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Is The Post-Cookie World A Myth?

Date published: November 23, 2021
Last updated: November 23, 2021

Are we actually living in a post-cookie world? Advertising and marketing professionals have been preparing for the death of cookies since Google first announced its plans to make third-party cookies obsolete at the start of 2020.

But here we are, nearly two years later, and we're still waiting for the end.

The reality is, despite all the drama about the inevitable death of cookies and the demise of media companies slow to adapt, the cookie transition is turning out to be a lot milder than anyone anticipated.

First, third-party cookies are still on the table. And second, first-party cookies were never going away, leaving savvy marketing teams with far more than a plate of crumbs.

That means if you can manage a marketing strategy that makes consumers want to share their information with you, then your brand will come out the other side of this cookie transition stronger than before.

Let's look at why we're not actually moving into a post-cookie world but rather a world with fewer cookies, and what marketers should be doing right now to adapt.

Key Takeaways:

  • We're not living in a post-cookie world, at least not until Google actually bans third-party cookies.
  • Even when that happens, marketers can build brand awareness and share brand messaging with the help of first-party cookies.
  • Marketers still need to adapt by relying less on third-party cookies, but this won't be a problem for content-focused brands.

Why Third-Party Cookies Aren't Going Away Anytime Soon

While some browsers, such as Firefox and Safari, have already phased out third-party cookies, Google is keeping them around for a while longer on its browser. It may be one company, but because of its size, what Google decides always matters. Google Chrome accounts for more than half of the web browser market.

Earlier this year, Google announced plans to delay its third-party cookie ban on Chrome. Instead of a target date of early 2022, now the plan is to phase out third-party cookies over a three-month period in late 2023.

Google's reasoning? The company wants to “avoid jeopardizing the business models of many web publishers which support freely available content.” The extra time could also help with “providing privacy-preserving technology [to help] ensure that cookies are not replaced with alternative forms of individual tracking and to discourage the rise of covert approaches like fingerprinting.”

It's possible Google’s own rising ad revenue figured into their "post-cookie world" decision as well — Google earns billions a year from digital advertising revenue.

Advertising Revenue of Google from 2001 to 2020

Advertising Revenue of Google from 2001 to 2020

Either way, Google has put the brakes on the end of third-party cookies, which means everyone in the digital advertising ecosystem has more time to get ready for the changes. One way marketers can adapt is by focusing on first-party cookies.

First-Party Cookies vs. Third-Party Cookies

Brands use cookies to track website visitors. It's cookies that make it possible to track where website visitors go online, and then to use this data to deliver targeted ads and a better user experience (UX) when they revisit your website.

In theory, cookies benefit everyone — marketers, advertisers, publishers, and consumers. After all, they enable brands to deliver more personalized experiences.

But, in practice, third-party cookies have a privacy problem that piqued our collective interest in a post-cookie world. This is because, with third-party cookies, websites other than the one a web user is visiting are using the cookies. This means the user doesn't have control over how their data is used.

How Third-Party Cookies Work

A third party, such as an advertiser, generates the cookie (tracking code) when someone visits your website. Then, this cookie is placed on the web visitor's computer. When the web visitor searches the web, the cookie tracks their actions and sends the data to the third party that created the cookie.

How First-Party Cookies Work

With first-party cookies, things are different. The website, the first party, generates the cookies when a consumer visits. Then, the website stores the cookies and uses them to keep track of an individual’s search preferences. These include things like language, device preference, and password info. They also help a brand better understand visitor behavior. This information can then be used to deliver a more personalized digital experience.

Which Cookies Are Better?

Google says that first-party cookies are vital. The bottom line is, brands use first-party cookies to directly improve UX. And, as a better customer experience is a critical goal in digital marketing, you can count on first-party cookies in the long run.

Third-party cookies, while they made it easy to create targeted digital ads, don't offer that much value to the consumer. So, don't count on them sticking around.

However, it doesn't look like there will ever be a true post-cookie world. Only an end to the rampant use of third-party cookies to track people as they browse the web.

So, what does that mean for marketers moving forward?

Make Brand Trust a Priority

Whether your advertising strategies rely heavily on third-party cookies right now or not, one thing remains the same – the less your marketing strategy depends on third-party cookies, the more control you have over how well you understand your buyers.

A lot of marketers are using this transition time as a wake-up call. The days of leaning too much into tech solutions to personalize and engage the customer are over. And the truth is, digital ads never work as a sustainable marketing strategy anyway. Now is the time to focus on earning trust with your target audience through content.

By building trust, you can look forward to a stronger relationship with customers:

  • Site visitors will be more willing to share their information with you, which means they’ll be more likely to opt-in to your first-party cookies.
  • When customers trust your brand, they’ll also share information in other ways, such as sharing their email address when signing up for your newsletter, giving demographic data in exchange for a content download, or filling out an online customer survey detailing their purchasing preferences.

So, how can you start building trust with your customers in a post-cookie world?

By creating content that offers them value. Give your customers the insights, advice, and guidance that can help them in their life and work through high-quality blog posts, videos, ebooks, infographics, white papers, and other helpful content.

This is the route many successful brands are taking to build customer relationships. And it's how you can keep growing in a post-third-party cookie world.

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