How to Cope Without Third-Party Cookies [And the Privacy Issues They Can Cause]
Google is eliminating third-party cookies in 2024. These have been the primary tools marketers used for years to retarget their ads and track their customers’ website traffic. The change is likely in response to the growing public concern regarding cookie privacy issues and data security, as news of data brokers selling user data continues to make headlines.
Many marketers are worried about the change, and perhaps justifiably so. It blows a massive hole in a years-long common marketing practice. But all is not lost; marketers can still accurately target their audience without third-party cookies and better respect their customers’ privacy in the process.
What Is a Cookie?
Cookies are bits of code that can track what a user does online.
First-party cookies 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 and is used to improve the experience of the visitor.
Third-party cookies are a form of tracking used to harvest data without a user knowing. This is done by third parties, like Google. Examples of the data include search history, previous purchases, and even personal information.
Third-party cookies cause privacy issues because this information gets traded or sold to other companies to help businesses create custom ads that target customers more effectively.
Yes. The rise of data brokers (those who sell data captured from third-party cookies) has led many to question the ethics of allowing businesses to track users across the web. It’s clear that consumers want more transparency about how their data is being used.
Because of this, there’s been a surge of privacy laws, such as the EU’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) and similar laws drafted by individual US states that may impact cookie policies.
Why Is Google Getting Rid of Third-Party Cookies?
Google is getting rid of third-party cookies sometime in 2024 because the public demands it. As consumers become more aware of how their private data is being used in advertising, they are demanding more control over who gets to see their data and when—heralding in a new internet privacy era with consent-first ideology.
Google is now promoting its own data privacy model: The Privacy Sandbox. This new product aims to allow websites to access their users’ information without compromising privacy standards or using third-party cookies. Google has gone so far as to create a Consent Mode that enables websites to collect only non-identifying data if users don’t want to have their information used for statistical and marketing purposes.
Why Are Marketers Worried?
It should be no surprise that many marketers are concerned about this new change. This anxiety isn’t necessarily without reason—according to Statista:
- 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 worry about tracking the right data and maintaining the same low audience research costs they’ve had in the past. This may result in many companies losing some sales opportunities in the months following the cookies’ departure.
Google pushed back the end date for eliminating third-party cookies to 2024 so that companies would have more time to change their methods.
Why Those Marketers Are Wrong (or just Misguided)
While the marketer’s panic isn’t without reason, it’s a tad short-sighted. If you’re complaining about the demise of third-party cookies, then you’re not keeping up with the latest news about data privacy laws.
Data privacy and security is an increasingly fickle subject, with the rise of national and state-specific privacy laws putting tools like third-party cookies into question. As these laws 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 and privacy. This has caused many marketers to stop focusing on a strong brand presence and over-emphasize individual outreach instead.
3 Benefits of Ditching Third-Party Cookies
There are other benefits when transitioning away from third-party cookies and the privacy issues they carry.
1. Fewer Legal Worries
Trying to cater to all US and foreign privacy laws can be challenging, but it can be a lot easier when you remove third-party cookies. This is because, in a general sense (keep in mind, we’re digital marketing and SEO experts, not lawyers), these laws respond to concerns about taking personal data without user consent. By switching the focus from third-party cookies to the information customers are already giving you, you’ll be less likely to run into legal trouble down the line.
2. More Privacy for Internet Users
Cookies track a lot of information on anyone who uses them. Search histories, home addresses, bank information, and other personal information can be revealed and sold to virtually anyone who wants it. By eliminating third-party cookies, you respect the privacy of your customers while promoting a pro-consumer stance.
3. More Trust Between Companies and Customers
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 increase trust with your website visitors.
How Will Removing Third-Party Cookies Affect My Current Strategies?
Third-party cookies are primarily used to better identify and communicate with online audiences. This is possible through three strategies: audience targeting, personalization, and ad tracking. Let’s go over how losing cookies will affect each of these strategies.
Personalization Will Be Broader and More Difficult to Achieve
Third-party cookies offer rich insights into a customer’s online behavior. They allow marketers to make hyper-specific personalization decisions regarding 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 high rollers.
Without cookies, automatically customizing your ad approach per internet user will be much more difficult. Instead, personalization will have to come either from the information you already have. Or, personalization must become broader—such as targeting an audience that loves fashion instead of a specific type of clothing or color.
Ad Tracking Will Focus on First-Party Cookies
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.
But that doesn’t mean ad tracking is completely gone. Google will still use tracking, only through first-party information instead. This means you’ll need to foster a better relationship with your customers directly and encourage them to consent to first-party cookies.
Audience Targeting Will Require More Effort
Cookies offer rich insight into the specifics of a customer’s online behavior, allowing 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).
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 strategies to prioritize in anticipation of the end of the third-party cookie—some are tried and true, while others might be new to you:
1. First-Party Data and Cookies
While third-party cookies are on their way out, first-party cookies are here to stay. There’s also nothing stopping you from collecting data about your site visitors (i.e., first-party data).
You can easily gather contact information about your customers with tools and incentives like:
- Promo codes
- Gated content
- Pop-up ads
- Newsletter sign-ups
Remember: For first-party data collection to work, you have to offer something people think is worth giving up their email addresses 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 viable—you can expect 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 they’ll be interested in a particular offer.
3. SEO-Enriched Content
Organic reach is no joke—it currently comprises 53.3% of all web traffic. The best part? It’s free to do (minus the 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. Google will take that to mean your content isn’t worth reading, causing 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, 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 and the ability to adjust your bids at any time, making this a cost-effective way for businesses of any size to 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 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 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. You won’t run into the same ethical dilemma brought by third-party cookie privacy problems.
8. The Privacy Sandbox
Why not try Google’s replacement for third-party cookies? While the Privacy Sandbox is still under development, we can expect to receive data on conversions, attribution, and ad targeting through this new platform, effectively replicating all 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 be implemented in your strategies.
9. Customer-Based Marketing
Finally, 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 listed as a referring customer. Or it could involve sweepstakes, where customers can only enter by tagging a friend in one of your social media posts.
There’s a lot of space for creativity in customer-based marketing—don’t feel limited to our ideas. Leverage and experiment with strategies that encourage customer engagement.
Future-Proof Your Digital Marketing
It’s time to wean yourself off the cookies and the data privacy problems they cause. 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. Make sure to peruse our blog posts to learn about the marketing strategies not covered in this article. Start here:
If you’re very concerned about how the loss of third-party cookies will affect your marketing strategies, talk to one of our experienced strategists today!