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How marketers can prepare for the death of third-party cookies

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For some time, the big news within the digital marketing space has been the impending death of third-party cookies. There’s no doubt this poses challenges, so let’s look at what’s happening and explore some of the solutions you can embrace once we’ve said goodbye to third-party website cookies.

Understanding different website cookies

First things first, what are website cookies?

Created in 1994, they’re a way for websites to remember user information and preferences. Website cookies are small data files that websites store on a device when someone visits, to remember and exchange information with their web browser.

There are several types of website cookies, each designed to perform different functions.

Essential cookies

Essential website cookies are necessary to ensuring a website functions correctly and provide visitors with a usable service. Essential website cookies play a critical role in authentication, online security, and user experience.

Non-essential cookies

By contrast, non-essential website cookies are all the ones that aren’t necessary to deliver an online service to the visitor. This includes analytics cookies and advertising cookies.

First-party website cookies

First-party website cookies are stored by the domain someone is visiting. These are typically essential cookies that provide a better user experience and make sites function as expected.

Third-party cookies

Third-party cookies are set by websites other than the one a customer is visiting. They’re used to track user behavior across sites to serve targeted ads and gather analytics data.

It’s these third-party cookies that are being phased out because of increasing concern over the level of tracking and data collection they allow.

How third-party cookies function

When someone visits a website, their browser will load content from multiple sources other than the website itself. These include adverts, social media widgets, and analytics scripts. When these elements set cookies on the customer’s device, they’re called third-party cookies.

Third-party cookies store a unique identifier on a user’s device and whenever their browser encounters content from that domain, it sends the third-party cookie along with data about their requests.

This allows the third-party to recognize the user and track what sites they’re visiting, what pages they view, and any ads they’ve clicked on.

In what ways can third-party cookies help brands?

Third-party cookies can provide rich data to brands about visitors’ interests and behaviors. This data can be used in a number of ways, including:

  • To segment audiences

  • Create highly targeted advertising campaigns

  • Recommend products for cross-selling and up-selling

  • Personalize ad content and messaging

  • Measure the effectiveness of advertising campaigns

  • Track interactions and conversions

  • Run retargeting campaigns to visitors who’ve shown an interest but not yet converted

  • Conduct A/B testing to evaluate the effectiveness of different strategies

  • Maintain a consistent user experience across all their channels

Privacy regulations and website cookies

This kind of marketing activity can make the online experience rich and rewarding for customers, but concern has been growing about the impact of third-party cookies on user privacy and security.

Since 2018, the GDPR (General Data Protection Regulation) has required websites to collect explicit consent from users for all non-essential cookie usage. Some web browsers, such as Apple’s Safari and Mozilla’s Firefox, have been blocking third-party cookies for years, with Google Chrome, the world’s most-used browser, phasing out support for them from midway through 2024.

In fact, Google created an initiative in 2019 called The Privacy Sandbox specifically to develop new technologies that support businesses to reach customers without using third-party cookies.

Meanwhile, consumers are becoming smarter about managing how their data is used. According to Statista, the number of ad block users worldwide in 2019 stood at 763 million.

How will this affect the marketing industry?

Marketing teams relying on data from third-party cookies will certainly have to make some adjustments. But third-party cookies should only form one part of your digital advertising ecosystem. Here’s some solutions to embrace instead:

Leveraging first-party data

Instead of customer data generated by third-party cookies, focus on first-party data instead.

Invest in robust website analytics tools to gather detailed insights into how visitors behave on your website, social channels, and apps. Track page analytics like views, click-throughs, and conversion rates, and then analyze the data to understand your customers’ behavior and interests.

Make sure you prioritize user consent and transparency, and be clear about how you plan to use data you’re gathering. Make it easy for customers to manage their data, including opting out of tracking, data-sharing, and marketing communications.

Content-driven strategies

You can gather zero-party data, which is data your site visitors choose to share with you, through interactive content such as surveys, polls, and quizzes.

Email signature software means you can easily include surveys and polls in emails you’re already sending to customers, so it’s easy for them to give feedback or select a preference.

It’s also important to use a dynamic email marketing strategy that delivers timely and tailored content to drive customers back to your site and build brand loyalty. Likewise, loyalty programs that offer benefits and VIP deals offer more opportunities to gather customer data you can use to deepen engagement and further refine your content strategy.

Emerging technologies

Still worried about the death of third-party cookies? Here are some technologies you could explore instead:

  • Customer Data Platforms (CDP): Centralize and manage the customer data you’re gathering with data in your CRM and email lists, to build a comprehensive view of your customer profiles and behaviors.

  • Contextual targeting: Place adverts based on the content and context of the web page rather than on information about the user on the page. You can use natural language processing (NLP) and AI algorithms to analyze web page content and deliver relevant campaigns this way.

  • Federated Learning of Cohorts (FLoC): FLoC is a new way for advertisers and sites to show relevant ads without tracking people across the web. It protects an individual’s privacy by placing them in a cohort of thousands of others with similar browsing activities, without anyone being individually identified.

New ways to track customer data

With third-party cookies on the way out, device and browser fingerprinting are increasing to track customers. But be careful about implementing this covert tracking technique.

Fingerprinting works by collecting the unique characteristics of the device a visitor is using when they visit a website. This includes details of their specific browser set up, operating system details, IP address, and even what ad-blockers they have installed. Together this creates a unique fingerprint for that device, which allows sites to recognize and track it across the web.

GDPR considers browser fingerprinting to track website visitors to be personal data processing, so you must get prior consent from users to collect this data. Even with consent, privacy-conscious customers are unlikely to enjoy this level of oversight.

Conclusion

The digital landscape is evolving to prioritize customer privacy, meaning a shift in how brands collect and use customer data. Embrace this change by harnessing powerful first-party data, innovative technologies, and privacy-focused strategies.

One way to ensure compliance with the latest privacy laws and show your commitment to transparency is by fine tuning your email signatures using Exclaimer’s leading email signature management platform.

Book a free trial to see how you can turbo charge your email signatures with our award-winning email signature management software or request an online demonstration.

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