Third-Party Cookies Are Disappearing: What Does That Mean For You?

You might have seen “third-party cookies” in the news recently, and that things are changing with how you can target online advertising. Here's the low-down on what's happening.

You might have seen “third-party cookies” in the news recently. That the majority of internet browsers will no longer support them. That Apple is limiting how apps can track user data on iOS devices. And that this will all change how advertisers target their digital marketing, and probably for the worse.  

Maybe that news made you nervous. Maybe it made you confused. Or maybe all this talk of cookies just made you hungry for Oreos.

Don’t worry: today we’re here to calm that nervousness, reduce the confusion and set you up for success. (Sorry, not much we can do about the Oreos.)

Here’s everything you need to know about what’s happening with third-party cookies.

what are cookies

Hold up: what are third-party cookies?

Third-party cookies are some of the most helpful tools in an online marketer’s arsenal. Like their first-party cousins, they’re small files of information that a website places on a visitor’s computer to help the website remember that visitor’s needs and preferences.

First-Party Cookies

First-party cookies are there to improve your user experience on a specific website. They’re created by that website so it can recall things like your settings and login information. The kind of stuff that makes your interaction with a website better and easier.

Third-Party Cookies

Third-party cookies are created by a website separate to the one you’re currently on—hence “third-party”. They’re used mostly for advertising. Information about your browsing is sent to the third-party that created the cookie, which helps them understand what you’re interested in, and what ads might be most effective for you.

Chocolate Chip Cookies

Chocolate chip cookies are delicious. Unfortunately, they have very little to do with digital marketing. The most relevance we can add on these is that just like a good chocolate chip cookie, your digital marketing should be full of tasty little treasures.

So what's the problem with third-party cookies?

In theory, third-party cookies are great!

  • As an internet user, you receive advertising that’s relevant and interesting to you. That improves your online experience.
  • As a marketer, you can put your message in front of the people that are most likely to respond. That improves your business.

Unfortunately, third-party cookies don’t always live up to their promise. And with greater awareness of how private information is often (mis)used, many people now see third-party cookies as invasive, rather than helpful. Those people expect their privacy to be taken more seriously by the companies to whom they’ve entrusted their data. And some of those companies are responding.

Third-party cookies are now blocked in both Firefox and Safari. Google is phasing them out in Chrome by the end of 2022. And as Chrome is the browser of choice for two-thirds of internet users, that one will have a big impact.

Apple is also throwing down the gauntlet with its upcoming iOS 14.5 update. This will alert you when apps are tracking you across other apps and websites, and require you to opt-in. Facebook has said it’s not a big fan of that development.

So what does that mean for us as marketers and advertisers?

The removal of tracking will likely result in less effective, less tailored advertising.

To illustrate, let’s take an example of how things have worked up until now.

A man happy about his snorkel, or his computer

How things work now...

You’re browsing a website about snorkeling. A third-party cookie on that website will report back to an advertising provider (such as Facebook) that you’ve shown an interest in snorkeling. And when you’re later browsing Facebook, you might see an ad for snorkeling equipment as a result.

Good for you (relevant online experience), good for the advertiser (the right potential customer).

A man sad about his snorkel, or his computer

... and how they'll work soon

Facebook won’t know that you visited that website. It won’t know that you might have an interest in snorkeling. And as advertisers, we won’t have that information available to us to target our advertising.

That’s likely to reduce conversion rates, as ads won’t be in front of the people most likely to convert. And it will mean that ads end up feeling less relevant to users.

But it’s not the end of digital marketing as we know it

Google and Facebook can still use the data users have shared with them

Both Google and Facebook know a lot about their users based solely on how those users interact with their websites.

For example, Google Search Ads can still use all the information taken from your interactions with Google. It’s the same with Facebook. If you’ve liked a Facebook page about snorkeling, an advertiser can reach you with a snorkeling-related ad on Facebook.

There are also other solutions in development, and ways you can leverage your own knowledge of your audiences.

Google’s Federated Learning of Cohorts (FLoC)

FLoC works in a similar way to current third-party cookie tracking, but without the same privacy concerns.

It gathers information about your browsing habits and then clusters you into a group with similar interests—a cohort. Information about those cohorts is then available for advertising purposes. So with that, you’d target cohorts, rather than individuals. As a user, you might not see an ad for a specific product you saw on another website. But you might see an ad for that general type of product.

Apple Webkit’s Private Click Measurement

Apple doesn’t provide a solution for targeting users, but it has proposed a way of measuring ad click attribution. This helps you know if a purchase on your website was the result of the user clicking on an ad.

Facebook’s Aggregate Event Measurement

Facebook’s solution for the iOS 14.5 development is Aggregate Event Management. It’s a new way of Facebook Pixel set-up and tracking, which is somewhat more limited than the current arrangement. Facebook says it’s “analogous to Apple’s Private Click Measurement, but is designed to solve for key advertiser use cases not addressed by Apple’s proposal”. Like we said, Facebook isn’t a fan of what Apple’s doing.

Using your own first-party data

First-party cookies are not affected by these changes. You could still, for example, use those cookies to display offers and information to specific users on your website. Those would be guided by the users’ interactions with your website, and any information they supply you directly (through forms, for example).

But this only works if users are already on your website. It’s not a way to draw them in.

For that, consider how you can use your email database, for example. Maybe it’s time to start up that email newsletter. Or you could use those email addresses to target advertising on Facebook. (Make sure you’ve got the right permission to use those emails for marketing purposes.)

What’s next for marketing in the absence of third-party cookies?

We can see there are plenty of options still available to marketers. However, just how well they’ll all work is a case of “wait and see.” We’ll know a lot more when iOS 14.5 is introduced, and when Chrome fully phases-out third-party cookies.

Sharpen your digital marketing with us

In the meantime, if you’d like to manage and target your digital advertising more effectively, that’s where we can help. Get in touch with us and we can set our digital marketing team to work exploring the best options for you.

Talk with us about your digital marketing

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