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The Future of Digital Marketing without Third-Party Cookies

Posted by Lauren on 28-Feb-2024 16:40:03
| 8 Minute Read

With the complete removal of third-party cookies impending (as mentioned in our top digital marketing trends for 2024), tactics to adapt to these changes are at the forefront of marketeers’ minds. How will this impact digital marketing strategies and businesses?

We answer all these questions in a recent interview between Founder and CEO of Innovation Visual, Tim Butler and our expert colleague, Senior Biddable and Analytics Executive, Kyle Redman, to explore the impact.

Want to watch or listen instead? Watch the full interview, by clicking on the YouTube video below. Don’t forget to subscribe to our YouTube channel to get frequent video updates.


What are Cookies?

KYLE: Cookies are essentially crumbs of data. They'll be stored at the browser level for the user, and these can generally be broken down into two categories of first-party and third-party.

When we go to look at first-party data, we typically associate that with more helpful and useful cookies. So, we're looking at things such as how websites remember your login information, items you add to your shopping cart and that sort of thing.

TIM: Okay. So that's the first-party cookies, which is a crumb of data sitting on the browser and it's holding information like, I'm Tim and this is my login details. So when I'm going through a site which I'm logged into, it allows me to go through the different pages and stay logged in.

KYLE: Then we move on to third-party cookies and these are slightly different in nature. So, in the broadest sense, the way they're differentiated from first-party cookies is they are typically set by a different domain and it's all about ownership of the data and how it's used.

Some examples of third-party cookies: let's say you're on a holiday site looking at holidays to Spain. Then a day later you're scrolling through your social feed and right in front of you, you just get advertisements for Villas in Spain. That is a result of third-party cookies tracking your activity across sites.

TIM: So these third-party cookies could be something like an advertising one. It could be from Meta, and it could be on a website which is, say a holiday review site. It's tracking the fact that you've looked at these holidays in Spain and then it's feeding that data back to base if you like which then allows them to advertise to you.

KYLE: Exactly, so that's what makes it third-party - there is a third party who is owning this data and putting it to use outside of their own domain.

TIM: So not the website owner, not the user, the third party which is where the name comes from.

Just to understand Kyle, there are cookies on a website that are useful that aren't coming from that website's domain. So, if we look at Innovation Visual’s website, we've got cookies for Google Analytics and for HubSpot for example. What are they then?

KYLE: Yes, like you mentioned, these are actually useful cookies that can either enhance the user experience of the site or, in the example that you've given, just internal use. So, we can just analyse our site data and look at where optimisations might need to be made. Things like that aren't necessarily comparable to third-party cookies.


The Demise of the Cookie

TIM: There's been lots of talk about the death of the cookie, the demise of the cookie. Can you give some context? Where are we at with this demise of the cookie? Because it's been talked about for a long time.

KYLE: It's one of those things where the goalpost keeps shifting. In typical Google fashion, it keeps getting delayed and pushed back. Google aren't the creators and inventors of cookies, they don't control all of them but Google Chrome has around 60 percent market share of the browser industry. Obviously Google's decisions in terms of cookies and how Chrome use them is going to have a big knock-on effect in the industry.

Where it currently stands is we already have some browsers which by default are going to block third-party cookies like Safari and Firefox. As far as Google Chrome is concerned, Google have said by quarter one of 2024, they're looking to remove third-party cookies but only for 1% of the Chrome base. I think that's their sort of testing ground for how they're going to overcome it.

Then I think their aim is by quarter three of 2024, they want to start ramping that up. But again, those goal posts can still shift. Despite that, I think it's still worth looking into best practices for first-party data ahead of those.

TIM: I suppose Google has a kind of an incentive to not rush this as it's using third-party cookies for its advertising engine which is where Google makes lots of its money. But I suppose the push for all of this has really come from European law primarily, as well as some US and other international law, but it's the legal framework pushing people towards this on a privacy stance.


The Future without Third-Party Cookies

TIM: Can you give me an idea of what the future is looking like?

KYLE: I think, like we mentioned earlier with potential shifting of the dates of the demise of third-party cookies, it's important that we start focusing on first-party data.

So first-party data is data that you have gathered, harnessed, stored, and use yourself, rather than through  third party. I think there needs to be a heightened importance on the collecting, storing and usage of that data. If we investigate things such as sending quizzes, questionnaires, just different methods that we can use to engage a customer base to retrieve more data points from them, that can then be used for future advertising and targeting.

TIM: This is similar to the topic of my talk at E-Commerce Expo, and I know our MarTech Manager Chris has talked about it before, where what we're doing is we're looking for strategies to add data points into our CRM whether it be Klaviyo, whether it be HubSpot or other systems that are usable data points. This isn't just collecting data because you talk about quizzes and things like that. It's not just: do they know what the capital of France is or something like that. It’s a usable element of data. Do they prefer medium size or large size clothes? Is it that they ride mountain bikes or road bikes? It's those kind of data points that we're looking to collect.

KYLE:  I think another one of the challenges is also not to be in a panicked rush, throwing these capture methods at your user base. You don't just want to throw random emails out there. Hey, here's a random quiz, what's your favourite country, like you were mentioning. That's another part of the puzzle: figuring out where these collection points fit in.

TIM: What we're looking to do is build a better picture of our prospects and our clients, particularly prospects because they're the ones we want to upsell to and because we often have a very good view of our customers but not so much of prospects if the third-party cookies aren't there, so what's the impact? Imagining a world with no third-party cookies - what does that mean in terms of advertising and why we're saying the solution is first-party or part of the solution is first-party data?

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Is First-Party Data the Solution?

KYLE: In terms of advertising, if we take platforms such as Facebook and Instagram advertising as an example, you have options on there to reach users who have shown interest in specific topics. Like we talked about in the introduction for third-party cookies, this is all revolving around cross-site tracking.

Facebook are aware if you have visited a holiday site, so they can then show you adverts related to that content. Targeting like that is going to essentially disappear or at least become a lot more difficult.

TIM: We need to know if we can - through our collection of first-party data - that Kyle is interested in holidays in Spain because we're not going to be able to use a third-party system, third-party cookie and that platform to say let's reach people who are interested in going on holidays to Spain. Effectively it's about market access.

KYLE: Precisely. I guess it's still important to say that platforms such as LinkedIn with their targeting which you can obviously get very specific through job titles and industries, that data isn't going anywhere because that is all specific information users provide to LinkedIn and you're then advertising within that same platform.

Information like this won't be going anywhere but like we touched on before, you're still going to have to be cautious of losing out on all these other data points from cross-site tracking and interest. 

TIM: And I imagine it's not just consumer information, but also people who are in the B2B space and looking at platforms that provide intent data. These work around people visiting sites to research subjects and the intent platforms basically build up a picture of saying: this person is doing certain searches, is looking at certain content and therefore they're in the market for a big Enterprise collaboration system for example.

It's not just consumer sites that should be worried about this, this is actually all digital advertisers who should be thinking: okay I'm not going to find it as easy to target granular audiences if there's no third-party cookies. Is that right?

KYLE: 100%! It's going to be a change which will be noticed across the board, both from the consumer and the actual marketer themselves.



Strategies to Mitigate the Removal of Third-Party Cookies

TIM: We've talked about why the demise of the third-party cookie is a problem and then we've talked about the main thrust of counteracting this by building your own first-party data so that you can then understand and access an audience that's relevant to your products, your ICP, but are there other any other strategies, other than just building your first-party data that people can be thinking of?

KYLE: Yeah, so whilst like you've mentioned the removal of third-party cookies and data can have a big impact on a company's digital marketing with paid campaigns, it’s obviously not the be-all, end-all as far as your overall marketing picture is concerned. You still have lots of important aspects that you need to keep in mind such as your organic visibility and growth, so it's very much not a case of one thing's prioritised above the other. You need to still look across the entirety of your marketing channels. Look to grow that still but definitely the changes with third-party cookies…

TIM:'s more hitting the paid advertising areas.

KYLE: Exactly that.

TIM: Actually, it's a wake-up call to those marketing leaders that have become almost overly reliant on paid that the ROI is going to drop because it's not going to be so targeted, it's not going to be so accurate. There's people where they won't understand what they want and what they need. So actually, they should follow that strategy and something that we're always talking to clients about, which is don't ever be reliant on one major source and also earn the right to communicate with your audience by creating great content and getting that visible on search engines.

KYLE: That's right. You need to have a multi-channel approach to all of this really. Not just pigeonholing yourself into only paid but also looking into the bigger picture of things like organic as well.

TIM: Okay, that's good. This is a separate thing to be aware of too: the cookie banner and the fact that cookie banners should be applied properly which will likely cause a drop in traffic on your website. In summary on the third-party cookies, do you want to sum up our timeline and our key action points?


Summary of Key Points

KYLE: The timeline is we're looking towards the end of 2024 for third-party cookies to actually disappear, again subject to changes in the industry that can move. The key actions from that would be start sooner rather than later collecting first-party data thinking about how you're going to store it and how you're going to use it for the future.

TIM: Okay, so ideally have started yesterday but if you haven't started yesterday, start today!

KYLE: Precisely.

TIM: Okay well that's really good thank you Kyle - it's been really informative.

Tim Butler and Kyle Redman.


Need Support Adapting to these Changes?

During this time of change, it is the perfect opportunity to reassess your tech stack and digital marketing plans, and develop tactics to adapt.

Contact our expert team of digital marketing specialists at Innovation Visual, who can work with you to create winning digital strategies.

Topics: Content, Strategy, Digital Marketing, Content Strategy & Planning, Digital Marketing Answered, Data

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