The Cookieless Future – A full explainer

The Cookieless Future – A full explainer

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Posted In: Digital, Media by Jenn Ferrier, 2nd February 2024

Jenny Bairstow, Channel 4 Content Creative

Cookies, and Google’s long standing phase-out of them, has been a hotly debated topic in marketing as 2024 has come around. Google famously started ramping this up towards the end of 2023, and we can expect third-party cookies to be blocked for all Google Chrome users by the end of the year. As Google Chrome is the most commonly used browser by a very wide margin, a lot of advertisers will be left quaking in their boots. Fear not – by having a good understanding of what cookies are, why they’re being phased out, and what alternatives exist, we can plan our campaigns accordingly and stay prepared.

What are cookies?

Firstly, it’s important to note that almost every website uses cookies, and not all cookies will be phased out on Chrome. The difference lies between first party cookies and third party cookies. First-party cookies gather information on your device when you visit a website, such as your login details and preferences on the site. Without these, we would be logged out of a page every time we refresh it. For example, if you have a site’s language set to English and you view it in dark mode, cookies help the site remember this the next time you visit. Cookies also help web developers ensure that their sites are running smoothly, and track how the site is used so that they can optimise it. Both of these cookies will not be affected by Google’s update.

Third party cookies, or ‘tracking cookies’, are the cookies that Google is phasing out. These cookies create a unique string of numbers and letters for you as you use the internet, and use this to store data about your buying habits. This information can be as simple as your age range and gender, but can also include information on your religious beliefs, political affiliation, sexuality, health, and family.

So, for example, if you went online shopping and put a pair of white trainers in a size 8 in your cart, a first party cookie would remember that this item was in your cart the next time you open the site. But, if you then went on a different website looking for a place to play men’s 5-a-side, third party cookies recognise this, and could show you targeted ads for goalkeeping gloves and football shorts.

Why are they being phased out?

In short, third-party cookies are being phased out due to privacy concerns. In the age of AI, we need to draw boundaries around what is acceptable information to mine for data, and what might be private, sensitive information.

The phasing out of cookies shows that consumers are growing increasingly aware and concerned about the way that their data is handled. People are worrying about their data falling into the wrong hands or being leaked, and statistics show that levels of distrust towards advertising mostly relate to data privacy concerns among 35-54 year olds. It’s also been suggested that cookies have been used to raise the price on flights when the user has looked at them before. Most worryingly, some consumers have written about feeling ‘too’ targetted by ads, and that the methods of using cookies can be hard for people who have been looking at websites for sensitive topics, such as bereavement, fertility issues, and trauma, who are then served ads related to these things. 

While the EU has passed ‘the cookie law’, which requires every website to ask consent before installing cookies on a device, this can negatively impact user experience on your site. Also, many sites were displaying the notice, but were making their cookies relatively hard to turn off once the notice was clicked, relying on user apathy to ensure they could still track them.

What are the alternatives?

Google has been talking about making its browsers cookieless since 2019, so we’re safe in the knowledge that worthwhile alternatives exist. It’s also important to note that Google will not stop tracking people all together. Instead, they will be grouping people together and using a generalised protected audience API. If that’s too much to get your head around right now – don’t fear! Here’s some recommendations of other ways you can successfully use digital marketing to corner your target market.

Strong SEO:

Let’s work backwards here by thinking about your brands website, rather than your brands ads on other peoples websites. The best way to ensure you don’t lose out on potential customers is by ensuring that your website is easily accessible and worth visiting.

When cookies are fully phased out, you’ll still have to display an ‘accept all cookies’ notice on your site, as it will still have first party cookies. This, in itself, doesn’t push you down on Google’s algorithm, as it detects it as a necessary notice. However, if you have an intrusive cookie consent banner or pop up which blocks the view of your site, followed by a pop-up or otherwise obstructive advert, Google will notice this and push your website further back in its rankings. You may also notice visitors spending less time on your site or clicking away, which has a very negative affect on your SEO ranking.

When researching SEO, it’s good to get a basic overview straight from the horse’s mouth by using Google’s self published guide.

Utilising PPC:

Having effective pay-per-click takes away the need for Third-Party cookies, as you’re meeting people where they’re at rather than making assumptions. As PPC works by showing your brand to people as they search for what they’re looking for, this could definitely have a more positive impact on brand visibility. As stated earlier, the annoyance factor and the ubiquity of advertising is something brands need to be thinking about right now, as consumers are becoming more resistant to being served ads.

By using PPC, potential customers will already be looking for what they want, and all you need to do is convince them that your product is better than the alternatives.

Consider investing in TV advertising:

If you want your ads to make a real impact, consider putting your brand on TV. While you might think you can’t target people as specifically on TV, Sky’s AdSmart platform has an extremely sophisticated targeting system. Through this, ads are placed deliberately on each individual TV, meaning two households watching the same thing at the same time can be served different ads based on factors like their age, location, and lifestyle. This is definitely worth looking into if you’re concerned about not being able to refine your market in a post-third-party cookies world.Whilst we are experts across digital, media and PR channels we are an integrated agency and have a view on the world that is channel agnostic so are positioned well to advise brands about the latest industry developments and what’s best for their brand. If you want to chew the fat drop us a line hello@weareboutique.co.uk and we will get the kettle on.

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