March 06 2024

The Death of Third-Party Cookies: What it Means for Your Marketing

death of third party cookiesWebsites have been using cookies to track user activity and support online experiences for almost three decades. While some cookies assist users, for a long time now, privacy issues around how third-party cookies collect information have been a growing concern for website users and legislators. As a result, the end of third-party cookies is on the horizon. What do you need to know and how will this impact your marketing efforts? We’ll get you up to speed in this article.

Types of Cookies

First, it’s important to understand the purposes of two types of cookies: first-party cookies and third-party cookies. In general, first-party cookies are focused on good user experience while the goal of third-party cookies is to sell you something. Here’s how each works:

  • First-party cookies are a website user’s friend. Acting as a hospitable host, first party cookies remember a user’s behavior and preferences like saving login information, noting language settings and remembering items stored in a wish list or cart. The information collected by these cookies is stored directly by a website you visit, and because of their function, data privacy laws typically consider them to be “essential cookies”.
  • Third-party cookies are more like a stalker following you around as you go about your day. These cookies are not from the website owner but are baked up by a third-party which is usually an advertising company. These cookies follow you across different websites to see what you’re interested in and what you might buy so they can show you ads and try to make a sale.

Third-Party Cookies Get Stale

This constant barrage of advertising from third-party cookies has been viewed by website users and governments as not only an annoyance, but an invasion of privacy and efforts have been made to put a lid on the cookie jar. In the last several years, browsers like Safari and Firefox introduced features to limit the lifespan of certain cookies and set blocks in place. Finally, Chrome, the browser used by 63.6% of internet users worldwide, announced in 2020 that they are preparing to shut off cookies for good. In January of 2024, Chrome moved into the first phase of their plan by turning off third-party cookies for over 30 million people across the web and will complete their rollout later in the year. What will that do to your marketing plans?

What Tossing the Cookies Really Means

For one thing, the rollout from Chrome doesn’t mean the end of all cookie activity. Companies can still leverage information collected from their website visitors by first-party cookies on demographics, purchase history and other valuable data points to learn about the habits of their audience. But ending the use of third-party cookies will have a big impact on the traditional strategies used for digital advertising.

Remarketing, for example, relies heavily on cookie data to display personalized ads. So, alternative methods will be needed to help advertisers target their audiences once third-party cookies are no more. As a result, Google has been developing new technologies to bridge the gap. Advertisers will have to quickly adapt to these new AI powered tools to keep their marketing efforts on track.

Google’s Privacy Sandbox was designed to create new web standards that keep user information private while also aiding businesses in targeting their advertising. It employs an AI-based algorithm that works within a user’s browser to categorize audiences into broad interest groups called Topics that can be used for targeting. With the Topics API, the sites you’ve visited will no longer be shared across the web but rather “The browser will infer a handful of recognizable, interest-based categories based on recent browsing history to help sites serve relevant ads.” To avoid long-term storage and keep figures fresh and relevant, the browser deletes user data after three weeks.

How Popular Web Services are Affected

Some of the most popular digital marketing platforms have relied on cookies for years to track website visitor behaviors. Importantly, Google Analytics tracking will not be affected as GA4 uses first-party cookies to record session activity. The Meta Pixel used by Facebook for audience creation and conversion tracking had previously functioned via third-party cookies but has been transitioning to use first-party cookies instead. Hubspot and Hotjar also use first-party cookies to track users and campaign activity and will not be affected.
Digital advertising platforms have relied for years on behavioral audiences generated by browsing behaviors tracked by third-party cookies. These same advertising platforms are now becoming more reliant on first-party data, such as uploaded CRM data, or audiences built from contextual signals and device IDs. If you’re unsure whether the platforms you use will be affected you should reach out to those vendors to confirm whether or not they use third-party cookies.

Less Cookies Isn’t as Bad as it Sounds

The demise of third-party cookies may initially sound like a negative for marketers, but it will actually open the doors to better ad targeting opportunities. Ads served up as a result of third-party cookie data aren’t always in line with what a person really wants to buy and often wastes advertising dollars. However, the move to these new AI-driven tools and technologies promises greater insights into customer activities that will assist advertisers in matching up ads to key audiences with greater precision.

To make sure your marketing efforts are on point through these changes, reach out to ZAG Interactive today.

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posted by
Robin Nerkowski
Robin Nerkowski
Digital Strategist

ZAG Interactive is a full-service digital agency in Glastonbury, CT, offering website design, development, marketing and digital strategy to clients nationwide. See current job openings.