How to Prepare for a World Without Third-Party Cookies

2024 spells the death of the third-party cookie. With regulations on data collection increasing and browsers phasing out the use of these ID trackers, advertisers will have to find new marketing tools and tactics to get their products in front of customers.

At Squarebird, we evolve with the changing marketing trends. Even though the loss of third-party cookies is a concern, we’ll use this opportunity to talk about the possible avenues that advertisers can take. But first, let’s get up to speed on how we got here in the first place.

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“While third party cookies have a bad rap, they were designed to provide the foundations for effective, immersive, and personalised internet experiences. The movement away will mean that people’s digital experiences won’t be as impactful for the next couple of years while we look for a way for data to be collected without it being compromised.” – Will Shelton, SEO Expert

What are third-party cookies?

To start, it’s important to know that cookies are split into two categories: first-party and third-party.

First-party cookies are trackers provided by a website, for a website. They’re used to help the user experience on a given domain, giving the website useful information about your interactions with the site.

Third-party cookies are downloaded onto your computer. They sleuth in the background, tracking which websites you visit and providing anonymous data to inform advertisers and marketing efforts.

In either case, cookies are a snippet of code that connects a computer to a server. Also known as “ID trackers”, cookies are mean to be anonymous – but are they really?

Yes and no. On the one hand, while all personally identifiable information (PII) is encrypted and cannot be discovered through cookies, it is possible to infer depending on your browsing pattern. However, this is very unlikely, and advertisers don’t have a reason to do this as building a profile of your preferences is more important.

Data from cookies isn’t stored for a human to flick through – it is processed and handled by algorithms. Since no person is looking at your data, it is effectively anonymous even when inference could be made.

Where do third-party cookies come from?

Third-party cookies can be downloaded from a given website. The coding behind them is often supplied by websites themselves – while browsers like Chrome and Firefox are phasing out third-party cookies, they didn’t implement them in the first place.

Like other forms of code, cookies are a useful tool that wasn’t spearheaded by an individual. They’re similar to HTML in the sense of being a standard development practice, and they helped to create the current landscape for personalisation and digital marketing.

Find out more about cookies and cookie policies for your website >

Third-party cookies have made the internet what it is today

It’s safe to say that the impact of third-party cookies has been massive. They’re the foundation of what has made most people’s digital experiences, helping to improve interactivity, personalisation, and relevancy of ads and online journeys.

They began to crumble when the GDPR laws came in during 2018, and providers had to start scaling back their cookies. The period between 2015 and 2018 was when most people would have said their ads were relevant to their interests, but this number has been falling ever since.

Third-party cookies helped advertisers create targeted ads for users, meaning they were highly relevant and engaging to content they had already seen on the internet. Relevant ads mean users are more likely to be interested in the product or service, meaning a better experience for both them and businesses.

Nowadays, users will see ads about things they really don’t care about, with poor adverts for irrelevant products dotting their social media feeds and web pages. With the complete shift away from this technology, advertisers will have to find new ways to reach the right audiences.

So, why are third-party cookies going away?

86% of the US population believes data privacy is a growing concern. While not fully reflective of the perception here in the UK, it’s a fact that people don’t trust businesses to use their data ethically. In response, browsers are producing privacy-preserving APIs that protect user data and prevent third-party cookies from being downloaded.

Users have a right to be forgotten, and to consent on what data is recorded from their activities. Laws like GDPR support this, and so do the actions of some companies, such as how Apple have been banning third-party cookies for years to give their users full control and autonomy over their data.

By the end of 2024, all third-party cookies will have been removed from Google Chrome, which is already the case for Firefox and Safari. Some changes have already been made, but it’s not been long enough for marketers or users to see the real impact.

Some of the main reasons why cookies are going away are:

  • New laws that give people more independent authority over their data
  • Fears of poor data handling creating echo chambers, e.g. the 2016 elections being possibly influenced by social media advertising
  • Data leaks
  • The right to be forgotten

A large driving force behind the discontinuation of third-party cookies is their public perception, and the fear that the data gained from them isn’t being used in the right way. In response, governments around the world have begun implementing legislation to prohibit their use.

 

Regulations around third-party cookies

Are third-party cookies legal? Technically, yes, under the right circumstances. Legislation like the EU’s GDPR, California’s CPRA, and Brazil’s LGPD all outline how third-party cookies need to be used and telegraphed, but they don’t outright ban them. The UK’s cookie regulations are based off GDPR at the moment, a hang on from when we were in the EU.

Under these laws, you can’t just say you’ve got cookies and tell users to learn more. You need to have an accept or reject policy, and can’t download any cookies until it has been confirmed. This gives users more autonomy over their data. Some sites use intrusive tactics to get users to agree to having cookies, but this is a poor choice impacting SEO, bounce rates, and user experiences.

While they’re still currently legal, browsers are phasing out the use of third-party cookies making them effectively defunct. That, and the legality of them may end up changing over time.

 

The implications of a world without third-party cookies

No third-party cookies puts advertisers in a sticky situation. To generate the same number of conversions, they now need to massively increase the number of adverts on the market. Ever wonder why every other Instagram post is an ad?

While having to advertise more aggressively has been an expensive annoyance for advertisers, it has also led to them being more creative. Advertisers have been building “remarketing” audiences, in which anyone who has visited your site with a cookie can be retargeted through that cookie if they visit again.

With Google Analytics and Google Ads, you can communicate what cookies have visited a page. This can then inform Google on what cookie IDs should be shown which ads – a roundabout way of building an advertising profile for an individual.

These tactics, among others, are ways in which marketing is starting to build towards its future.

Find out more about Google Analytics with our guide >

Preparing for a future without third-party cookies

While some early birds have already begun using new data gathering tools and methods, not everyone is up to speed. Even with third-party cookies gone, there is still a lot you can do to refine your marketing efforts.

 

Google Analytics.

One powerful method is to create audiences on Google Analytics. This dramatically improves your ability to retarget cookies on your site. It’s important to create more audiences than you need – one for every service, one for users that convert, ones that don’t… get as granular as you like. This ends up giving you a more specific range of people to target with your marketing.

 

Facebook.

If you want to go into Facebook advertising, on the other hand, then you’ve got to be prepared to spend more. Budgets don’t last nearly as long as they used to since Facebook charges based on impressions – the number of people that see your ads – rather than the number of people that click on them.

With ads no longer being shown to a relevant audience, you need to reach more people to get the same number of conversions, which means a greater investment is required.

 

Cookie policies.

Another thing to do to prepare is to make sure you have a comprehensive, editable cookie and privacy policy that allows users to accept or reject – making sure that consent is at the forefront of all your user experiences.

Making sure you have a comprehensive, editable cookie and privacy policy that allows users to either accept or reject – making sure consent is at the forefront of everything.

Will there be an alternative for advertisers?

One alternative is already in place. First-party cookies allow you to remarket to your own audience, increasing the number of people that return to your website. This isn’t as wide-reaching as third-party cookies allowed you to be, but does help to improve your conversion rates.

Guesstimations will also be heavily relied on, as it is still possible to approximate what users will be searching for. SEO plays a role in this, allowing you to target audiences through Google via keywords – a process that’s completely anonymous.

Boost your SEO efforts – contact us today.

While this is a factor, most of the concerns around third-party cookies are related to products, and the impact of targeting a specific product with SEO alone is minimal. Advertising leads to the greatest returns in this scenario, and new tech is needed to get the same results that third-party cookies provided.

Emerging tracking technologies

The loss of third-party cookies leaves space for new technologies to spread their wings. Things like the Google privacy sandbox and Google Topics are upcoming tools to help advertisers reach their audiences without breaching data practices, but they’re still very much a work-in-progress.

Advertisers need to do more with less. That means being creative with your solutions, and making sure all your other marketing avenues like PPC and SEO are held to the highest standards.

Snag your marketing solution from Squarebird

While the loss of third-party cookies will make a dent on advertising efforts, there are still things you can do to make the most out of the situation. First-party cookies are still around, making remarketing a good way to reach your audience. Keep your eyes on the horizon – new technologies that change the whole landscape are sure to be on the rise.

For the time being, the SEO & marketing experts at Squarebird can help you to uplift your current marketing efforts to maximise your potential reach. Get in touch to find out more, check out our marketing services, or read a little further with some related articles.

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