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What does 'the death of cookies' really mean?

May 25, 2021

It’s been some time now since Google announced they were removing third-party cookie capabilities from their browser, but are we ready for the ‘death of cookies’? At a glance, it may appear that we are losing all cookies and thus all data and insights we gain from cookies. Truthfully, we are only saying goodbye to third-party cookies - first-party cookies are here to stay! But why are we losing third-party cookies? And what does that mean for the future of digital marketing? In today’s blog, we are going to discuss what the ‘death of cookies’ really means and how to plan future strategies around this loss.


What’s the difference between first-party and third-party cookies?

Before we delve into the reason for this piece, it’s best we start out with a clarification of the difference between first-party and third-party cookies. 


First-party cookies

First-party cookies are generated when a user visits your website. These cookies are going to provide information about a user's journey through your website and how they interact with it. You will receive information about how many pages they visit, how long they stay, actions they performed, geographical location and so much more. These cookies provide marketers with valuable information about how users are interacting with the page and give insights for future strategies. First-party cookies are also great for the overall user experience as they are responsible for remembering passwords and their basic information. 


Third-party cookies

Third-party cookies are tracking codes placed on a user's computer from another website (hence the term ‘third-party’). When a user visits a website, the third-party cookie tracks this information and sends it to the third-party that created the cookie. These cookies provide information on a user’s overall behaviours online. It shows what websites they often visit and actions they have performed on other sites such as purchases they have made. This information is often used as a strategy to hypertarget users with personalised ads.


Why are we losing third-party cookies?

Google has stated that by eliminating third-party cookies from their Chrome browser, they are making the web more private and secure for users. Google has stated that users are “demanding greater privacy - including transparency, choice and control over how their data is used” and they aren’t wrong. Privacy has long been a concern for users in the internet-sphere, but it is only recently that users have been waking up to the importance of data and how much of their data is being used. With this in mind, giving users more control over their information and the power of privacy is quite a good thing.


Skeptics of the phase-out might tell you that eliminating third-party cookies from Chrome is a way to force the market to spend more money with Google rather than what was previously spent with third-parties. Marketers and advertisers will have to be more reliant on the first-party cookies, therefore giving Google an even tighter grip on the market. 


Skeptics might also tell you that third-party cookies are good for users too! Third-party cookies allow for personalisation of content for users. Yes, it may feel a little intrusive to get ads for a pair of shoes you looked at earlier in the week, but these ads are actually relevant to you. Sometimes, that can help you find a product or reignite interest in a product. And if you consider the alternative (where you get random annoying ads that aren’t relevant to you at all) you wouldn’t be alone in thinking that personalisation is better! Regardless of whether they are a good or a bad thing, they are still leaving our browsers - and it's time to come to terms with this.


What do we do now?

Marketers and advertisers might be in mourning over the loss of these cookies, but it’s wise to consider what to do in the future. If your strategies rely heavily on third-party cookies, it’s time to pivot your strategies! Search for other alternatives (because there will be other options out there). Before announcing third-party cookies will be phased out, Google launched the Privacy Sandbox, declared as a “secure environment for personalisation that also protects user privacy”. That might be a good place to start the search. 


It’s hard to say what exactly marketers and advertisers that relied on third-party cookies will use in the future, but it’s important to stay up-to-date with the goings on in this space. New alternatives and more updates will keep coming up, so keep on the lookout.

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