For years, advertisers have used cookies to track website visitors, improve user experience and collect data to help them target ads to the right audiences.
A huge proportion of the ads we see on the web are driven by third-party cookies, which are part of an infrastructure that tracks and trades on our data and even our identity.
But within the next two years, the journeys of internet users will no longer be tracked on Google Chrome by third-party browser cookies.
Some see this as a positive step forward for consumer privacy, others see it as a selfish act on Google’s part. Is it meant to improve privacy for the end-user, or to force the adoption of Chrome’s own first-party cookie?
Whatever Google’s reasons, it means an online world with significantly less measurement and targeting.
What are cookies?
First-party cookies are created by the host domain a user is visiting. They help provide a better user experience and keep the session open. Data management programmes collect first-party data across all of a brand or publisher’s touchpoints and provide tools to make sense of those signals. The browser is then able to remember key pieces of information, such as which items you add to shopping carts, your username and passwords, and language preferences.
Their limitation is that they can be read only when the user is visiting the domain of the website/publisher, making them useless for advertising purposes (e.g. retargeting) on other websites. That’s where third-party cookies come in.
Third-party cookies, on the other hand, are created by domains other than the one the user is visiting at the time, and are mainly used for tracking and online-advertising purposes. (They also allow website owners to provide certain services, such as live chats.)
Advertisers work with a partner who drops a cookie on your browser when you first visit their product page. That cookie can then send you an ad when you visit other websites. Most advertising campaigns currently rely on third-party cookies to help them decide who sees their ads, and how often.
Much of this data originates from offline or cross-channel data sources – not the seller nor the buyer in a media transaction. Once collected or licensed, this data can then be associated with hashed email addresses, cookie IDs, mobile app IDs, and OTT IDs.
But without third-party cookies, all of this cross-site tracking, retargeting and ad serving will be absent.
So what will happen next?
Without third party data, if advertisers want to target and learn about relevant audiences, they need to come up with strategies or software that helps them track data in a way that makes the most of first-party cookies. They also have to work with data partners who can tell them more about customer demographics, affinities, viewing behaviour, purchasing history and so on.
Also, with marketers, advertisers, and data engineers all actively looking for solutions, it makes sense to stay up-to-date with the latest third-party cookie and data privacy developments. Maybe even to revitalize older strategies, like contextual ads. While third-party data allowed you to place ads directly in front of people who matched certain user profiles, contextual advertising allows you to circulate PPC ads on websites that rank for similar keywords as your ad.
Third-party cookies were never really meant to do as much work or contain and share as much information as they do. Figuring out how to work without them is going to take some doing.