How to Prepare for a Cookieless Future
By Jocelyn Van Saun
May 9, 2023
The marketing world is abuzz with the prospect of a cookieless future. When Google announced it would end support for third-party tracking cookies in Google Chrome, it set off a firestorm of panic and crumbling cookie puns. Marketers wanted to know how to identify and segment their audiences, then serve them with relevant ads and information without that data.
Meanwhile, privacy advocates celebrated because their data would no longer be collected whenever they visited a website. And while Google has pushed back the demise of the third-party cookie to 2024, it has already begun the process by instituting first-party cookies. These cookies are only activated when website visitors accept them. If they reject them, no data is stored.
What does this mean for marketers—and more specifically, your business? This article provides some thoughts on how to prepare for a cookieless future.
What is a tracking cookie?
A tracking cookie is a little snippet of code that lives on a website and stores user data like location, demographics, and browser activity. Cookies can be traced back to 1994 when they were used to enable shopping carts on websites.
How does cookieless tracking work?
With cookieless tracking, third parties cannot obtain user data unless the user submits it voluntarily. When third-party data collection is successful, it is incredibly valuable because it indicates that the visitor has high trust in the organization hosting the website.
In addition, the cookie might include information about consumer interests, preferences, and purchase intentions. This type of explicit consent is called “zero-party data.”
First-party data is another way to track customer activity and usually includes information like purchase history so marketers can offer similar or complementary products and services.
The coming cookieless world
For years, the cookie has been the primary method for tracking audiences online so marketers can serve targeted ads and attribute sales. In recent years, concerns about user privacy have led to conversations about whether or not the usage of cookies is an ethical practice.
Google took a strong stance in early 2022 by announcing its intention to end support for third-party cookies. Company stakeholders soon recognized that privacy-conscious replacement tools needed to be tested before rolling out this change, and marketers needed more time to adjust to this new future.
The plan was pushed back to 2024, but companies are still unsure what to expect when the ball drops. The loss of this engrained practice means they need other tools or methods to collect consumer data or risk losing a major source of lead generation.
GA4 cookieless tracking explained
Google Analytics 4 (GA4), the latest version of the popular analytics platform, relies on first-party cookies. GA4 helps marketers get the most out of this data by using machine learning to fill data gaps.
Some of the notable features of GA4 cookieless tracking include:
- Events-based data vs. session-based
- Behavioral and conversion modeling
- Integration with other media platforms
Starting July 1, 2023, Google Universal Analytics will no longer process data; all new data will flow into GA4. Marketers need to make sure they’ve updated to GA4.
The cookieless website
Without cookies, marketers will need to rely heavily on first-party data. They need to ensure their website not only complies with applicable first-party data regulations but also properly integrates the cookied data with marketing and revenue streams.
On the back end, the cookieless website will need to include personalization capabilities as part of the content management system (CMS) so that it can be used to provide a better website experience when the first-party data is collected. Marketers will also want to look for features in their CMS or from third parties to further personalize their website in real-time.
Some marketers may worry that, without third-party cookies, they cannot correctly attribute sales. However, cookieless attribution may be more effective at providing the data needed for customer profiles.
The problem with third-party cookies is that they can expire before a customer has finished their buying journey. If that happens, a new tracking ID is assigned to them when they return to the website, making it difficult for a marketer to tie the initial visit to the following visit.
On the flip side, cookieless attribution uses first-party data for attribution, collecting data from logged-in users. This data doesn’t expire; it’s data that marketers own and store. It lets them build more comprehensive profiles of their customers and personalize the shopping experience.
One significant application for third-party cookies is retargeting — collecting data from website visitors and then serving them with targeted advertising after they’ve left. It’s one of the most popular advertising strategies to get them to return to the website and complete their purchases.
To achieve successful cookieless retargeting, companies must curate personable, trusting relationships with prospects and customers so they will feel comfortable creating a login and sharing their personal data. Once the first-party data is collected, the company can use that information to personalize advertising and the website experience.
It may be more difficult to build this kind of consumer engagement but it’s more effective. When third-party cookies are used for retargeting, the resulting ads aren’t always relevant to the user. Instead, customers receive ads for products they’ve already purchased.
First-party data collection is much more accurate and can help marketers reach high-intent shoppers at the right time. The comprehensive profiles that marketers can build through generating first-party data will help them achieve more effective retargeting.
The impact of a cookieless future
There is a lot of concern among marketers regarding the demise of the third-party cookie and new regulations such as the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR). Despite this major change, the impact of a cookieless future will be minimal if they start collecting first-party data now. With first-party and zero-party data, marketers can serve more relevant promotions to their prospects while increasing their privacy.
Socius Marketing is already taking steps to prepare our customers for the cookieless future, from ensuring you’re ready for GA4 to adapting the back end of websites to collect first-party data. While cookieless is coming, we are shifting with the tide to give you the most value from the data you collect so the leads keep flowing.
Getting help from a marketing agency can prepare organizations for a cookieless future. An agency can suggest tools, processes, and strategies to maximize websites, first-party data, and digital marketing efforts.
To learn more about how we can help you remove third-party cookies and target users in a cookieless world, schedule a consultation.