Marketers have been using cookies since their development 26 years ago. They’ve been a critical tool in allowing us to understand consumer behaviour and target users effectively. As public concerns about privacy and security continue to grow, cookies have been under fire throughout the decade. With Google’s most recent announcement about their intentions to block third-party cookies, it could be the end of the cookie as we know it.

So, what does this mean for marketers? With nearly all digital advertising platforms relying on cookies for tracking and targeting, things are going to get a hell of a lot harder. But that doesn’t mean we should give up. It simply means we’ll need to adapt. Keep reading for our guide on how to survive life without third-party cookies:

What are cookies?

Crisp edges, chewy middles, filled with delicious chocolate chips… just kidding. Unfortunately, we’re not talking about those kinds of cookies today (but hit me up anytime to talk baked good recipes. I gotchu!). The cookies we’re concerned with are HTTP browser cookies — text files made up of bits of data and stored on each user’s web browser, whether it’s Chrome, Firefox, Safari, or something else. Cookies collect and store user information like IP address, search history and more. They do this to help deliver a more personalized user experience and to provide websites with a bit more info on their visitors.

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The two most common types of cookies are first-party and third-party cookies:

  • First-party cookies are created by the site you are currently visiting. These cookies help with website functionality and aim to improve user experience. Generally, these cookies collect analytical data, allow users to add multiple items to their shopping cart, and remember things like usernames and language preferences.
  • Third-party cookies are created by a site you are not currently visiting and are most commonly used for marketing purposes. For example, if you click on an ad, a third-party cookie is created to associate your traffic with the site where the ad was shown. These are the cookies responsible for those creepy ads that follow you around the web.

I know what you’re thinking — cookies don’t seem all that bad. They don’t contain malware, viruses, or anything else truly harmful. What’s the big deal? The answer is privacy, or the lack thereof.

Browsers burn third-party cookies

With our ever-changing digital world, privacy is getting more and more scarce. Laws like the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) and the California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA) are the government’s way of regaining a level of online privacy for users. Specifically, these laws and requirements focus on businesses and their ability to collect, use, and share the data they obtain through— you guessed it — cookies. While there are currently no laws that completely prevent websites from collecting user data, the current regulations have made strides towards giving users more information and control over their personal data.

With so many laws going in this direction, browsers and tech companies are making big changes. Apple was one of the first companies to position themselves as privacy-focused, with the launch of Intelligent Tracking Prevention (ITP) in 2017. Mozilla Firefox followed suit by introducing their Enhanced Tracking Protection (ETP) while Safari has shut out third-party cookies altogether.

Unlike Apple, 70% of Google’s revenue is drawn from advertising, making things a bit more complicated. Google Chrome is by far the most popular browser, being used by a whopping 64.1% of internet users worldwide. That’s why the announcement they made a couple of weeks ago really stirred shit up. Google plans to shut off third-party cookie support by 2022, which sounds like the final nail in the coffin for cookies.

We don’t know how Google will operate in the absence of cookies. What we do know, is their move will surely influence the future of online marketing.

How you can successfully advertise without cookies

Though cookies should be around for the next year or so, there’s no better time than the present to learn about new advertising opportunities. Thankfully, we’ve been looking ahead to the cookie-less future and have already put together an arsenal of alternative tactics. Here are some of our favourites:

Your own first-party data

Third-party cookies might be going away, but first-party cookies are here to stay. Along with the data collected using forms, call centers, and other methods, first-party data will only increase in value. While you’ll surely continue using Google, Facebook, and Amazon ad platforms, you can likely do more with your own data than you think. Using data from customers who have actually shown interest in your brand is typically seen as a more respectable practice amongst consumers and will most definitely drive higher conversion rates than third-party data.

Platforms that have access to first-party data

If the data you’ve collected from your customers isn’t cutting it, or you’re trying to reach new customers, you have the option of using a platform or publisher that collects their own first-party data. In addition to the big names like Facebook and Google, consider other publishers like Pelmorex Corp, who leans heavily on data collected through popular apps like The Weather Network. With Pelmorex, you can create custom audience profiles based on user-behaviour exhibited across various web environments. Not only can you advertise on the app itself, but you can utilize its proprietary Demand Side Platform, EngageFront. This is just one example of the many publishers out there who just became your new best friend for targeted advertising.

Contextual advertising

This type of advertising is when ads for a specific product or service are shown in placements that are contextually relevant. For example, if I’m browsing a travel blog, I may be shown ads for cheap flights or hotel deals. The idea is to go where your customers are. With over 40% of users viewing cookie-based ad targeting as too aggressive, contextual ads are the perfect alternative. By showing users ads that are related to what they’re viewing, marketers can expect to see higher click-through and conversion rates. For a more thorough guide on pivoting from cookies to content and contextual advertising, check out this great article by Marketing Land.

People-based targeting

This type of marketing targets individual people instead of a group. People-based marketing attempts to identify a user across various channels and devices, which allows marketers to respond in real-time. This is something that companies like Amazon and Facebook accomplish with users accessing their own account on all devices. This technique is called persistent IDs. These IDs are formed using deterministic data (instead of probabilistic) that is gathered by log-in information, allowing marketers to advertise to their users on a one-to-one basis. Based on how the users respond to your advertising, you can customize the journey to be unique to that specific customer. Don’t have your own log-in information to do this? As mentioned above, there are plenty of publishers that have this information available that you can use… for a price.

Keep moving forward

With both privacy and personalization becoming more important every day, it’s up to marketers to find a balance between the two. Consumers want less invasive, more relevant ads, and it’s up to us to figure out how to meet that need while achieving client objectives.

Though the idea of advertising without cookies may seem overwhelming right now, marketers will always find a way to adapt and make things better. Remember when everyone had to figure out social media for the first time? Change in marketing is inevitable, that’s just the way the cookie crumbles. But trust me, you’ve got this.