Though the final sunset date has been pushed back multiple times, Google is phasing out third-party cookies in late 2024. The big questions marketers have been asking since the news was first announced in 2019 are, “what exactly is changing,” and, more importantly, “what do we do about it?”
First, we need to understand cookies from a marketing perspective. Cookies are files created by websites you visit that track what you do online. Used in marketing, advertisers and advertising platforms collect the data and use it to deliver relevant content to specific audiences.
There are two kinds of cookies that we need to worry about with upcoming changes:
Third-party cookies are collected by a business without any direct link to your business or audience. This is normally broader audience data compiled from large audiences.
First-party cookies are data that you/your business has collected directly from your audience, like demographic info, actions taken on your website, social media conversations, customer feedback, and analytics data.
Very simply, Google is going to phase out the use of third-party cookies in all its properties—Ads, Analytics, Chrome, etc.
It’s important to remember that Google isn’t the first company to make website tracking changes that prioritize consumers over businesses. Firefox and Apple’s Safari phased out third-party cookies as far back as 2013. Apple also recently made changes in mobile tracking and security, putting consumers’ privacy before advertisers’ targeting preferences.
Marketers are finally concerned about how the deprecation of cookies affects their strategy because Google, though just now exploring the process to phase out third-party cookies, owns numerous properties including Chrome, the website browser with the largest audience.
Google and other platforms are preparing for third-party cookie deprecation in numerous ways, like finding new and better ways to track audiences while protecting consumer privacy and changing analytics solutions. Universal Analytics (UA), which relies heavily on data from cookies, will be sunset on July 1, 2023, and businesses are being forced to adopt Google Analytics 4’s (GA4) event-based data modeling.
Overall, we expect advertising platforms will continue to prioritize consumer privacy over giving the advertiser more precise data. Privacy issues are here to stay, so, as marketers, we need to adjust our strategies. The sooner we adopt new best practices, the more time we have to strategize and allow our campaigns, lead generation, and sales data to adjust to the changes.
What we know now is that websites will gather consumer data using identifiers other than cookies like IP addresses or device IDs. This audience data will likely be kept by platforms for a shorter amount of time, i.e. 30 days vs. the current 26 months allowed on Google Analytics (UA).
We will see conversion tracking adjusted as businesses will be forced to rely on first-party data. For example, this means there will be limited to no data for view-through conversions (when someone who viewed one of your ads didn’t click it but came to your website sometime later and converted).
We can also expect audience targeting to be updated and many of the current audiences to disappear due to platform tracking changes. Some recent experiments to preserve privacy while providing targeted audiences for advertisers have included shorter tracking times and tracking groups of people with similar characteristics vs. individuals.
How we track people who engage with our ads and visit our website is still evolving. So it’s important to know that there will continue to be shifts in available data and how we target audiences online. Over time we will need to adjust our digital marketing strategies, continue to follow best practices, and see how the experts are running their campaigns.
This might mean using with a Customer Data Platform (CDP) or Customer Relationship Management (CRM) platform. Google Analytics, along with Google Tag Manager, will also continue to provide valuable data for website and conversion tracking.
What lead generation strategies can you put in place? Having consumers fill out a contact form in exchange for something of value is a great way to start them in your sales funnel in a way that provides privacy and security. You might offer a free quote, informational PDF, one-page guide, etc.
This allows you to diversify where website traffic comes from and generate more opportunities to collect first-party data.
Through the process of phasing out cookies, Google will stop generating some audiences, like Similar Audiences, but will also provide new targeting options.
For example, two audience categories you can use in your ads that are created from on-platform usage are Affinity Audiences—targeting consumers based on their long-standing passion, interest, and engagement with specific topics—and In-Market Audiences—targeting those currently in the market for a product or service.
Contextual advertising has been growing in popularity in display and programmatic advertising. With this targeting strategy, ads are placed on webpages based on the content vs. following a targeted user around the internet. I.e. ads for a hospital can show on websites in the health and wellness industry.
Rather than only focusing on retargeting audiences in paid ads by tracking website visitors, which usually relies on cookies, incorporate other methods in your marketing campaigns.
Here are a few ideas:
Remember that digital marketing is evolving as fast as the technology that powers it. The way we run digital campaigns today may not match the strategies we create next year. We’ve been given a long lead time as third-party cookies are phased out, which gives us the opportunity to test new targeted audiences, implement new strategies, and update our digital reporting with new data.
If you’re looking for a team of marketing experts to partner with in this endeavor, the team at Creative Noggin would love to talk to you! We’ve been implementing campaigns for our clients following ethical best practices concerning consumer privacy and simultaneously gathering the data needed to make smart marketing decisions.