With Safari and Firefox browsers already putting measures in place to protect its users’ privacy, Google Chrome is soon to be following suit.
As of 4 February 2020, Chrome users will be given more control over third-party cookies, allowing them to opt out more easily.
What are third-party cookies?
Third-party cookies are most often used to collect user data for marketing purposes by tracking activity, and then using this data to deliver targeted ads and content to individuals based on their search history across different domains.
They are third-party because they are created by domains other than the one being visited directly – for example, you could be on a publisher website, but when you perform specific activities on that domain, such as clicking on a sponsored link, a cookie is fired that passes data to a third-party, most commonly an AdTech platform. This platform can then use this data to retarget the user with ads or content that they are likely to be more interested in which has an increased chance of them taking action (i.e. clicking an ad to buy a product they have read a review about on another domain).
A brilliant explanation of the differences between first and third-party cookies can be found here.
Why should digital advertisers and publishers care about browsers changing the way they treat third-party cookies?
For those using ad platforms that sit under the wider reach of a big tech company like Facebook, Google, Bing, or Amazon, there isn’t going to be much of an impact. These companies have masses of user data and targeting is likely to be more accurate than those utilising third-party cookies, because users who visit their sites often remain logged in. This allows big tech companies to collect huge amounts of user behaviour data to build targeted audiences with – no third-party cookies are needed.
AdTech platforms and publishers reliant on collecting user data via third-party cookies to build audiences, however, are going to have to rethink their business models as more and more browsers shift toward protecting consumer privacy.
Is this the end of cookie-based ad targeting?
To lessen the impact already felt by Firefox and Safari cracking down on third-party cookies completely, Google has released its ‘Privacy Sandbox’ – an API that will build functionality to replace third-party cookies before they phase them out completely, which is due to happen sometime in the next two years.
What’s next for ad targeting without third-party cookies?
Third-party cookies will no longer be able to collect data and build profiles without a user’s consent. So with this method of collecting user data being removed, what other options are out there?
According to Digilant, there are a few things that digital advertisers can consider.
Re-Engineering cookies: If consumers are opting-out of tracking, think about re-engineering your site’s third-party cookies so they can operate in first-party environments. By doing so, opting-out isn’t an option and your operations will not be so easily blocked.
Find alternate identifiers: Google is advising advertisers to look into the power of email addresses and log-in information. These identifiers are going to become crucial for those hoping to serve targeted ads in the future. The upside is that these users have already provided their personal information and are opted in. The downside is that you have to capture this data before it can be leveraged.
Third-party cookies cannot be tracked on mobile apps, and are limited on many mobile web browsers. With more and more users browsing across multiple devices, targeting users using data collected via third-party cookies is already becoming less effective, especially for businesses who invest heavily in omnichannel strategies/attribution models that rely on targeting users at many different touchpoints.
Target content: If third-party cookies are blocked, remarketing becomes tricky. Instead, utilise contextual targeting methods. Focus on the keywords, topics, locations, and different channels that are relevant to your creative assets and offerings.
Contextual targeting methods are nothing new, but when done right, they can be highly effective. This often means targeting a broad range of users to start off, and eventually whittling down the targeting methods by removing those that do not yield good results meaning only the audiences most likely to convert remain.