Cookies are going away. But what does that mean for your brand and what should you be doing to prepare?
By Tina Kelly
Google finally appears to be prioritizing consumers over advertisers — or at least the tech giant plans to, beginning in 2024. The company originally announced in 2020 that it was going to remove cookies from its Chrome internet browser, but then delayed the launch of cookieless Chrome until 2024. When those cookies do finally go away, it will ultimately result in huge changes to the way marketers go about reaching consumers.
It first helps to know exactly what cookies are when it comes to the internet and why this is such a big deal. Currently, marketers can target users by placing cookies on their internet sessions. Third-party cookies are used in digital marketing for behavioral targeting, interest targeting and retargeting. By adding cookies to a page, marketers can track a user and/or their devices across different websites. This helps build a profile of the user based on their habits, so advertisements can be better targeted to their interests.
Giving advertisers the power to collect a seemingly unlimited amount of information about people clearly presents a huge privacy concern — and that’s why we’re headed for a cookieless future.
Now that cookies are going away (eventually), what do you do? We looked into our crystal ball to find out — and we rounded up our top tips for the best path forward.
What Does This Mean?
Since Google first announced it’ll be removing cookies from Chrome, other tech giants have followed suit. For example, Apple removed app tracking from its devices with the iOS 14.5 update in late 2021. Google then made the same move shortly after, removing cross-app tracking from its Android devices. Those moves, along with the inevitable day when cookies do go away, will make targeting the right users increasingly harder.
So how will this impact your future ad campaigns and will your metrics suffer as a result? The answer, unfortunately, isn’t as clear-cut as you might hope.
What we do know for certain, however, is that this massive change to the way we reach consumers means that marketers need to find new, privacy-first ways to accurately target audiences.
It’s also important to keep in mind that although Google bills itself as a search engine, it’s really an advertising platform at the end of the day. And because this is a $10 billion industry that Google has a stranglehold on, it will surely provide marketers with new targeting capabilities to reach the audiences we need to reach — even after cookies go away. It’ll just look different than it does now.
One such way Google will help marketers reach audiences in the cookieless future is with its new Privacy Sandbox, which will help with ad targeting, measurement and fraud prevention. Within the Sandbox, cookies are replaced by five application programming interfaces (APIs). Marketers can then use the APIs to gather info about various things, such as conversion rates for a given ad.
APIs can also be used to track without cookies, by gathering anonymized signals from a person’s Chrome browser that’ll reveal key insights about that person’s browsing habits. So, like cookies — but different in that users are grouped in a topic API with other users who have similar interests and behaviors.
What Happens Next?
While it may be scary to think that the digital marketing industry will be flipped on its head, it’s important to remember that evolution can be a positive thing. The cookieless future will force advertising platforms and marketers to work smarter to reach target audiences — and, perhaps most importantly, user privacy will be maintained.
How Can You Prepare?
There are plenty of non-cookie targeting solutions already out there that you can implement now to help prepare yourself for the inevitable cookieless future.
2. Collect more first-party data. First-party data — in other words, consumer data your organization collects itself — will soon become more important than ever. Organize what you already have — such as your CRM, website, offline efforts, etc. — and make sure to have a strategy in place to collect as much new first-party data as you can going forward, such as email addresses. This can be done through email opt-ins and popups on your website, Facebook lead generation ads, gated content, contests, etc. Just remember: The best way to earn customer data is by providing real value. (And don’t forget about Step 1 when collecting first-party data.)
3. Use your first-party data. You can build custom audiences and/or lookalike audiences with the email lists you collect to retarget without cookies. You can also pair your first-party data with Google Customer Match, which lets you use your online and offline data to reach and re-engage with your customers.
4. Ask users who they are and what info they want. This allows you to target your ads and emails to speak directly to users. It also helps you be more relevant and increase engagement/brand loyalty.
5. Prioritize the customer experience. You can’t create a one-size-fits-all website, digital campaign or landing page that meets the needs of every customer. Rather, your strategy needs to speak to your unique audiences and be as personal and relevant as possible. That’s why it’s important to segment your audiences and create multiple ad variations for each one.
7. Track everything. Measurement is key — start using Google Analytics 4 (GA4) now to track your campaigns, as Google Universal Analytics will be phased out July 1, 2023. GA4 is being developed with stronger cloud-based, machine-learning modeling and will pair well with server-side tracking.