6 marketing strategies for surviving a cookieless future
Google’s decision to sunset third-party cookies in its Chrome browser has many marketers spooked. The data obtained from this type of cookies is the fuel that drives many online advertising campaigns today, meaning many marketers are understandably worried that the end of third-party cookies could make it more difficult for them to build personalized ad campaigns that deliver.
Learn what you can do to navigate the impending cookieless future and collect the data you need to drive your marketing results.
Why is Google phasing out third-party cookies?
Google’s decision to phase out cookies is part of a broader response by the tech industry to better protect consumer data privacy amid a surge of public unease over data breaches, over-personalized ads and foreign influence. Almost 80% of online customers are concerned about the way companies use their data, according to Pew Research, and almost half say they have no control over which companies have access to their online search history.
Tech giants like Google have since come under increased pressure to change their ways. Regulators in both Europe and the United States have introduced a raft of new data privacy compliance standards aimed at reining in rampant data collection. Of course, data collection is a central part of Google’s monstrous ad business (which accounts for roughly 80% of yearly revenue, according to the company’s earnings report), meaning Google had to find a balance.
Google execs eventually found that equilibrium: In 2019, they rolled out Google’s new Privacy Sandbox initiative, which aimed to ensure publishers still have access to ad revenue while protecting consumer privacy. Not long after, Google announced its intention to phase out the use of third-party cookies, a move not unique to Google (Safari and Firefox had already stopped using third-party cookies to track user behavior some time prior). It did, however, signal a major shift that promised to fundamentally change the way marketers collect data and send ads to their target audience.
What does a cookieless world mean for marketers?
Many marketers hear, “Google is phasing out cookies,” and instinctively panic. “What does this mean for my ad campaigns?” they might ask. First, it’s important to understand the full picture. Third-party cookies are going away, but that doesn’t mean the entire ad business is too. While third-party cookies form an important part of Google’s advertising arm, there are other techniques both Google and individual companies can use to track consumer behavior. First-party cookies are chief among them.
Google made clear that it will continue collecting first-party data from users who navigate Google-owned domains and products. That means Search, YouTube, Gmail and other Google products are still fair game. In fact, these channels provide Google with more valuable consumer information than third-party cookies, meaning targeted ads placed with Google need only a few minor tweaks and adjustments to continue delivering results for advertisers.
The same is true for companies gathering data from their own web domains. Similar to third-party cookies, first-party cookies are used to track individual activity across a single website. Site owners can see which pages users are browsing, how long they’re spending on the site, and what links they’re clicking. While this likely won’t provide the depth of consumer information marketers once obtained from third-party cookies, it does provide enough data to support their targeted ad campaigns.
Preparing for a cookieless future
Digital advertising is not dead, but marketers have work to do. Almost half of CMOs say they are not ready for a cookieless future, according to research from Iterable. Fortunately, Google has already delayed its scheduled cookies phase-out by several months. Originally slated for the start of 2022, the company pushed the initiation date to late 2023 before again bumping that timetable to 2024. That means the final deprecation of third-party cookies likely won’t be complete until 2026 at the earliest.
Still, advertisers have to start preparing to get ahead of the change and ensure they can continue building personalized ad campaigns that target the right customers and generate the right results. That means taking the time to assess their entire marketing department, understanding how they are using third-party cookies and begin putting new strategies in place to leverage data from other sources.
Strategies marketers can use to build effective ad campaigns without cookies
The following strategies provide alternative means to collect customer data after the end of third-party cookies:
1. Understand what’s happening and how it will affect you
As with any major shift or change, the first step is always to gather as much information as possible. Start by understanding expected timelines so you can plan accordingly. As mentioned, Google is not planning to begin sunsetting third-party cookies until 2024 (and it’s possible that date gets pushed out even further). While that certainly means shifting your ad priorities is urgent, it’s a healthy enough timeline to not give cause for panic.
You should also consider conducting a complete audit of your marketing capabilities to understand how reliant you are on Google’s third-party cookies. Every marketer has a different level of exposure, and some might be surprised to find that their advertising efforts will be mostly untouched by the change.
Even if your marketing plans are at risk, understanding the facts from the very beginning will help guide your initiatives as you pivot to a cookieless future.
2. Shift your focus to first-party cookies
Google’s decision to continue allowing marketers to track first-party data pulled from user activity on their own websites is critical. While you will lose some information about user activity gathered from multiple browsing sessions across different sites, first-party cookies still enable you to build a deep understanding of customer engagement. Once you’ve put the data collection infrastructure in place to track first-party data, you gain access to user information like:
- Number of visitors
- Session duration
- Bounce rate
- Average time on page
In fact, first-party data might even have important advantages over third-party cookies. Direct visitors to your site have implicitly demonstrated at least a surface-level knowledge and understanding of your brand. Depending on their browsing history, they might even know your product and service offerings. With skillful ad targeting and placement, you’re in a much better position to win those customers with much lower acquisition costs.
3. Use content to learn about your customers
Content is king in today’s digital marketing landscape. It might be the emperor in a cookieless future. A good content marketing strategy can help you build deep, lasting relationships with customers while also supplying a host of information about those customers’ interests, preferences and business challenges.
Customers share this information based on their browsing data. If most of the users visiting your pages are downloading dense industry reports complete with reams of original data, there is a good chance they are industry experts with niche interests who want only premium market data. This information helps you understand the types of content you need to create to further deepen engagement.
Of course, for this to work, you have to have the right data. You can’t understand how users are interacting with your content if you don’t have a means to measure their engagement behavior. It’s important to take the time to implement content analytics tools and build a proper data collection infrastructure to give you the insights you need to build ad campaigns, marketing strategies and even new product offerings that match your customers’ requirements.
4. Buy second- and third-party data from external sources
You will no longer have the freedom to track user activity on other sites, but that doesn’t mean you have no way of knowing what they’re doing there. Content syndication providers maintain large databases of content assets that generate a wealth of user data.
Marketers are going to be locked out of third-party cookies, but they can still use third-party data obtained by external providers on their own sites. They can use this information to supplement their own first-party data, helping them create a more comprehensive understanding of the market and build more targeted ad campaigns.
5. Ask your customers for permission to collect their data
Data privacy is top of mind for many online consumers, and some of them are understandably wary about what companies do with their data behind the scenes. This has caused trust between businesses and consumers to erode, making it hard to build lasting relationships that create value for both sides.
If you want to restore consumer trust in the wake of Google’s cookie decision, you might consider asking for user consent before collecting first-party data. While this likely won’t be legally required for businesses in many U.S. states for some time (if ever), it demonstrates to customers that you’re willing to be open and honest about your data collection methods.
When you take this step, you might stand to earn a “trust dividend,” helping you build lasting customer relationships even as you continue to collect the same data.
6. Stay abreast of emerging data privacy trends
Third-party cookies are heading to the graveyard, and you’re revamping your marketing strategy from top to bottom to get ready. Nothing would be more frustrating than another wave of data privacy regulations in a few short years that force you to start from scratch.
Don’t be caught flat-footed. It’s important to stay up to date on the latest user privacy news, trends and developments to understand what could be on the horizon. This can help you make your marketing efforts future-proof and more resilient, ensuring you don’t have to launch fundamental pivots every time the government or the tech industry make a change.
For example, the European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) requires websites to receive explicit user consent before tracking cookies (including some first-party cookies) to remain compliant. Some U.S. states have since adopted similar measures, with California passing a law that gave consumers the legal right to opt out of cookie tracking. Understanding patterns like these could help you stay ahead of incoming changes and make the proper adjustments in advance.
Future-proof your marketing strategies with CONTENTgine
Staying ahead of Google’s third-party cookies phase-out means finding other ways to source your data. CONTENTgine provides B2B marketers with a comprehensive range of consumer data analytics collected from our enormous database of B2B content assets.
Contact our team today to learn how our data can help you future-proof your marketing campaigns.