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Cookieless future: A challenge or opportunity?

Cookieless future

Overview

When Google first announced in 2020 that we would see a cookieless future in their Chrome browser, marketers became increasingly concerned on what getting rid of third-party cookies means for them.

Google has announced its plans to become “a more privacy-first web”. Following the footsteps of Apple’s IOS 14 update, Chrome will remove third-party cookies from its browser by 2024. To address growing privacy concerns, Google implemented this major change to improve user privacy and security – in short, giving users more control over how their data is used across the board. 

Data plays a vital role in identifying the customer base. Third-party cookies track users’ behaviour on websites and display ads more relevant to their interests. The beginning phase of moving into a cookieless future will be done over a three-month period in 2024. 

It is important to note here that Google only restricts the usage of third-party cookies. In other words, you can still track data with a different approach while keeping privacy in mind. 

What does cookieless mean?

A cookieless future means you will no longer capture data that identifies individual users. We have seen shifts towards the cookieless world already, with Apple’s iOS14 update using an intelligent tracking prevention feature (ITP) to restrict third-party cookies in their web browser from collecting individual data and tracking them across the web.

Even though it is a major step in ensuring individual privacy, how will it affect marketers? Organisations will undoubtedly process data differently as a result of this change. Firstly, organisations shift towards the adoption of first-party strategies, federated learning of cohorts (FLoC), and the use of contextual marketing to keep collecting and processing data. 

Why is this happening?

Changes in data privacy have occurred over the years with the introduction of privacy laws like the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) and the California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA), putting people’s privacy at the forefront. Google acknowledges how intrusive tracking has become, as well as end-user concerns about the use of their data. Past events with Meta haven’t helped dwindle concerns, most notably the Cambridge Analytica scandal, which has made users become more protective of their data. 

With a dominant market share of 65.84% in online advertising, Chrome has the power to make a massive impact in the digital landscape. This sees the need for organisations to restructure their strategies for collecting data. Even the likes of tech giants Meta and TikTok are moving away from using third-party cookies, creating their own first-party cookies for Pixel tracking purposes. 

What does this mean for you?

Chrome initially planned the phasing out of their party cookies in 2020, but has experienced numerous delays pushing the phase-out to 2022 before experiencing further delays that pushed back the cookies ban to 2024. In hindsight, these delays have helped organisations have more time to amend their advertising approaches. 

In preparation for the cookieless future, getting ahead of the curve and laying the foundation for long-term strategies without dependence on third-party cookie information is recommended. Here are the top solutions we recommend testing out.

1) First-party data collection

First-party data is data collected directly from your customers through your owned digital channels (e.g. your website, app, social media, email, etc.). What makes first-party data stand apart from other data collection methods is that end-users consent to share their data with an organisation. 

Any first-party strategy requires getting permission from users to exchange their data. As seen with the Apple IOS update, where apps must ask users’ consent to be tracked, it will be highly likely to see this option being rolled out across the Google network in the near future. 

Cookieless future - Man using phone with IOS14 update

With less focus on tracking individual users, organisations will be challenged to create fewer personalised campaigns (for more generic ones). Although a challenge, there is a workaround solution available. Users may prefer a more personalised experience; therefore, you can collect first-party data by allowing users to create customer accounts on your website, allowing them to subscribe to an email list, download a lead magnet (in exchange for an email address) or ask them to fill out a feedback form. 

It goes without saying that as quickly as people can opt into your marketing service, they are entitled to opt-out as they wish. So make sure you have opt-out or deactivation options available on your website, emails and apps – or else you will be violating GDPR.

In Google Analytics 4 (GA4), you do not need to set cookies on your website to collect data. GA4 uses first-party data to separate users and sessions from a single user. This way, GA4 randomly generates a user ID without revealing sensitive information about the users allowing you to track them across the site and app. 

While the use of third-party cookies is still in operation, we recommend you perform A/B testing by running both current campaigns alongside cookieless campaigns and monitor results to see if you come across any significant differences. 

GA4 in cookieless future on laptop screen

2) Federated Learning of Cohorts (FLoC)

The Federated Learning of Cohorts (FLoC) is an algorithm currently in development (available in developer origin trial in Chrome). Once made available, FLoC will be able to bundle users together into groups (referred to as cohorts) who share common browsing patterns, characteristics and interests. 

As Google puts it – “You’re part of a crowd”, grouping you with hundreds or thousands of others who share common browsing patterns, characteristics and/or interests.

Cohorts protect individual users by putting users with shared interests in a group; organisations can’t target individual users – presenting a challenge for personalisation purposes. Therefore, organisations must broaden their approach and target cohorts with relevant ads on a wider scale. A workaround solution here is to target specific cohorts that have shared interests and display relevant ads to these cohorts. 

2) Federated Learning of Cohorts (FLoC)

The Federated Learning of Cohorts (FLoC) is an algorithm currently in development (available in developer origin trial in Chrome). Once made available, FLoC will be able to bundle users together into groups (referred to as cohorts) who share common browsing patterns, characteristics and interests. 

As Google puts it – “You’re part of a crowd”, grouping you with hundreds or thousands of others who share common browsing patterns, characteristics and/or interests.

Cohorts protect individual users by putting users with shared interests in a group; organisations can’t target individual users – presenting a challenge for personalisation purposes. Therefore, organisations must broaden their approach and target cohorts with relevant ads on a wider scale. A workaround solution here is to target specific cohorts that have shared interests and display relevant ads to these cohorts. 

An example here would be a bicycle store that advertises its products online. With FLoC, you won’t be able to target individuals, but you will be able to target a large cohort of people interested in bicycles.

3) Contextual targeting

Contextual targeting is a cookie-free solution that allows organisations to display ads that match a website’s content. You can leverage keywords to match up with search terms – so that your ad is relevant to what users are searching for. Contextual marketing presents an opportunity in the scenario to target users with personalised and relevant advertising without using third-party information. 

Take the bicycle store example again; when a user searches the term “bicycle” or similar related terms, they will be targeted by ads relevant to what they are searching for e.g. bicycles or bicycle accessories. 

The options above should be considered if you currently use third-party data in your advertising.

The implications of the death of the third-party cookie are set to cause a fundamental shift in industries, impacting how organisations collect information about their users. We also recommend you stay updated with privacy practices that may impact your business to ensure compliance and preparedness for a cookie-less future. 

Key points

  • Chrome is shifting away from the use of third-party cookies in a move similar to the Apple IOS 14 update. 
  • Alternative options to collect data for web and marketing purposes include first-party strategies, federated learning of cohorts (FLoC), and contextual marketing.
  • The ban on third-party cookies will not majorly impact social media tracking as social media platforms such as Meta and TikTok have already launched their own first-party data pixels.

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