It seems that every time you go on the internet these days, you’re hit with a pop-up message asking you to accept a website’s cookies. Most of us mindlessly click accept and move on with whatever we’re browsing or buying. But what’s really happening here? And why is everyone in digital marketing talking about the end of third-party cookies?
To help you answer some of these key questions, here’s a quick overview of what cookies are, why they’re important to digital advertising, and how digital marketers can prepare for the end of third-party cookies.
What’s a cookie?
A cookie is essentially a text file that’s placed on your browser as you visit various websites. It’s a way for advertisers to track your activity and then serve relevant ads to you based on your browsing history. This is why you’re inundated with ads for shoes and socks after shopping online for a new pair of sneakers.
Broken down even further, there are three types of cookies:
- First-party cookies: These are cookies that are dropped by websites that you choose to visit. It allows websites to remember your login info, the pages you viewed, and what’s in your shopping cart, among other relevant data.
- Second-party cookies: These are derived from data shared between two companies, usually with complementary audiences. For example, a sock shoe company shares its first-party cookie data with a sock company.
- Third-party cookies: These are owned by a company outside of the websites you’re visiting. They collect a wide range of data that makes it possible for marketers to reach very specific individuals and niche audiences.
Why are cookies important to digital marketing?
There’s a reason all anyone can talk about recently is third-party cookies: privacy.
The primary issue with third-party cookies is that they collect information without consent. It’s one thing for websites that you choose to visit to collect your information; it’s a whole different vibe when someone unknown to you is tracking your online activity, collecting it, and then using that data to serve you highly specific ads.
The more our lives are online, the more questions arise about privacy and the line between data collection that makes our lives easier—remembering a username or shipping address—and invasive overreach. It’s a common discussion both in the digital marketing community and the public at large. In fact, a recent Harris Poll survey found that 73% of US adults are “much more” or “somewhat more” concerned about online data privacy today than they were five years ago.
Recent legislation reflects this concern. The European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) went into effect in 2018, and the California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA) made big changes in 2020. Other states in the US are likely to pass similar laws that give residents the right to opt out of selling personal information and delete data that was previously collected.
Major players in the online space are also making big changes. In 2019, Firefox began blocking third-party cookies on its desktop browser and Android devices, while Apple’s Safari made a similar move in 2020.
What’s really shaking up the space is Google’s announcement that their Chrome web browser will stop third-party cookies by the end of 2023. Chrome currently boasts over 65% of the desktop browser market and is the most popular internet browser—by a long shot. These changes will have a huge effect on advertising and marketing for everyone from local charities and small businesses to global nonprofits and major enterprises.
How can you prepare for life after third-party cookies?
Amid much speculation, no one really knows what it’s going to be like in a cookie-less world. Google has proposed a few replacements and initiatives to help drive advertising without third-party cookies, but so far nothing is in full action. A few other big tech firms have thrown their hat in the ring with a wide range of suggestions, proposals, and antidotes for the third-party cookie crash.
So what can digital marketers and advertisers do? Right now, we see two main avenues for how you can prepare your digital advertising strategy in a cookie-less world: focus on first-party data and ramp up contextual advertising.
- Leveraging first-party data is the quickest and strongest shift you can make. You likely have more information and insights than you think. There is real power in knowing your target audience, how to segment your donors, supporters, and customers, and the best way to maximize all of the contact information you have for each. Once your data is clean, organized, and analyzed, you can start optimizing your marketing and advertising programs for each segment.
- Contextual advertising is swinging back into prime time thanks to the cookie debacle. This strategy has been around since the dawn of marketing and for good reason: it’s simply about being where your audience already is and creating relevant content. In the digital age, this means placing ads and marketing content on websites where your ideal segments likely hang out online such as a small nonprofit serving ads on local news websites and community pages.
With both of these tactics in play, you’ll likely see improvements to your campaign’s efficacy, a decrease in ad spend, and reduction in excessive data collection. All of this makes for a better bottom line, marketing programs, and overall relationship with your audience.
Looking for more information?
For more information or assistance with preparing for a cookie-less future, contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.