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The phasing out of third-party cookies will have a huge impact on how customer data can be collected and used. Kostas, Huble’s VP of Search Consultancy, provides an overview of what cookies are, and how the ‘cookie apocalypse’ will affect the advertising and marketing world.

What is a web cookie?

Web cookies are small pieces of data that are saved on web browsers as users navigate the internet. They carry information about people’s browsing history, behaviour and settings. On the plus side, cookies make using the internet more convenient, as they enable websites to remember information like login details, shopping cart contents, and browsing preferences. 

On the negative side, cookies can be used to gather information about people without their consent. This violates the right to privacy, something that internet citizens and governments are increasingly concerned with — as evidenced by the global rise of data protection and GDPR-like laws

There are two types of cookies: first-party and third-party. And they’re a world apart. 

What’s the difference between first and third-party cookies?

First-party cookies are created by the website (or domain) you’re visiting, with cookie data being stored directly onto your browser. The data collected enables website owners to understand how visitors are using their website, which is key to improving user experience and adding a degree of personalisation.

Any cookie that is tracking a user’s data outside of the domain which created that cookie is considered a third-party cookie. Usually, these cookies are used for advertising purposes. Advertisers use cookie data to segment internet users into audiences based on browsing behaviour. They can then gauge advertising effectiveness by recording conversions after a user has seen one of their advertisements somewhere on the web. For more insights on the differences between first and third-party cookies, check out this article by CookiePro.

What is the Cookie Apocalypse?

In February 2020, Google announced that the Chrome browser would phase out third-party cookies by 2022. Google has shifted this deadline many times before. Most recently, this date has been pushed to the second half of 2024. While the death of third-party cookies has been delayed, it is inevitable. 

Third-party cookies are already blocked by Safari and Mozilla Firefox but Chrome still allows their use. In addition, Chrome holds the vast majority of the browser market share. This means that when Chrome starts blocking third-party cookies, they will become obsolete. This is what marketers are referring to as the “Cookie Apocalypse” or “The Death of the Third-Party Cookie”.

What does this mean for advertisers?

Sure an apocalypse sounds ominous, but is the phasing out of third-party cookies really going to fundamentally change the digital advertising industry? The short answer is: “it depends on who you’re talking about.” Here’s the long answer:

If your digital marketing activity relies on third-party cookies, then it will impact you — big time! You might be asking yourself, “is my digital marketing activity based on the use of third-party cookies?” The answer depends on the tech stack and channels you use to run your advertising campaigns.

However, if you are using programmatic advertising, chances are you are using third-party cookie data for both audience targeting and conversion tracking. I believe that programmatic advertising is the sector of the digital marketing industry that will be most affected by the death of third-party cookies. Programmatic advertising providers will have to find new ways to segment and target audiences as well as report on conversions, or their solutions will not be viable for long.

On the other hand, if you are running campaigns with Facebook Ads, LinkedIn Ads, Google Ads, Bing Ads or Twitter Ads, then not much will change. All these platforms have already started using first-party cookies to report on conversions and build remarketing audiences. If you didn’t know this, it’s because these changes happened under the radar. At some point, you would have given consent for all these platforms to use first-party cookie data. You can also opt out of it if you want, but I don’t see why you would. Especially as this change was made so that our experience as advertisers would remain unchanged. 

All these publishers are already using their own first-party cookies to segment their users, which you can then use to target people within these platforms.

Does HubSpot use third-party cookies?

No, HubSpot does not use third-party cookies. All the cookies that HubSpot stores on your visitors’ web browsers are considered first-party cookies for your website and they do not track their behaviour and browsing history outside of your website. 

With the Cookie Apocalypse, first-party data is increasing in value. This is why marketing and advertising leaders are telling companies to “make use of your own first-party data, build your own database, and segment your own audiences.” HubSpot’s CRM and Marketing Hubs help you do exactly that by enabling you to: create a database of contacts, build remarketing audiences based on contacts and visitors, segment your visitors and contacts into buyer personas, and help your buyer personas evolve to understand your audience better.

What is Google’s Privacy Sandbox?

Google’s Privacy Sandbox is a Google-led initiative attempting to build new tools for advertisers to help them target the right audience and attribute conversions to the right campaigns. At the same time, Google aims to protect users from being identified as individuals on the web. 

Previously Google had announced the development and testing of interest-based targeting technology named FLoC (Federation Learning of Cohorts). This initiative was abandoned and now the new technologies that are being tested are called Topics API and FLEDGE API

Essentially, Google is trying to find ways to connect devices with interests which will allow advertisers to serve relevant ads to the users of those devices. This is tricky, as this technology cannot allow anyone to identify any particular user. 

Third-party cookies are dead. What’s next?

Google will not disable third-party cookies for the Chrome browser before they manage to roll out a piece of technology to replace the functionality that third-party cookies offer right now. This is (most likely) not going to happen before the second half of 2024. And Google’s deadline to phase out cookies has already been moved several times.

The best thing that advertisers can do is to ensure that they do not put all their eggs in one basket, especially when that basket is dependent on third-party cookies. If you are unsure if the advertising technology you are currently using relies on third-party cookies, then you need to ask your advertising solutions provider — along with what they are doing to ensure their solution will be viable after the cookie apocalypse. Additionally, building sophisticated remarketing audiences is a very good strategy to prepare for the death of the third-party cookie. 

This includes building remarketing audiences with platforms like Google, Bing, Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter, and leveraging your first-party cookies. Even if you are not running any campaigns with these platforms, this allows you to have audiences which you can use in the future and potentially create lookalikes from.

As a person working in digital advertising, this change in the industry does not scare me. Paid media platforms will always find a way to help you reach the people you need because advertising is the main way they make money.

As a user, I feel that a new era is approaching where I will have more control over the data I share online. An era where I will be served advertisements that are relevant to me but not in a “creepy way.” In this way, the death of cookies is a necessary step toward creating a better internet for all.

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