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the impact of google’s cookie-less world

We are in the midst of a big shift in the ad ecosystem.  

As the public desire more privacy online, governments around the world are supporting the change with new regulations.  

Stemming from privacy concerns that have spurred the likes of GDPR and how businesses handle personal information, tech giants are under growing pressure to protect our data and provide users with greater choice when it comes to their data collection and use.  

Some have already made huge progress such as Apple with their latest iOS update that gives the option to block online tracking. But now, as the last and biggest name to enact change, the pressure is on for Google.  

key takeaways 

In this blog, we look at:  

  • what a cookie is and the different types of cookies that exist  

  • why Google is going cookie-less 

  • the impact a cookie-less world could have on your ads 

  • the potential alternatives that could become industry standard  

so, what is a cookie? 

A cookie is a small text file created by a website that gets stored in your computer either for that singular session or permanently. When you browse the internet, a ‘crumb’ is left by each website you visit which allows you to be tracked.  

Cookies are used by the website to recognise who you are and keep track of your preferences such as: 

  • your login details  

  • your checkout preferences 

  • items left in a basket 

  • site theme  

types of cookies 

first-party cookies  

First-party cookies are set by the website when visited by the user. The data collected using first-party cookies is used for the likes of calculating page views and sessions. Google Analytics uses first-party cookies to understand and present user behaviour on the site.  

Businesses have access to the data collected using first-party cookies which can then be shared with advertisers or agencies for ad targeting.  

third-party cookies 

Third-party cookies are set by websites that aren’t visited by the user first-hand. This occurs when publishers add third-party features to their sites such as chatbots, social plugins and ads.  

These are most often used for online advertising and placed on a website through a script or a tag. When installed, third-party cookies track users and save their information for ad targeting and behavioural advertising.  

google’s killing third-party cookies  

The search engine giant has announced that they will be ditching the use of third-party cookies in Chrome by the end of 2023.  

In January 2020, Google published an article containing information that Chrome would be phasing out support for third-party cookies within two years’ time. However, in June 2021, Google then announced nearly a two-year delay for the third-party cookie phaseout due to significant industry pushback and an ongoing debate on what would replace them. The timeline is now set to begin in mid-2023 and last three months. 

But not everyone is happy about the upcoming change. Many marketers and advertising agencies, in particular, are concerned that the stop to third-party cookies will damage the ad ecosystem. Instead, they’ve urged Google to keep third-party cookies until alternatives are in place.  

but google aren’t the first to do it 

While the industry is rife with chatter around Google’s announcement, other browsers have been blocking third-party cookies for years:  

  • Mozilla Firefox has been blocking trackers since the end of 2018 

  • Safari has introduced privacy enhancing measures over many years and blocked third-party cookies in March 2020 

  • other smaller browsers have introduced similar measures in recent months  

While this is a new thing for Chrome, getting rid of third-party cookies isn’t new. So, why is it such a big deal? The concern heavily comes down to Google’s large share of the browser market…  

how does this impact you? 

Tracking is mainly used for audiences, particularly prospecting. The lack of third-party cookies will have less of an impact on traditional keyword-based targeting in PPC campaigns. However, it will have an impact on paid tactics such as programmatic display.  

While there won’t be an impact on advertisers’ ability to serve PPC ads, audience-based targeting will be affected due to audiences becoming less accurate. Data from third-party cookies is also used to support smart bidding strategies, which in turn may become less effective. 

So, what potential changes could we see in the landscape?  

  • old school targeting: We will likely see advertisers go back to older methods of targeting such as contextual targeting. This is about displaying your ads on the websites that contain content directly related to your business, allowing you to presume that the audience will be interested in your offer. 

  • direct advertising space: We may see more businesses start to buy advertising space directly from vendors. However, this is a step backwards from where we are now and could put added pressure on programmatic platforms to prove the accuracy of their data.  

  • first-party data: Gathering good quality data on users visiting your site will be key. First- party data can then be used to model audiences for prospect marketing. To collect this kind of data businesses may insist on users creating an account and logging in before getting access to its services. 

  • data science: Data science can be used to leverage historical user data. This insight can then support the creation of highly targeted campaigns for their intended demographic. However, as this is historical, it can only be an estimation rather than real-time, accurate data. Data modelling can also be used to process this data, helping you provide rationale behind strategic marketing decisions.  

what could the alternatives to third-party cookies be?  

The end of third-party cookies does not mean the end of tracking. The need for true end-user consent to process personal data will persist long after third-party cookies and the technologies replacing them.  

There are several different options from a technical perspective on how the challenges of a cookie-less world could be overcome, although none have become the industry standard yet.  

These are just some alternatives that could be used to eliminate third-party cookies and replace them with viable privacy-first options:  

privacy sandbox  

Google TURTLEDOVE is one of the proposals under the Privacy Sandbox project. Using this tactic, the browser holds the information about what the advertiser thinks a person is interested in rather than the advertiser. This information can’t be shared or traded. 

Advertisers would be able to serve ads based on an interest but can’t combine that interest with other information about the person such as their demographic data or what page they have visited.  

A prototype delivery system known as FLEDGE have commenced testing in 2021. A fully-featured system rollout was planned for 2022, however this has now been delayed until mid-2023. 

interest-based advertising 

This tactic is based on algorithms that use multiple clustering techniques to group similar users with similar interests into groups or cohorts.  

Known as Federated Learning of Cohorts (FLoC), it can provide an effective replacement signal for third-party cookies and could potentially be paired with TURTLEDOVE to improve accuracy.  

universal ids 

This solution is based on cooperation between publishers, their Demand Side Partner (DSP) and Supply Side Partners (SSP). As such, it’s a tactic that’s mainly aimed at the programmatic market. 

Universal IDs are ideal for a cookie-less world as they don’t need to rely on third parties to collect user information. Instead, they can pull data from any source online or offline to provide a definitive ID match. However, this tactic does require users to log into the publisher site.  

in conclusion… 

Currently, we’re being asked about Google’s proposed changes less than we thought we might. Are businesses burying their heads in the sand or do they see the two-year timeline as a reason not to worry just yet?  

Proactive by nature, we’re getting ourselves and our clients in a comfortable position ahead of Google pulling the plug on third-party cookies. To lessen the impact, we’re encouraging our clients to get used to using first-party data within their strategy now. This includes:  

  • uploading data for Google Customer Match 

  • improving first-party data collection 

  • leveraging Facebook lookalike audiences 

  • working with Experian to produce and analyse third-party data to create mosaic audiences  

If you need a helping hand to understand more about a cookie-less advertising world or want to begin preparing your campaigns to be less reliant on third-party cookies, get in touch with our team

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