Is There a Cookie-less Future on the Horizon? How Marketers Can Prepare for Google’s 2022 Shift

Marketing, News
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Google is getting ready to phase out cookies from Chrome browsers by 2022. As one of the most significant factors in today’s digital marketing ecosystem, you might be wondering how this shift will impact your efforts—and rightly so. Most marketers depend on cookies to help them track website visits, enable targeted ads, improve customer experience (CX), and generally understand where their site visitors come from and where they go when they move on.

Apple isn’t far behind. Soon, Apple mobile device IDs will be opt-in only, which will essentially block all cross-application tracking unless the user gives permission. Firefox and Safari have already phased out third-party cookies, but being that most marketers use Google as their main ad platform, this particular move is a bit more poignant. Rolling out the changes over two years is meant to give organizations the chance to change course.

But even though the move needed to happen, ad technology companies are a little hot around the collar about it, claiming Apple and Google are doing the Godzilla stomp on the status quo just because they can. And though that’s true to a certain extent, these two giants are the only ones in a position to force these changes and actually increase user privacy across the web.

Keep in mind that both Apple and Google still know quite a lot about their users based on what they do when they’re logged into their mobile devices or services like Gmail, YouTube, and iCloud.

February 2020: Google Announces Third-Party Cookie Phaseout

It’s easy to understand the “why” behind Google’s decision. The call for data privacy is high, as are customer expectations for brands to hear the call. As data privacy regulations continue to ramp and evolve, it’s clear that third-party tracking is not a sustainable strategy.

The thinking behind Google’s decision aligns with their general policy—to create a seamless online experience that precisely meets the user’s needs and intent. In explaining the move, they highlighted the need to satisfy growing user demand for greater privacy, more control over their data, and transparency around how it’s collected.

As for the ad tech companies, they claim companies will lose the ability to target ads to the individual user—which is really not that individual, as it’s based on market segments and behavioral targeting and retargeting.

Do You Need Third-Party Cookies?

Many organizations overly rely on third-party cookies to inform their CX strategy. Yours might be one of them. But do behavioral signaling and retargeting tactics really deliver? By the numbers, most of the time, not so much.

As a consumer, seeing an ad for an item you already bought isn’t exactly helpful or pleasant. Companies that use hyper-targeting strategies often find that it doesn’t necessarily make the ad any more relevant for the users, nor does it deliver the quality data you need to achieve your marketing goals. Poor data leads to higher ad costs, inaccurate analytics, and ill-informed business decisions.

But without access to third-party cookie data, is it even possible to gain reach with your online ads?

Don’t panic! In truth, some aspects will change, and others won’t. Being prepared is your key to the kingdom. With that said, here are a few things you should know:

Third-Party Cookies vs. First-Party Cookies

As discussed earlier, the cookies you collect from your own site visitors—first-party cookies—are still yours. Third-party cookies are generated by sites other than your own and associated with a user’s IP address. The third-party cookie information is collected and sent to the company that created the cookie—usually an advertiser.

With this data in hand, you gain insight into user behavior, from which you can build profiles and personas. You can also create a retargeting list so you can serve your ads to users who’ve visited your site or other internet users with similar profiles. When retargeting ads appear on sites other than the brand, it’s likely to have been triggered by third-party cookies.

First-party cookies are accepted automatically. Third-party cookies require user consent. If you’re only tracking your site visitors while they’re on your site, Google’s changes shouldn’t keep you up at night. However, if your marketing strategy relies on detailed data to inform highly targeted campaigns, you might want to start putting more thought into first-party strategies.

Differences Between First-Party and Third-Party Cookies

What It Means for GDPR Compliance

In late 2019, Europe’s highest court ruled that active consent must be attained before collecting or storing non-essential cookies. In other words, consent cannot be assumed simply because you visit a website.

The ruling further stated that cookie banners or pre-checked boxes are invalid under EU law, and they can’t be tied to another purpose, such as playing a game or participating in a lottery. Users must be provided with specific information on how the cookies will be used and shared.

Now, if you’re only doing business in your local area, the GDPR might not be your biggest concern. However, any organization doing business internationally might have noticed a significant drop in their Google Analytics numbers around that time, as the service relies on cookies.

The point here is, if you were in the latter category, the effect on your marketing strategy was likely quite dramatic. But it’s also likely that you began to consider alternative solutions long before now.

Should You Be Worried?

While the Chrome phase-out certainly isn’t the end of the world, you will need to think a little differently.

Think of it as an opportunity to pivot your focus to first-party data—that is, data that’s collected on your own digital properties—and leverage that to deliver a highly personalized customer experience.

You’ll still be able to target your Google Ads with first-party cookies and Google’s Privacy Sandbox tools. The Privacy Sandbox anonymizes user data so marketers can still access insights on conversion, ad performance, attribution, and other browser signals. That data remains sandboxed on the user’s device and is therefore compliant with all current data privacy legislation.

Developing Your First-Party Strategy

According to Adobe’s 2021 Digital Trends Report, only 37% of companies are prepared for a world without third-party trackers. That means a full 63% of all organizations surveyed have done nothing so far.

Since a cookie-less future is inevitable, perhaps it’s time to start thinking about how you’re going to move forward—keeping in mind that this change will certainly not be the last. What will happen if your marketing technology gets regulated or becomes obsolete? Certainly, these events should inform your choices in marketing technology.

Choosing software or strategies that prioritize first-party data is a good start. Revisiting older ideas, like contextual advertising, could also be advantageous. Any approach that does not rely on massive amounts of data, third-party cookies, or other intermediaries will help you mitigate the risk around future data governance changes.

All roads thus far have brought us to this point. A strong commitment to providing the best possible customer experience is always the best strategy—identifying and removing friction points in the customer journey will help you connect with your audience on a deeper level.

Looking for more insight on developing your first-party strategy? Schedule a call today, and let’s talk about it.

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