Ten years ago, cookies made headlines when European lawmakers required that all sites serving EU citizens gain “informed consent” from users before storing non-essential cookies on their devices. Since then they’ve become common parlance in everyday life for all website users, especially now that every website flashes a pop-up asking visitors to “accept cookies” or modify the ones the website captures.
A cookie, also known as a web cookie, HTTP cookie or browser cookie, is a small packet of data that is stored on your browser when you visit a website. Cookies perform essential functions such as allowing web servers to know whether you’re logged into a particular website or not and which account you’re logged in to, as one example.
Cookies can also be used to determine where you’ve visited on the web and help build profiles of your browsing habits. So, for example, when you visit your football team’s web store, load up your cart with football shirts and then get distracted, third-party tracking cookies can help show you ads that remind you that you have goods in your cart and need to check out.
As with so many things digital, opinion is divided between “that’s really useful, thank you” to concerns over “invasion of privacy”.
In the decade since there have been numerous attempts to regulate and manage cookies with everything from the “Do Not Track” options in web browsers to the EU’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) framework, implemented in May 2018, and the California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA), which was made law in June 2018.
Mozilla’s Firefox browser even blocked third-party tracking cookies by default back in 2019 with their “Enhanced Tracking Protection” feature with the aim of providing privacy and security to users.
The Cookie-less Future
Now however, Google are going one step further.
In August 2019 they announced an initiative called the Privacy Sandbox, a set of open standards to enhance user privacy on the web. Google did consider the concerns of advertisers and publishers, citing a study where blocked cookies make advertising less relevant and yielded 52% less revenue for web publishers.
Since then, Google have worked with the web community, receiving positive feedback in forums such as the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) who set international standards for the World Wide Web.
The Google Chrome browser will end support for third-party cookies in 2022 but since Chrome version 90 in April this year, the browser has already introduced simple on/off controls for the Privacy Sandbox trial.
What Will Replace Cookies?
With the advent of third-party cookies “going away”, Google has been working on the solution to replace them with a new methodology called Federated Learning of Cohorts or FLoC.
FLoC ad technology allows advertisers to reach users and target ads but without exposing Personally Identifiable Information (PII) such as an individual’s details or their browser history.
The algorithm will look at users’ browser history and place them in cohorts, or groups of people with similar browsing history. So, for businesses and advertisers there will be an opportunity to serve interest-based advertising to groups with similar interests.
How Will the End of Third-Party Cookies Affect Digital Marketers?
The FLoC API has been tested “in the wild” and has been proven to “offer an effective replacement signal” for third-party cookies. Google’s tests have demonstrated that FLoC can be 95% as effective as cookie-based advertising. Of course, there have those who have both agreed with and questioned the search giant’s findings.
Google has also worked with members of the ad tech community to see how digital marketing experts can create and deploy their own audiences. Another initiative called FLEDGE [I see an avian based theme taking off here – Ed] has been active so the advertisers can, for instance, build audiences of prior visitors for remarketing purposes.
Conversion measurement has also been raised as a potential issue for businesses, advertisers and digital marketing agencies. With the chief driver of replacing third-party cookies being user privacy, the development of the new technologies has continued with this consideration at its core and can still deliver conversion measurement to measure the effectiveness of campaigns.
Attribution modelling, particularly multi-touch attribution models, rely heavily on third-party cookies to measure all the touch points users visit. Digital marketers have had excellent insights into the effectiveness of campaigns, being able to see how awareness has driven consideration and eventually conversion, through programmatic, multi-channel remarketing and native advertising. With the death of the third-party cookie, can we really believe that we’ll still have accurate and detailed information on the touch-point behaviours of audiences?
How Do Businesses Prepare for the Cookie-Less Future?
Third party cookies will be gone in 2022, and businesses will be reliant on either first-party cookies or a technology stack that the Digital Markets Unit wing of the UK’s Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) has said will continue “Google’s position at the centre of the ad tech ecosystem”.
We’re all in the hands of the ad tech giants such as, let’s not forget, Amazon and Facebook too, so what do businesses do to handle the transition?
There is a drive towards the first-party data strategy which may give some business models a more distinct advantage than others. E-commerce, we’re looking at you here, and all the high traffic volume websites.
But whatever size business, the philosophy will still be to drive value for your visitors and forge direct relationships with your brand; Everything from exclusive pricing and promotional offers to early access on new products and exclusive deals and members-only shopping experiences. Every aspect will need to be considered to build first-party brand loyalty and offer value for clients.
Additionally, if the third-party cookie model is not replaced by ad tech that can be 95% just as effective, then digital marketing strategies will need to regroup and refocus. Will there be a resurgence in email marketing campaigns? Will marketing automation platforms such as SharpSpring with their first-party cookies rise to dominance? Is Search Engine Optimisation going to be more important in the refreshed and revised ecosystem despite for so many years people saying that SEO is dead!
Quite honestly, only time will tell, but if businesses and websites adopt a Clever Marketing strategy, they will be able to ride out the storm and emerge in 2022 with a robust marketing mix and the ability to reach audiences in new, and maybe old, ways.
Clever Marketing has been at the forefront of business development through digital marketing for over 14 years now and its small, specialist team of digital marketing experts have nearly 60 years of experience and success between them.