Privacy, Prioritised: Preparing for a Third Party Cookie-less Future

Before you run to the supermarket on a panic buying spree for shortbread and ginger snap biscuits, don’t worry: cookies aren’t going anywhere, thank goodness. Not the sweet and delicious, chocolate chip-studded kind, anyway. Those are here to stay – and praise be. Why even have a cup of tea if you’ve got nothing to dip in it? That’s the good news. The bad – or, rather, the need-to-know news, is that third party cookies are set to become a thing of the past, and with that comes a fundamental shift in online marketing, and new realities in the ways advertisers gather data about their customers.

third party cookies - The Brains
May 19, 2022
13 mins to read
third party cookies - The Brains
Back in 2020, Google dropped the bombshell news that, starting in 2022, Chrome would no longer permit the use of third party cookies. That timeline has since been pushed slightly to 2023, though that should be viewed as a delay of the inevitable rather than a change of heart. With Chrome representing 65% of the worldwide browser market share (GlobalStats), for online advertisers who rely on third party cookies to create hyper-focused online marketing campaigns, this was fairly groundbreaking news.

However, in terms of the wider internet landscape, the announcement wasn’t quite such an earth-shattering revolution. Saying that to say, Google wasn’t the first to think of blocking third party cookies to enhance user privacy; Apple have been using ITP (Intelligent Tracking Protection) on Safari since 2017, and Mozilla implemented a Tracking Protection feature on Firefox way back in 2015.

The bottom line to all this context is that, starting now and with increasing impact, online advertisers will no longer have access to previously vital information on customers; data which they’ve gotten used to consulting, as they craft and guide their clients’ digital marketing campaigns. Statista report that 83% of marketers are reliant on third party cookies to ensure good performance in their ad serving.

For what it’s worth, there is some scepticism and furrow-browed grumbling within the industry over this shift toward increased data privacy. 62% of advertisers believe that blocks on third party cookies “will not help” internet users, and one in every two digital marketers foresee ongoing privacy issues, regardless of these changes (Statista).

It’s difficult to predict exactly what the fallout of a future without third party cookies will be, but safe to say, it’ll represent a big change and some unprecedented challenges. However, those in the know with some insider Brainy power can get ahead of the game and mitigate the incoming risks by implementing future-beating, proactive measures.

At The Brains HQ, we’ve been monitoring this situation closely since its announcement and keeping across all the updates – as we do with every digital news story that affects our clients. Moreover, we aim to put our knowledge and expertise to good use, by getting you ahead of the competition with digital marketing that works.

In this post, we’ll break down what cookies are and what they do, before going through the reasons why search engine providers are all moving to block those of the third party variety. We’ll then examine the steps marketers can take to insulate themselves from the incoming fallout, and how to prepare online advertising to continue delivering results in the future.

Third Party Cookies vs First Party Cookies 

Before we delve into the different types of cookies, let’s start at the beginning and make it clear what a cookie actually is. An (internet) cookie is a tiny text file containing nuggets of information about you and used to collect analytics data. For example, cookies stored on web servers can remember language settings, your street address, account details, conversation history and data related to your hobbies and interests. 

HTTP cookies are a special kind of cookie used to identify specific web users. Cookies are created by a server, once you connect to a network, and stored, along with the unique information they contain. When a cookie moves between your computer and a network server, the server recognises who is using it, helping to determine which information is likely to be the most valuable or engaging.

A first party cookie is created directly by the website you visit, with the goal of improving user experience. The website does this by ‘remembering’ information – site preferences, selected settings, your shopping cart or recently viewed items, for instance – and using it to decide what to show you. This type of first party data is controlled and accessible only to the web domain owner. 

Third party cookies are a little more nuanced. Essentially, third party websites will insert a code into a web domain, with the agreement of website owners. It then sits and quietly collects data about your behaviour and the way you use the internet. This includes things like:

  • Your personal details
  • Your specific interests
  • Sites you visit frequently
  • Recent purchases

Unlike with first party cookies, any website with the third party code loaded can access that information and use it to deliver highly relevant, targeted ads. To put it another way, third party cookie data allows other websites to track users around Google Chrome and the internet at large, displaying targeted advertising wherever they may roam.

Why Does Google Ads Want to Block Third Party Cookies?

In a word: privacy. 

More than ever before, internet users are demanding protection of their personal and potentially-sensitive information. As the internet has grown and data gathering powers have become more advanced, increasing numbers have become worried that data regarding their behaviour online – data which, in many cases, people may not even know is being gathered – can be leveraged against them in unfair or unethical ways. By giving third party cookies the axe, browsers, along with their advertising suites, are trying to quell those fears. 

With third party cookies created to keep eyes on the user’s browser, whichever web servers they access, it’s no wonder that privacy concerns have taken hold. Is other data on the user’s computer open to be mined by companies as part of an advertising service? 

Public consciousness around data-privacy has swollen to proportions that create a pressure which Google, along with the other big browsers, cannot help but respect and listen to. 

For a long time, people have had limited or no control over what information is collected about them, or which companies have access to it. Deleting cookies from your browser doesn’t do anything about data which has already been harvested. 

This has become something of a hot potato in our digital-age privacy and transparency conversations; in response, the EU has created legislation which requires websites to gain the consent of users before they begin collecting information, though some criticise the measures as not going far enough, or leaving open the potential for loopholes. Now, it seems that Google has taken it upon itself to respond to this issue. 

With that being said, there are voices forecasting bad weather to come. Not everyone agrees that this is a benign act by Google in the interests of all internet users. Some believe that the third party cookie ban is a power play, essentially forcing the hand of advertisers and digital marketers who, requiring user data to operate efficiently, will be obliged to go directly to Google for it – which, you’d imagine, won’t be cheap.

third party cookies - The Brains

The Imminent Importance of First Party Data

All this leaves marketers searching for solutions. Digital marketing feeds on the ability to deliver the right message to the right person, in the right way, at the right time. With the third party cookie ban putting crucial user data under house arrest, how can you ensure your online advertising continues to reap benefits? 

The answer is in first party data. First party data collection is where users knowingly and willingly volunteer personal information about themselves with a company. In the first instance, this data is used to craft highly-personalised user profiles, get a read on who the user really is, and develop a deeper relationship with them. From there, you can tap into that information to create high-engagement ad campaigns that lean into valuable data sets to deliver results. 

Happily, harvesting first party data is a free and far less morally-dubious practice than the use of third party cookies. It involves simply asking people to share some information and then managing it efficiently. Google has weighed in with its two cents on this exchange, declaring that for a fair and mutually beneficial transaction to occur, you must offer something valuable to the user in return; a deal-sweetener known in the industry as a lead magnet.

A lead magnet might take the form of:

  • A webinar
  • A product sample
  • An ebook
  • A training video
  • Exclusive content
  • Bonus access
  • Research reports
  • An eCommerce discount offer

Basically, any piece of useful content you might wish to offer in exchange for the user’s all-important data. This is a great way for you to fill the informational gap when third party cookies finally go out to the birds.

2 Future-Proofing Steps

The loss of third party cookies from strategy creation is sure to bring about change, but it is possible to get ahead of the disruption. Ready your marketing operations in advance by implementing these future-proofing steps.

Invest in first party data collection

This one speaks for itself. In the absence of third party cookies, you’ll need to acquire user data from somewhere, and the next best, cheapest and above-board method of doing so is through first party data collection.

This means more than going hat-in-hand to your customers and just asking them for their email address or most recent Amazon purchase; it’s much better practice to offer them something to make it worth their while. Think about different lead magnets you could offer to stimulate interest and boost motivation. Incentivisation is the key to success here.

Implement Analytics 4

Google Analytics 4 is a data tracking and analytics package used to measure traffic and engagement. Crucially, it retires all third party cookies from its software and only uses first party cookies, sidestepping any potential privacy compliance pitfalls.

Analytics 4 uses predictive metrics, which enable it to approximate a user’s progress on the way to making a conversion. By combining this with Google’s advanced algorithms, it can reliably estimate the future behaviour of a given user; you can use this to pinpoint the user, observe their actions, and quantify their behaviour as more or less likely to result in a conversion, thereby informing your overall strategy.

How to Get Ahead of the Online Advertising Curve

With some future-proofing housekeeping done, you can begin carrying out some strategic updates to ensure you’re well and truly prepared for that moment when third party cookies are finally consigned to the history books. 

Bear in mind that, generally speaking, though these actions may start showing value quickly, their true worth is as an investment in the future. Where your competitors may find themselves stuck and scrambling for data, you’ll have your contingency not only planned but already operational, allowing you to make serious headway while the competition is snoozing.

Capitalise on customer lists

The first thing you’ll want to think about doing is implementing Google Customer Match, and integrating it with your Google Ads. Customer Match is a handy tool that allows you to pool data and repeatedly engage customers across Google’s Shopping, Gmail, YouTube and Display platforms. By leveraging information that customers have already given you, Customer Match will be well-positioned to target ads at just the right users. 

Similarly, it’s a good idea to upload your existing customer data to Facebook and create a Custom Audience, made up of people who already know your business; once there, you can fold that information out into a lookalike audience, a group of users who resemble your Custom Audience in metrics such as age, gender, location and interests. The same essential thing can be done via LinkedIn, using their Matched Audiences feature.

Connect Analytics 4 with Google Ads

Google’s Analytics 4 package allows you to utilise data from individual user actions without the need to set up conversion tagging for each separate event. This results in a more textured and better overall picture of your audience, by making data as seemingly-inconsequential as scrolling activity, actionable. 

This opens the door to a host of benefits, including:

  • A more detailed insight into behaviours surrounding a conversion
  • Clearer mapping of the customer journey in its entirety
  • Visibility of Google Ads campaigns in Acquisition reports
  • Optimisation of remarketing through use of audience data

You’ll also unlock the ability to track conversions across multiple sources, including YouTube views, non-Google paid channels, and email.

Set up Enhanced Conversions

Enhanced Conversions is a Google-own tool which aims to increase the accuracy of measuring conversions, and glean more mileage out of first party data in a privacy-friendly way. 

When a user makes a conversion, nine times out of ten they’ll impart some useful data, probably at least an email address. Enhanced Conversions captures that information in existing conversion tags and ‘hashes’ it – to make it secure – before passing it on to Google tag manager, which can cross-reference it against other hashed Google user data and report it in Google Ads. 

This helps you better gauge your ROAS (Return on Advertising Spend), ensuring you’re getting decent bang for your buck and that your ads are doing what they’re supposed to. Enhanced Conversions also provides a clearer image of the customer journey, and facilitates the potential to make use of other Smart Bidding strategies.

First Party Data: Ad Targeting of the Future

Third party cookies work by quietly harvesting reams of personal information and turning it to online advertising purposes – but not for much longer. The shift toward first party cookies has already begun, and with it, the way we collect invaluable user data will necessarily become increasingly transparent as data-gathering methods face continued scrutiny. 

In general, we’d recommend that all businesses who market themselves online get clear with first party data collection, and create ways to motivate customers to hand over their information. Google Analytics 4 will be valuable in helping to make the most gains in this new landscape.

From there, consider the best ways to turn your shiny new first party data into revenue; you might want to consider Brainy PPC marketing, for example, to blend data analytics and audience insights with creative strategy, to craft powerful paid advertising campaigns that stay laser-focused on just the right demographics. 

If you’re interested in learning more about how The Brains can help supercharge your online marketing efforts, get in touch with us now.

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