The end is here. It is finally happening. No, we are not talking about the zombie apocalypse, the poles inverting, the inevitable AI uprising or other world-ending events. Rather, after being postponed multiple times, the use of third-party cookies is finally coming to an end. Along with their demise, the window for preparing for this cataclysmic change is also rapidly closing.

For those not entrenched in digital marketing, the end of cookies might not seem like a big deal. Make no mistake, it absolutely is. Currently, 83% of marketers rely on third-party cookies as integral parts of their marketing campaigns. That is a lot, and the loss of cookies will forever change digital marketing. With digital marketing playing such a vital role in overall marketing efforts, the impact of the demise of cookies will be compounded even further.

If you are a CEO, entrepreneur, marketer or brand leader, now is the time to pay attention to this monumental shift. We won’t shout negatives like some corner doomsayers, but not understanding what is about to happen can severely impact your business. So, what can you do about it? Let’s talk about what is happening, what you can do about it and back you off that ledge. In this article, we will discuss:

  • The different types of cookies.
  • Why third-party cookies are going away.
  • The timeline for their extinction.
  • What you can do to prepare for their imminent demise.

WHAT ARE COOKIES?

Let’s start with the basics. Cookies are text files that are essentially trackers. They gather a treasure trove of data about your online browsing habits. Everything from what sites you visit to how long you spend on individual web pages to the information you input on those pages can be gathered by HTTP cookies. The two types of cookies are:

  • Session Cookies: These are simplistic text file cookies stored in your computer or device’s temporary memory. They track your movement across an individual website and also allow it to remember things while you are on it. Once you close your browser or leave the website, session cookies disappear. They are deemed strictly necessary cookies and are General Data Protection Regulation compliant (more on that later).
  • Persistent Cookies: The most significant difference between the two is that persistent cookies stay active after you have left an individual website or closed your browser. They store on your computer’s hard drive for considerably longer than session cookies. Persistent cookies allow a website to remember your information (items in your cart, login info, shipping addresses, billing information, etc.) over multiple visits.

WHAT ARE THE DIFFERENT PARTY COOKIES?

Cookies can also be further differentiated by who is gathering your data. It may seem inconsequential, but the difference has important legal and future ramifications. The current purge of cookies only focuses on third-party cookies, not first-party ones. Let’s explain the differences between the two:

  • First-Party Cookies: These cookies can be temporary or persistent but are gathered directly by a website you visit. They can actually help streamline your site experience by acting as a website’s memory, storing things like your login info and what is in your shopping cart. Once you leave that site, the first-party cookies stop tracking you and gathering data.
  • Third-Party Cookies: Unlike first-party variants, third-party cookies come from entities other than the website you are visiting. Digital marketers and larger companies and apps like Facebook, Instagram, etc. often use them. Always persistent cookies, they do not expire when you leave a website. Instead, they follow you anytime you are on the internet, collecting as much data as possible about your browsing habits.

WHY IS THIS HAPPENING?

It turns out that people really don’t like their every online activity monitored and data harvested by unknown third parties. In fact, 86% of U.S. adults in a recent 2023 survey said that data privacy is a growing concern. That apprehension helped pass the European Union General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) in 2018 and the similar California Privacy Act (CPRA) soon after to help protect users’ online data. A host of U.S. states are enacting similar legislation this year, and a national law is also in the works (although currently stalled in Congress). Google decided to entirely phase out third-party cookies to stay ahead of future legislation and keep its many users happy by protecting their online privacy.

WHEN IS THIS HAPPENING?

Technically, it is happening right now on a more limited basis. After long delays, Google will eliminate the use of third-party cookies for 1% of Android and Chrome users in Q1 of this year. Barring further delays, total depreciation is scheduled for the second half of 2024. By the end of this year, third-party cookies will go the way of the dodo and be extinct. The time to react to this massive change in digital marketing is quickly running out.

IS THIS REALLY A BIG DEAL?

In today’s modern media environment of being bombarded with clickbait and overblown hyperbole, it can be hard to decipher if this is actually a big deal. We don’t blame you for the doubt but are here to tell you it definitely is. Third-party cookies have been digital marketers’ best friends for years because they allow for delivering highly targeted ads using the data gathered from browsing habits. Without that information, targeting advertising gets a lot more complicated and costly. It is not just us, as 41% of marketers think the loss of third-party cookies is the biggest challenge they face in the immediate future, according to a story in Adweek.

THIS IS JUST ON CHROME, RIGHT?

Nope. Safari and Firefox already have third-party cookies blocked by default. Google and Chrome are just joining the party a bit later. However, the addition of Google’s Chrome to the cookie-killing party is major news because it has a massive 62.8% market share. Six out of 10 people in the world who accessed the internet in 2023 used Chrome. Apple’s Safari comes in a very distant second place with a 20% market share. Firefox is even smaller, with only 3.2% global use. A vast amount of digital marketing dollars also flows through Google, generating $224.47 billion in revenue in 2022.

ARE THERE ALTERNATIVES?

One thing to keep in mind is that the cookie apocalypse only applies to third-party variants. You are free to use first-party cookies as they comply with current legislation and usually aren’t deemed overly invasive. However, you will want to augment their use with additional efforts. Here are some marketing alternatives to third-party cookies that will become even more important as their demise becomes complete:

  • Google’s Privacy Sandbox: Knowing that tossing out cookies entirely could seriously dent ad revenue, Google is developing the Privacy Sandbox. This unique approach stores user data in the Chrome browser itself with no cookies embedded into a user’s hard drive or temporary storage. Its goal is to shift the Chrome browser to being more protective of user data and transparent about who can access it. More covert tracking techniques are banned entirely, and users have more choice of what data to share. It is still in development but will allow for the targeting of ads without being invasive to privacy.
  • First-Party Data: We have been talking about the importance of first-party data for a while now precisely because of the impending demise of third-party cookies. First-party data is any information you gather directly from your customers, such as demographics, interests, email addresses, etc. Its big benefit is that it can help targeting efforts and comes directly from your customers without the filter of third-party interpretation, making it more accurate. The time to lean into first-party data and make it central to your marketing efforts is now. Give our blog post a read for more information on what first-party data is, why it is so important and how to gather it.
  • Content Marketing: Content marketing is an excellent way to expose your brand and products to new customers. You can also tailor your videos, blog posts and more to reach people at multiple points in your sales funnel with either a broader or narrower focus on your offerings. Content marketing can even help capture first-party data by offering people exclusive content in return for their email addresses or other information. YouTube is also the second most visited website in the world, allowing you to reach massive audiences with your video content. For more reasons why you should be on YouTube, read our blog post.
  • SEO: Search Engine Optimization continues to work because it is more organic than paid advertising. Instead of trying to lure someone to your website with an advertisement, that person found your site (and hopefully its products) through a search. They are even more likely to head to your website if they are looking for information. This is part of why SEO and content marketing go hand in hand. According to Hootsuite, 33% of all internet users watch a tutorial or how-to video every week. Tapping into that need for information with the right SEO-optimized content can be a powerful sales tool.
  • Email Marketing: Email marketing may seem old school, and it is. However, the reason for its longevity, even with the advent of much fresher and flashier technologies, is that it works. An email is one of the easiest components of first-party data to gather. And many consumers actually want to hear from you if they are interested in your brand and products. Keeping them informed about new products, sales and the latest happenings is a great way to increase conversions. Just avoid spamming them with non-stop messaging.

WHAT SHOULD YOU BE DOING RIGHT NOW?

Hopefully, by now, you will realize the importance of this moment. While the temptation might be to panic or give up, we advise against that. Here are some suggestions on what to do instead:

  • Keep Informed: This is a rapidly changing space, so you have to keep on top of it. Google might again delay its elimination of third-party cookies as it has done multiple times in the past (counting on that to happen is not a sound strategy, though). Its Privacy Sandbox also presents a unique solution to targeting ads without invading people’s privacy. However, it is still in the development stages and far from complete. Staying informed about all aspects of the transition to a third-party cookie-free world is the best way to prevent surprises.
  • Don’t Abandon DM: Thinking that digital marketing no longer works and abandoning it is a huge mistake. Despite all the imminent changes, digital marketing is still a cost-effective way to reach potential customers. Unlike other marketing forms, it is also easy to track that effectiveness and determine ROI. However, you may need to increase your digital marketing spending as targeting becomes more complicated and requires more advertising.
  • Deploy New Technologies: Keeping informed will also help you become aware of new technologies. A new feature of Google Analytics 4 is Predictive Audiences, which uses AI to predict the behavior of your website visitors. Predictive Audiences assigns a score to a user of how likely they are to complete an action (like making a purchase within seven days) and groups that user with similar ones. You can then use that information to target that group with specific advertising.
  • Work with the Right People: All of this information can be overwhelming. Most of us want to be able to grow our brands without having to become tech experts. However, that can be impossible if no one at your company deeply understands what is happening. That is why working with the right people to guide you through this transition is vital. Without their expertise, your competition can easily outmaneuver you.

HOW CAN WE HELP?

At Kahn Media, we can help by being your digital marketing experts. Our in-house award-winning digital marketing team is well-versed in the upcoming seismic changes and utilizes the latest technologies to stay ahead of them. They can create innovative campaigns that maximize engagement and ROI. As a full-service marketing agency, we can also handle any of your event management, social media, content creation, public relations and influencer marketing needs. With our vast range of services and expertise, we can even act as a complete turn-key marketing team for your brand at a cost lower than hiring your own staff. Contact us today to see what is possible.