Navigating The Cookie-Less Frontier: A Marketer’s Guide

Navigating a Cookie-less future: A Marketer's guide.
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Everybody loves cookies. Delicious and comforting, with a flavour for every taste and occasion, it’s little wonder that these treats are so popular. Until recently, cookies of a different kind have been used in digital marketing.

But the use of digital cookies is crumbling. On January 4, 2024, Google began phasing out third-party cookies on its Chrome browser. Although initially only affecting a test group of 1% of users, the tech titan plans to roll out the restriction to 100% of users later this year  (Update: On 26 April 2024, Google announced that they will be delaying the sunset of third party cookies from Chrome until 2025).

Third-party data cookies have long been the backbone of online advertising, enabling marketers to deliver deliciously personalised experiences, tasteful remarketing campaigns, and gather valuable insights into user behaviour. With Google Chrome deprecating third-party cookies to comply with the regulatory changes around user privacy online, marketers must adapt and find innovative ways to continue reaching their audience effectively and still collect the right kind of data for their needs in the “Cookie-less” future.

So what does this mean for you and your business? How can you ensure you comply with all the legal requirements and still get all the data you need to make informed, effective marketing decisions?

Understanding Data Cookies

In very simple terms, digital cookies are small text files that act like a memory card. Cookies are designed to remember information about the user, their preferences, and their interactions with a website. For marketing purposes, they play a crucial role in enhancing user experience, tracking user behaviour, tailoring content, and enriching shopping or browsing engagements, as well as enabling various functionalities on websites

Some cookies are necessary for website functionality and are used to improve the user experience, like saving items in a shopping cart or remembering language or preference settings. These cookies store data related to the user’s current browsing session and are usually deleted when the session ends and the browser window is closed. Others, like those used to help manage preferences, stay on the browser for a pre-determined period (e.g. 14 days).

Then there are the other cookies, the creepy cookies commonly known as third-party cookies. Have you ever felt like a company is following you around? Like they are listening in on your conversations? Like they are looking at your screen over your shoulder?
That’s usually the work of a third-party cookie. These cookies generally sit on a user’s browser and keep track of all sorts of information, like what websites a user has visited, what they have searched for, user location at the time of browsing and more. Third-party cookies are usually from a source that has no direct link to the consumer (a third party), and data from these cookies is often sold to interested parties – like advertisers who use this data to create and distribute highly targeted remarketing ad campaigns.

First-Party Cookies:
  • Originating from the website a user is currently visiting.
  • Used for basic functionalities like remembering login details and user preferences.
  • For analytics purposes these cookies are usually used to track user behaviour on an organisation’s own website.
Third-Party Cookies:
  • Placed by domains other than the one a user is currently visiting.
  • Widely used for tracking identifiable and behavioural data across domains.
  • Increasing privacy concerns and regulatory changes are leading to the limiting and degradation of the use of third party cookies.

The Demise of Third-Party Cookies

Privacy online has been a long-standing issue across the world, and in 2020 the passing into law of the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) by the European Union was seen by many as the turning point to enabling significant change in how data is collected, used and stored online. The USA followed suit soon after with the California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA) an example followed by other nations too, who also added more stringent rules for online data collection to their legislation. New Zealand reviewed the Privacy Act in 2020 with new rules for collecting and securely storing identifiable information online and stipulated clearly and concisely that users must be made aware of the use of cookies on websites.

Tech giants like Google, Apple, and Mozilla have taken steps to restrict cookie tracking too. Some organisations have disabled the use of third-party cookies altogether. Apple first started the degradation of 3rd party cookies in 2017 and automatically disabled them altogether by 2019. Google has been working on updating their product suite to manage data in an anonymised way and on the 4th of January 2024 Google began the phasing out of third-party cookies from their chrome platform too, an effort that is projected to see completion by the end of 2024.

This move prevents certain parties from storing data on your computer, tracking your movements across sites, and storing sensitive or identifiable information about the user, like political affiliations and locations, without their permission. This move has required some significant changes to the way in which data is collected and stored online. Google’s choice to change from Universal Analytics to Google Analytics 4 anonymised the user in all data collection processes.

Following the initiative to disable the use of third-party cookies in the Chrome browser will allow for a more secure internet for users. Most of the regulatory changes in the laws and restrictions above force organisations to gain the user’s express consent before storing and processing information on their browser. Users must also be informed about what information is being collected, for what purpose, where it will be stored and how the data will be secured. Although these new laws can be confusing, marketers must learn to adapt and quickly because this will affect a marketer’s ability to run effective personalised promotions and remarketing campaigns.

Moving Forward in a Cookie-less World

Changes to cookie regulations will undoubtedly take some getting used to, but in the long-term, these new restrictions will likely result in more pertinent, focused, and thorough data sets for marketers to use. This is because marketers will be forced to be more deliberate with the type of data they are collecting, as all tracking will eventually require consent from the user with full transparency regarding the type, use and storage of the data collected – this is already in effect in the European Union and European Economic Area and  in the USA with the CCPA. It’s only really a matter of time before New Zealand and Australia put in more formal guidance and enforcement around Cookie use.

So, how do you prepare for the “cookie-less” future? Well, here are some practical steps we recommend:

  1. Implement Server Side Tracking
    Client side and Server side are two different ways of tracking user data on your website. Traditionally marketers have used an analytics platform (a third-party) to collect data on their website on their behalf. By implementing Server side tracking your website data gets routed through your own (first party) server. This gives you more control over what is data being tracked and where to send this information.
  2. Cookie Consent & Policies – It’s a trust thing.
    This is a big one. User privacy rights is what sparked the Cookie reform to start with.  Implementing and using transparent data collection practices through robust cookie consent and privacy policy practices and the use of features like Consent Mode & enhanced conversions if you use Google Tag Manager and Analytics for measuring your data.
    This not only helps to build trust with your audience it gives them a say in their data and let’s them know that you care.
  3. Collect First-party Data
    This type of data collection provides direct insights from your website audience. It ensures accuracy, compliance, and allows for sustainable targeting strategies, and personalized marketing efforts, ultimately driving higher engagement. Prioritising first-party data ensures marketers maintain control over their data sources and remain adaptable to evolving consumer privacy concerns.

Thriving In The Cookie-less Future

As we step into a cookie-less future, marketers must adopt new analytics strategies. By adapting strategies to prioritise user privacy, leveraging first-party data, exploring innovative targeting methods, and embracing advanced analytics, marketers can navigate this evolving landscape successfully. The key lies in finding a balance between delivering personalised experiences and respecting user privacy, ushering in a new era in digital marketing.

If you would like help making sure you’re on the right path to surviving the “cookiepocalypse” get in touch with the Unbound team today

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