The End of Cookies in Chrome

In the realm of digital marketing, cookies have been the cornerstone of tracking user behavior and delivering personalized experiences online. However, a seismic shift is underway as major players in the tech industry, notably Google, announced the end of third-party cookies. This move signals a significant departure from the traditional methods of data collection and targeting, sparking both concern and opportunity within the marketing community. What does the ‘death of the cookie’ mean for businesses? 

What are Cookies?

First, let’s delve into the basics of cookies. Unfortunately, not the delicious kind! 

HTTP cookies are small pieces of data stored on a user’s device (downloaded) by websites they visit. These snippets of information enable websites to remember users’ actions and preferences, facilitating a smoother browsing experience. Cookies come in various forms, with third-party cookies being particularly prevalent in digital advertising.

When you visit a website that uses cookies, the cookie is downloaded to your device or updated if you’ve visited that site before. These cookies allow websites to remember you as a user, giving the website valuable information such as your preferences, shopping cart information, and login credentials. It’s about providing a seamless experience for the user – but also giving information to the company they can use and analyze.

HTTP cookies come in three varieties: 

  1. Session cookie 
  2. Persistent cookie
  3. Third-party cookie

Session cookies, as the name implies, only last for as long as each web session. Persistent cookies last longer, which is how sites like Amazon keep track of what’s in your basket. These are what we call ‘first-party cookies.’

Third-party cookies, on the other hand, are like ‘persistent cookies’ in that they are downloaded to your browser until they are erased. But the key difference is that the cookies aren’t owned by a website or a website you visit but by another party (such as a social media company or advertiser). 

What are Third-Party Cookies?

Second, let’s explore a little more about third-party cookies.

Third-party cookies, as stated, are created by domains other than the one the user is currently visiting. They are primarily used by advertisers and marketers to track users across different websites, gathering data on their browsing habits and interests. This tracking allows for targeted advertising and personalized content delivery. This is the type of cookie that is starting to get blocked by Chrome. We’ll look at how that may impact some businesses.

Why are Third-Party Cookies Important?

For years, third-party cookies have been the lifeblood of digital advertising, providing invaluable insights into consumer behavior and enabling highly targeted campaigns. They have allowed marketers to reach specific audiences with precision and measure the effectiveness of their campaigns through metrics such as impressions, clicks, and conversions.

When Google Announced the Plan to Remove Third-Party Cookies

Google made a groundbreaking announcement that sent shockwaves through the digital marketing industry: the phasing out of third-party cookies in its Chrome browser. This plan was originally announced back in 2020. Google said it would be removing cookies from the Chrome browser by 2022. 

The plan hit some snags, which is why it’s only just happening in 2024. However, Google started removing 1% of its cookies this year, which began on January 4th. 

But doesn’t Google sell ads? Why would they do this? Google still plans to allow first-party cookies to collect data about your own site visitors. This decision came as part of Google’s broader effort to enhance user privacy and security while still supporting a thriving digital ecosystem.

Google also introduced Topics API. This API collects data about the ‘topics’ that interest you. Google’s example is that it might pick up that one of your topics is ‘sports’ and it will target ads around your interests; however, it’s fully customizable and you can add and remove topics as you see fit. It’s aimed at assigning interests based on sites users visit but it’s a balance between user privacy and digital advertisers/companies.

Google’s Announcement: The Impact

Google’s decision to eliminate third-party cookies represents a fundamental shift in the digital advertising landscape. With Chrome commanding a significant share of the browser market, this move has far-reaching implications for marketers, advertisers, and publishers alike. It signals the end of an era dominated by cookie-based tracking and necessitates a reevaluation of marketing strategies.

How Will Digital Marketing Fare?

The demise of third-party cookies poses significant challenges for digital marketers. Without access to this rich source of data, advertisers will need to find alternative methods for targeting and measuring the performance of their campaigns. This shift requires rethinking marketing attribution strategies and a greater emphasis on first-party data and contextual targeting.

What Businesses Need to Do

As the countdown to the end of third-party cookies continues, businesses must take proactive steps to adapt to the changing landscape of digital marketing. Here are some key actions they can take:

  1.  Prepare for the End of Third-Party Cookies: Businesses should start preparing for a cookie-less future by diversifying their data collection and targeting methods. This may involve investing in technologies that leverage first-party data, such as customer relationship management (CRM) systems and data management platforms (DMPs). Additionally, businesses should review their privacy policies and ensure compliance with evolving regulations surrounding data privacy.
  2. Explore Alternative Marketing Attribution Strategies: With the demise of third-party cookies, traditional attribution models based on last-click or multi-touch attribution may become obsolete. Instead, businesses should explore alternative attribution models that prioritize first-party data and incorporate factors such as contextual targeting and engagement metrics. This shift requires a more holistic approach to measuring the impact of marketing efforts across various touchpoints.
  3. Utilize Tools and Resources Available for the Phase Out of Third-Party Cookies: Google has launched initiatives such as the Privacy Sandbox to help businesses navigate the transition away from third-party cookies. The Privacy Sandbox aims to develop privacy-preserving alternatives to third-party cookies that still enable effective advertising and measurement. Businesses can leverage resources such as the Privacy Sandbox APIs and developer tools to stay ahead of the curve and adapt their digital marketing strategies accordingly.

Preparing for the Phase Out

Here are three quick bullets of ways to prepare for the phase-out of third-party cookies:

  • Audit your current use of third-party cookies and identify which use cases can be migrated to the new Privacy Sandbox APIs.
  • Test your websites and marketing campaigns to ensure they are compatible with the new restrictions.
  • Consider using first-party data and other alternative methods to track user behavior and attribute conversions.

Explore the Privacy Sandbox by Google Developers to see how to transition (or hire a professional).

Privacy Sandbox on Google Developers

Google Developers offers valuable resources for businesses looking to understand and implement privacy-preserving advertising solutions in the post-cookie era. The Privacy Sandbox provides developers with access to APIs, documentation, and best practices for building privacy-centric advertising experiences. By embracing these tools and resources, businesses can future-proof their digital marketing efforts and ensure compliance with evolving privacy regulations.

The Takeaways

The end of third-party cookies in Chrome marks a pivotal moment in the evolution of digital marketing. While this shift presents challenges for advertisers and marketers, it also opens up new opportunities for innovation and creativity. By embracing alternative targeting and measurement strategies, businesses can adapt to the changing landscape of digital advertising and continue to deliver personalized experiences to their audiences. The future of digital marketing lies in leveraging first-party data, contextual targeting, and privacy-preserving technologies to create meaningful connections with consumers in a cookie-less world.

If you need advice or help with the transition of ending your reliance on third-party cookies, get in touch with Key Medium today

Elaine, an SEO Specialist and Content Writer

Elaine Frieman holds a Master’s Degree and is a UK-based professional editor, educational writer, and former marketing agency content writer where she wrote articles for disparate clients using SEO best practice. She enjoys reading, writing, walking in the countryside, traveling, spending time with other people’s cats, and going for afternoon tea.