The death of the third-party cookie

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Do you know how marketers track customer behavior online? Yes, through cookies. For the last 25 years, cookies became number one way to find out how your customers thinks and act online. Nearly all ad tech and martech platforms use cookies for targeting, retargeting, display advertising and behavioral marketing in general. Now, that’s all changing.


Actually, third-party cookies are already blocked by Apple’s Intelligent Tracking Prevention (ITP) and Firefox’s Enhanced Tracking Protection by default. Soon Google’s Chrome will get controls that let consumers block cookies too. Browser-level blocking, third-party ad-blocking apps, and new regulations like GDPR and the California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA) are quickly relegating the old cookie to the internet dustbin.

Google blog post announcing the phaseout explains, “Users are demanding greater privacy–including transparency, choice, and control over how their data is used–and it’s clear the web ecosystem needs to evolve to meet these increasing demands.”

This is widely regarded as a fundamental change in online advertising. What does the death of the cookie mean to marketers and advertisers like you? Should you give up on marketing and pursue your passion for developing for example? Of course not. 

The question that rises is: Would this make a fundamental change in online advertising? Is the death of third-party cookies, the death of online advertisement too? Of course not, however, some major changes will be made. 

Change is coming. Marketing as we know it will survive without third-party cookies, and more effective data sources are already in the oven. Smell that? It’s the future of marketing.

What are first-party cookies?

A first-party cookie is a code that gets generated and stored on your website visitor’s computer by default when they visit your site. This cookie is responsible for remembering passwords, basic data, other preferences, to summarise – it is responsible for the user experience.

With a first-party cookie, you can:

  • learn about what a user did while visiting your website
  • see how often they visit it
  • gain other basic analytics 

All that can help you develop or automate an effective marketing strategy around and engage more and more people around your business. 

Still do not understand it? Ever wonder how Amazon remembers your password or the language you use? How your favourite eCommerce site remembers the items in your cart? Yes, that are first-party cookies.

On the other hand, if you’re a marketer running a website on a CMS, you’ll have access to analytics dashboards that track first-party cookie data.

Using Google Analytics you can see how many people are using your website right now. To see where they click, how they enter it, the number of pages they use during a visit, demographics and so on. However, this data gives you just basic information about your visitors. You still do not know what they are looking for, what are their hobbies. You do not know their friends or what ice cream they like, for example.

What are third-party cookies ?

Third-party cookies are tracking codes that are placed on a web visitor’s computer after being generated by another website other than your own. When a web visitor visits your site and others, the third-party cookie tracks this information and sends it to the third-party who created the cookie — which might be an advertiser.

Third party Cookies

Third-party cookie data allows you to learn about your web visitors overall online behavior. What websites they frequently visit, purchases, and interests that they’ve shown on various websites. With this data, you can build detailed visitors profiles. With all of this data, you can then create a retargeting list. It can be used to send ads to your past visitors or people with similar web profiles.

Here is a simple picture how third-party cookie data might work? Say you research a laptop on Amazon. Then, you go to another site later in the day and see an ad Amazon advertisement for the same exact product. If you aren’t on an Amazon-owned site, it’s very possible that this advertisement was triggered by third-party cookie data.

While first-party cookies are accepted automatically, visitors must be informed that they are accepting a third-party cookie due to the amount of data that companies can retain from them.

So in conclusion. If you’re just aiming to track your website’s visitors’ behaviors, preferences, and basic demographics only while they’re on your website, you probably won’t be deeply impacted by this change. As you know these are tracked by first-party cookies.

However, if you’re a marketer that relies on robust data for online advertising, pop-up ads, or a pinpointed audience-targeting strategy, you’ll need to continue to follow the news around this phase-out, and consider alternative first-party strategies, as the phase-out nears.

How digital advertising can work without cookies?

No more darkness I promise. How to be ready for the death of third-party cookies? How to be sure that we will still find new customers and connect with the audience after that major change? Here are a few tactics that can help you break your cookie habit.

Contextual advertising

What’s old is new again and contextual advertising is back. А decline in ad dollars or a decline in ad traffic is not expected. What is expected is a reallocation and shift of budgets. Also another good option for cookie based behavioral targeting is keyword contextual-based advertising. Years ago everyone discounted it and companies moved further away from keyword targeting, but now it is on the focus again.

With behavioral targeting, someone like me and you can get ads for web platforms, ad agencies and the like everywhere you go on the web. But as an everyday consumer, you’re actually more interested in kittens. It doesn’t make much sense for you to get ads for WooCommerce when you are on the nearest Pet shop site looking for cat food. It could happen when behavioral targeting is being employed. 

With contextual targeting, the ads you see are based on the content you are looking at instead of your overall behavior profile. It means that when you are looking for cat food probably you will see ads for cats not ecommerce. For example, if you are at auto blog, you will see car services ads.

The move to contextual targeting will also mean a move back to focusing on producing and distributing relevant content.  

People-based targeting

Introduced to the marketing world by Facebook, people-based advertising relies on a unique identifier that is related to the user, not the device. This method allows companies to meet their clients at the right place and the right time when they want to interact together.  The best part is that this method does not rely on third-party cookies to track users or to gather data.

A successful People-Based Marketing strategy include these three key elements:

  • Identification. By identification of the customers, brands connect with them correctly and through various channels. The main aim is to have persistent, cross-device recognition for a single view of the customer. 
  • Data. Today, brands have plenty of data on each of their customers – starting from purchase data to email engagement and finally device information. All this gives the brands the ability to stop being lazy and analyze and use it. Moreover, to use it effectively.
  • Automation. Instead of relying on cookie-based data, people-based marketing automation relies on first party-based targeting. It helps brands unlock a singular view of the customer, anchoring all of the data to a single source.

The big catch here is customer identification and data. You know how you remain logged in with Google, Amazon and Facebook across various devices. But just because you aren’t Google or Facebook doesn’t mean you don’t have access to great sources of first-party data of your own.

First-party data from phone calls

First-party data will be more important than ever when the death of third-party cookies come. Facebook, Google, and Amazon obviously have a huge advantage, but brands often have access to more data than they think. 

Also, don’t forget that customers that have already shown interest in buying from you are more likely to become loyal clients, than customers contacted through third-party data cookies.  One untapped source of first-party customer data might be hiding in your call center. Phone conversations may be your ultimate first-party data source and they’re a holy grail for marketers who work in industries that rely on phone calls to make sales.

When your customers call you, they are literally telling you what they want and how they talk about it. However, to classify customer conversation and use the data, you, as marketer, need an automated system that understand and convert voice to text.Such system is Invoca Signal AI. It is a machine learning-powered predictive analytics technology that analyzes your callers’ conversations and turns them into usable marketing data. 

With Signal AI, not only can you predict whether a conversion happened on each call. Also you can predict things like caller type (e.g. service call vs. sales call), as well as milestones on the path to conversion. And when you understand the nature of a call, you can optimize your media for higher ROI. It can be particularly helpful when you are nailing down the right keywords to feed to your contextual advertising campaigns.

Final words

While it seems pretty scary right now, keep in mind that cookies are a 25-year-old technology and we’ll definitely find a way to move on. It’s going to be all about exploring new technologies, innovation, and striking a balance between profit and privacy choices to avoid another wave of consumer backlash.