid for targeting individuals across the web.

Of course, it’s a little more complicated than simply knowing these identifiers. You’ll need to adopt an ID solution that can track these individuals across the web. Some options include LiveRamp and ID5.

These solutions are integrated into your website and customers will have to willingly offer their personal information so you can use it to track their activity, so you won’t run into the same ethical dilemma brought by third-party cookies.

8. The Privacy Sandbox

Why not Google’s replacement for third-party cookies? While the Privacy Sandbox is still under development, we can expect to be able to receive data on conversions, attribution, and ad targeting through this new platform, effectively replicating all of the benefits we enjoyed with third-party cookies.

We’d recommend keeping tabs on Privacy Sandbox to stay updated on when the new technologies will release and how they can implement into your strategies.

9. Customer-based Marketing

Finally, you should consider going old-fashioned and prioritizing customer-based marketing. This is the process of allowing your customers to be advertisers for you, whether that’s through word-of-mouth marketing or a referral program and incentive.

How do you break into this marketing approach? By sweetening the pot. Referral programs work best if there’s a reward for bringing in new customers. This can be as simple as sending a discount code to the email of a person who was listed as a referring customer. Or it could involve sweepstakes, where customers can only enter by tagging a friend in your social media post.

There’s a lot of space for creativity in customer-based marketing—don’t feel limited to our ideas. Leverage and experiment with different strategies that encourage customer engagement.

Future-Proof Your Digital Marketing

It’s time to ween yourself off the cookie. All is not lost when it comes to audience targeting online—you just need to get a little more creative with how you do it. 

These nine proven strategies, and dozens more we haven’t even discussed, will help you maintain your online audience. Start using them today, or find an agency that can help you implement them into your existing strategy.

Jack Greaves