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The Cookieless Future: How to Prepare?

While concerns surrounding consumer data keep increasing, marketers need to expect some significant changes in the next years, including third-party cookies going away. 👽 Welcome to the cookieless future.

Joking apart, change can be scary, but it doesn’t have to be negative! Succeeding in this cookieless world will mean being adaptable and developing new advertising strategies to boost revenue.

In this post, we give you the necessary background to understand what the cookieless future holds and some of the best ways to seize its opportunities.

Cookies are small data files generally stored on a user’s computer/browser. Every time you go back to a website you’ve already visited, cookies remember your preferences (such as your password). Not all cookies are the same, they can have different purposes:

  • Some of them are meant to give you a more enhanced experience of the website you’re visiting. For example, trackers can remember your username and password or the items you’ve added to your cart during online shopping.

  • Others can track your online behavior to give you targeted advice: have you ever looked for something to buy online, and then ads for that same thing would pop up everywhere? Well, that’s because of trackers.

Learn more about what cookies track here.

Cookies are usually divided into first-party and third-party cookies:

  • First-party cookies are those managed directly by the owner of the site/app. They are widely employed to enhance user experience as they contain login and visit information (password, location), user preferences, and behavior (language, items in the shopping cart).

  • On the contrary, third-party cookies are managed by third parties and enable their services. Typically, third-party cookies are present when a site/app uses third-party services to incorporate images, social media plugins, or advertising.

Learn more about third-party cookies in this article.

I like cookies. Why does it have to change?

The past years have been characterized by new key trends towards:

👉 As a consequence, third-party cookies will have to go away. In a blog post on July 27th, 2022, Google declared pushing back the effective date to begin phasing out third-party cookies in the 2024.

No need to get too concerned. This change will be gradual:

  • in Q1 of 2024, Google plans to deprecate third-party cookies for 1% of users, so that developers can conduct real world experiments and understand how ready the new alternatives are;
  • in Q4 of 2023, developers will be able to simulate Chrome third-party cookie deprecation for a configurable percentage of their users.

🍪 What is the cookieless future?

The cookieless future is a shift in the digital landscape after Google announced in January 2020 its intentions to kill off the tracking cookies on Chrome. These tracking cookies help advertisers track users around the web and target them with ads.

It goes without saying the objective is to improve user privacy and replace third-party cookies with more privacy-conscious technologies.

What will replace cookies in the future?

Many browsers including Firefox, Safari and Chrome have decided to stop the use of third-party cookies. Of course, each browser has decided to position itself on the topic of privacy differently. As a consequence, this impacted the level of involvement of each of them in finding and offering compelling alternatives.

At the time of this writing, Firefox and Safari haven’t provided clear guidelines on potential alternatives to third-party cookies going away, unlike Google. Keep reading for more.

  • 🌐 Firefox reviewed its privacy settings in September 2019 as part of its feature called Enhanced Tracking Protection. In June 2022, it rolled out an improved version called Total Cookie Protection, set by default to all Firefox users worldwide. This version is less invasive: trackers cannot link up behavior on multiple sites, they just get to see behavior on individual sites. ➡️ Firefox says that “people can enjoy better privacy and have the great browsing experience they’ve come to expect”.
  • 🌐 Safari blocked third-party cookies by default at the beginning of 2020 with a feature called Intelligent Tracking Prevention (ITP). Third-parties are restricted to ask users to allow the use of cookies through Storage Access API. ➡️ Apple can afford to make user privacy a priority AND be very strict about cookies because its revenue does not strongly depend on advertising.

The above browsers haven’t provided clear guidelines on potential alternatives. Google, on the other hand, has a clearer answer.

About Google’s Topics API

Google defined a series of solutions as part of its Privacy Sandbox initiative.

It recently proposed Topics API. In a nutshell, with Topics API, the browser keeps an eye on your web activity and determines what you’re interested in based on the category of websites you browse the most, without needing to know the specific sites you’ve visited. This still allows advertisers to display relevant ads.

Topics API is meant to replace FLoC API, the initial project which has now been stopped. It was based on tracking groups of people rather than individuals, hiding individuals within large crowds of people with common interests. It hit many roadblocks and raised privacy concerns from advocates and regulators in the UK and the US.

👉 It’s important to understand that Google won’t stop tracking people entirely. Different technologies in the early phases of development aim to replace third-party cookies to show relevant content and ads.

In April 2023, Google released some results on Google Ads’ interest-based advertising testing. Interest-based audience solutions’ performance showed promising. Ad spending with internet-based audience solutions (which include privacy-preserving signals) was down 1% to 3% compared to third-party-cookie results. However, click-through rates remained within 90% of the status quo.

In the meantime, there are a few things you can easily implement to make the cookieless future your ally.

cookieless future

🚀 Tips to Thrive in the Cookieless Future

Can there be a win-win for consumers and marketers? Definitely! 🎉

While publishers and marketers have been relying greatly on third-party cookies, there is now an opportunity to choose among different alternatives which gather high-value data and place privacy and trust as governing principles.

Take advantage of zero-party and first-party data

👉 The cookieless future does not mean “no data”. It only affects third-party cookies.

Zero-party data is data that a customer intentionally and proactively shares with a brand. The benefits are clear:

  • the data gathered is precise since it comes directly from the client (i.e., buying intentions, information related to their preferences, quizzes, polls, etc.);
  • the data gathered is relevant and compliant: clients trust the brand and are aware that their data could be used in order to benefit from a better buyer experience.

In a nutshell, zero-party data is the best of both worlds: a privacy-conscious alternative, giving control back to consumers and providing marketers with high-quality personalized data.

On the other hand, first-party cookies (mentioned before) help to provide a seamless user experience. They can also give you some analytics data on website traffic.

👉 Early adopters of first and zero-party data solutions will reap great benefits. Make sure to implement a strategy that relies on this valuable data.

Double down your efforts on contextual and content-focused targeting

These two methods were previously overlooked in favor of third-party cookies, but could make a quick comeback:

  • Contextual targeting, which places the most relevant ads in the most appropriate context in order to reach the right audience. A simple example: an ad for a new car inserted in a car magazine.
  • Content-focused targeting includes a variety of channels, including emailing, events, and social media, and aims at providing high-value content experiences.

💡 Aside from the usual effort with ads, it becomes important to inform and educate the audience with relevant and native messages that allow better decision-making.

Ensure your data practices remain compliant and privacy-friendly in the cookieless future

In this new cookieless world, along with adopting new privacy-friendly methods, companies and marketers alike must put user privacy and trust first. Users must be shielded from having their data collected without consent. At all costs.

Implementing privacy-friendly practices isn’t a walk in the park. But as we’ve seen in this article, it is crucial. Here are some key tips that you should follow:

  • be transparent and inform users on the usage of their personal data in an up-to-date privacy policy;
  • block cookies before obtaining consent, gather and store consent proofs via a cookie banner on your site;
  • give users the possibility to opt out from the processing of their personal data.
💡 Remember that privacy isn’t only about cookies!

Luckily, legal software solutions can assist with the technical aspect of all of the above. They help you be compliant with international privacy laws and ultimately build valuable relationships and trust with users.

👉 If you haven’t already, definitely consider getting one. Leverage consent, privacy, and compliance in your favor to build more serene customer experiences.

Find out what you need to get compliant

Curious to assess how compliant you are on all the aspects of data collection?

👉 Find out now by completing this free 1-min quiz!

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