Revising the Recipe: Online Marketing in a Cookie-less World

The cookie is dead. Long live the cookie! 

The cookie has been the king of all things data in marketing for the past 20+ years. And while the reign has been long and profitable (for brands, at least), it’s quickly coming to an end. After both Apple and Mozilla announced they were discontinuing the use of third-party cookies in their web browsers, Google is said to be following suit with Chrome by 2022 meaning that 86.89% of all internet traffic will be take place in a cookie-less environment. In fact, even the new Google Analytics 4 platform has been developed with this issue in mind. While this will surely change the online ad game as we know it, there’s no reason to panic. Here’s why: 

  

Third-party cookies vs. First-party cookies 

 Let’s start from scratch: What exactly are cookies? Simply put, cookies are little pieces of code that help websites identify users and track their journeys across online properties. Cookies have been the recipe of success for many advertisers since the inception of the modern internet because they aggregate tons of information about users—from how long they interact with pages to where they live and other demographic details.  

  

The main difference between third- and first-party cookies is that the former are created by a domain other than the one you’re visiting (hence the name, third-party), while the latter are stored in the domain you’re visiting. Third-party cookies are mostly used for saving users’ preferences such as language, geography, etc. 

 

Moving toward a tasteful cookie-less world 

While we don’t expect to move toward a fully cookie-less world (yet), we’re already helping marketers plan for a world where the cookie jar has been put away. The silver lining? There are many pros to a cookie-less tracking approach. Here are some of the reasons for us to stay optimistic: 

  

Enhanced accuracy: Truth is, cookies were never the most accurate source of information. Users shift across navigators and devices, making a lot of the information provided by cookies a bit unreliable. With a cookie-less solution, there will be one unique ID generated per user, which makes it a more reliable way to track said user across your domain. 

 

Risk reduction: By cutting back on the sugar third-party cookies, we can avoid fraudulent schemes such as cookie stuffing

 

Cross-device tracking: One of the biggest flaws of cookie tracking is that it’s very difficult to track users across different devices. With a unique ID, you’ll be able to accurately track users across devices and get a better picture of how well your site is performing. Plus, since many mobile devices automatically remove cookies from their browsers, having a cookie-less solution will help you track users more accurately. 

Of course, all these changes will affect much of digital marketing as we know it. These are some of the issues we can already foresee: 

  

Retargeting: Third-party cookies make retargeting possible (and efficient), but in a cookie-free world, marketers (and publishers and affiliates) will have to rethink how they advertise online. In a way, this gives us the opportunity to rethink how we can approach advertising from an innovative standpoint, allowing creativity to become the center of the process again. 

  

Metrics: Because of changes in the way GA4 will store information, metrics like bounce rate, session duration, time on page, and other session- and user-level data will likely become faulty in a cookie-less world. The good thing is that, as we noted above, unique IDs and aggregated data can still help us marketers analyze and predict users’ behavior. There will be several ways to do so. You can, for example, develop different advertising strategies, like tracking keywords and analyzing on-site user journeys, so you can see which campaigns are working (or not) and where users are dropping off in your sales funnel. 

Google’s Privacy Sandbox 

Back in 2020, Google announced its Privacy Sandbox, a new initiative that would help shape the future of online data. For marketers, this initiative means a major change in how we can access data, with Google replacing third-party cookies with five different APIs that will leverage Chrome users’ anonymized signals so advertisers can still understand their habits and craft relevant ads and content. 

 “The Privacy Sandbox initiative aims to create web technologies that both protect people’s privacy online and give companies and developers the tools to build thriving digital businesses to keep the web open and accessible to everyone, now, and for the future.” You can read the statement in full on Google’s website. 

The (near) future is Persistent Identities 

With the end of the cookie, we’ll likely see the rise of Persistent Identities. PIDs take advantage of login platforms to be able to target users on an individual level. It can help marketers and content strategists decide what to show or what not to show users based on their preferences, habits, location, and more. PIDs are much more precise than cookies and can also work across platforms, so if a user goes back and forth between desktop, tablet, and mobile, you’ll still be able to collect their data with precision. 

 

How you can prepare—and get ahead 

One of the ways brands can adapt to the future is to build a strong first-party cookie strategy, including establishing a private identity graph that allows for more control over your data. Crafting content that encourages users to create a login or provide their email (think: downloadable whitepapers, webinars, and more) can help your company understand your audience without depending on third-party data. 

 Another step you can take is to create a separate dashboard in Google Analytics focused on cookie-less tracking. This way, you can familiarize yourself with the new tools, learn what you’ll be able to visualize (or not), and be prepared for when third-party cookies phase out. 

Most important, know that you can count on our help when you’re navigating the future of digital marketing, analytics, and everything in between.  

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