What Are Third-Party Cookies, Why Are They Going Away, and What Does That Mean for Me?
If you even dip your toe into the world of digital marketing, you already know how quickly the landscape changes and evolves. Every year there are a few new, hot-button issues that stand to completely change how we do business – whether they play out that way is a different story.
Now it’s Google’s turn. While there have been multiple delays, Google has announced that they will begin disabling third-party cookies for Chrome users in 2024. The fact is this shift has big implications for digital marketing and particularly paid media. Understanding what exactly this means for your business and how to mitigate its impact is essential … as is working with experts who have already survived the Cookiepocalypse.
What is a Third-Party Cookie?
A cookie is a small bit of code, saved on your browser or device, that relays information from your browser to the website you’re visiting. These can be used to do things like keep you logged into a website, remember your user preferences, and collect usage data for the web host.
A third-party cookie is one that collects data for a website other than the one you are currently visiting. These are responsible for tracking your activity across different websites, ultimately doing things like serving up ads for products you view (remember how that pair of shoes you found on Amazon suddenly started showing up on every website you visited?).
Why Are Third-Party Cookies Going Away?
Google’s decision to phase out third-party cookies comes in the wake of increased scrutiny over data privacy concerns. The ability of third-parties to track your activity on the internet, even when you’re not on that party’s site, has raised major concern across governments and among consumers.
By disabling third-party cookies, Google is effectively preventing cross-site tracking without the user’s explicit permission. Spoiler alert … as the developer of the browser itself, Google will still have access to the data.
When Are Third-Party Cookies Going Away?
Though originally slated to begin in 2021, the phase-out has been repeatedly delayed, and is now expected to start with 1% of Chrome users in early 2024, eventually encompassing the remaining 99% by late 2024. This gradual approach should give observant marketers the ability to adjust without too many growing pains.
What Marketers Need to Know
As we mentioned, The deprecation of third-party cookies is not a new concept. Google is actually following-suite after Apple and some others disabled third-party cookies on their browsers and devices around mid-2021. Because of this “cookieless tracking,” technology has already been implemented on the Meta and Google ad platforms.
Initially, Apple’s transition did lead to increased costs and fewer views on digital ad platforms, however as the cookieless tracking tech has improved we have seen ad costs go back down, and even become more effective.
What Will Be Impacted?
Given the prevalence of advanced tracking in paid media, we expect most ad programs to be affected in some way. This includes:
- Behavioral Retargeting – The ability to target someone with a personalized ad because they searched for a product or service that your business offers.
- Lookalike Targeting – The ability to create specific audiences for your ads, based on the interests and behaviors of the people who already engage with your page.
- View-Through/Click-Through Conversions – The ability to tell if someone converts after seeing/clicking on an ad, even if they don’t convert right away.
However, none of these tools are likely going away. Instead ad platforms like Meta and Google will employ cookieless tracking and AI to achieve similar results; though the end-users of the ad platforms will likely have less fine-grained control over who exactly sees their ads.
What is Not Impacted?
Any tracking by first-parties (that is, the website you are currently visiting) remain unaffected. This means that you will still be able to retarget people who visit your site, retarget lists of email addresses, and track people who convert right away after seeing your ad. Tracking via UTM codes is also unaffected.
The Big Picture
Google’s shift away from third-party cookies is likely to shake up the digital advertising landscape. However, as seen with Apple’s changes in 2021 and the subsequent adjustment period, the industry will adapt and may even bounce back stronger, thanks to the extended preparation time and development of alternative solutions.
How Can I Prepare For Third-Party Cookies Going Away?
Since we have already experienced this once, the roadmap is relatively clear:
- Utilize Enhanced Conversions on Google and the Conversion API on Facebook to ensure you are using the latest tracking technology.
- Stay informed about Google’s announcements as 2024 approaches.
- Monitor the performance of your ad campaigns and be ready to adjust your approach if needed.
At MJ2 Marketing and DigitalMaxx, we are keeping a close eye on the upcoming third-party cookie changes on behalf of our clients. Though we do expect to see some impact, our team is hard at work to develop strategies to continue to target relevant audiences, regardless of the technology.