In a move that's set to reshape the digital landscape this year, Google Chrome has begun implementing its long-anticipated plan to phase out third-party cookies. As of January 4, 2024, this change is initially affecting 1% of randomly selected Chrome users, with a full-scale implementation expected by the third quarter of 2024. This shift, echoing the privacy-focused updates we saw with iOS14, Firefox, and Safari, marks a significant moment for user privacy, digital advertising, and analytics. Google has been working on building out its Privacy Sandbox over the years, which is technology aimed at improving people’s privacy and security across the web and apps on Android. How companies plan to adopt the technology, or not, is officially ramping up.
I recall discussing Chrome’s Cookie Deprecation with my colleagues at my previous agency, around what feels like 2020. It’s been a while since that initial announcement, and true to Google’s style, they’ve created their own timelines and guidelines for this roll-out… just a few years later.
Here's everything you need to know and how to best prepare for this year in a cookie-less future.
What is Google Chrome's Cookie Deprecation, why is Chrome phasing out third-party cookies, and what is the impact?
Google Chrome’s Cookie Deprecation refers to the planned phase-out of third-party cookies in the Chrome browser and on Android apps. This change is part of a broader initiative by Google to enhance user privacy and security across the web. You may be wondering, what exactly are third-party cookies and how do those differ from first-party cookies?
First Party vs Third Party Cookies
Third-party cookies are tracking codes placed by a website other than the one you are currently visiting, often used by advertisers to track user behavior across different sites for targeted advertising.
First-party cookies are cookies stored directly by the website you are visiting, allowing those businesses to collect analytics data such as user behavior, language preference, login information, and more. These cookies allow businesses to provide better customer experiences once on the website.
The primary benefit of phasing out third-party cookies for users is enhanced privacy, which is inherently becoming more critical across all verticals, especially in the Healthcare and Finance industries. With third-party cookies removed from Chrome, users’ online activities will be less susceptible to tracking by advertisers and other entities, reducing the amount of personal data that is collected and shared across multiple websites.
On the one hand, as someone who regularly browses and shops online, I appreciate this shift towards greater privacy. It's always unsettling to receive alerts about my personal information, like passwords, being compromised. This move towards safeguarding our Personally Identifiable Information (PII) is reassuring to know that steps are being taken to protect our digital footprint and enhance our online security. On the other hand, as a marketer, it can be scary. However, it’s time to adapt and build stronger marketing strategies and reporting capabilities. Eventually, we'll see today's privacy advancements as a turning point. These changes, I believe, will soon blend into our everyday digital experience, becoming a new normal we'll hardly think twice about.
How will Chrome's cookie restrictions affect digital advertising?
Although the deprecation of third-party cookies in Google Chrome can have a significant impact on your digital marketing strategies and attribution capabilities, it’s not time to panic. I recently pulled a data point that around 80% of our website’s audience comes from the Chrome browser. Personalization, advertising, measurement, and attribution are going to become a bit trickier but it’s time to start leaning into other strategies and adapting to the change as the digital marketing landscape continues to evolve.
Changes to Your Online Experience: Ads may become less personalized as you browse certain websites, as advertisers will have less access to that data. Programmatic, is likely going to be taking a hit on the effectiveness of reaching a broader audience with their 3rd-party data. It’s more important than ever that you have a strategy in place that is focused on driving that effectiveness without ample data.
Reliance on First-Party Data: Marketers are going to have to rely more heavily on first-party data to personalize experiences and drive engagement toward websites. For the user, this could mean more sign-in requests or prompts to share information directly with the website being visited.
Digital Marketing Strategy Shifts: We've been aware of this change for years, yet many marketers likely continued to craft strategies centered around third-party data, maximizing its potential to drive revenue through targeted audience capabilities, right up until this very moment. Now is the time to re-think your first-party and contextual targeting strategies, honing in your messaging accordingly to drive that same effectiveness.
Measurement and Reporting: Third-party cookies typically play a large role in tracking user journeys across the web, which helps in attributing the effectiveness of marketing campaigns. You may have to explore new analytics tools that are more aligned with a cookie-less world. And while I’m on the subject, we know Brand Awareness works even if you cannot directly correlate one ad impression for one user to the bottom-funnel conversion… all brands should start leaning into upper-funnel tactics to drive bottom-line revenue and business growth.
Read our 2023 Wrapped: Best Brand Marketing Strategies, where we highlight a few of the most impactful brand marketing strategies of 2023 and the impact they had on everyday consumers.
How can businesses prepare for Chrome's cookie deprecation?
Rather than diving deeply into the technicalities of adapting to the end of third-party cookies — a topic Google has comprehensively covered in their detailed resource — I'll focus on highlighting 5 key considerations and strategies for businesses and share some insightful takeaways from the Workshop Digital team, aimed at equipping you with practical advice for this transition.
Invest in First-Party Data: This is your biggest resource in engaging with your customers and potential customers. By focusing on building out your first-party data capabilities, you’re able to deliver more personalized content, exclusive offers, and additional product or service-related benefits. Ensure your website and CRM systems are optimized to collect and manage this data effectively.
Diversify Your Marketing Mix: Don't rely solely on third-party cookie-based advertising. Expand your digital marketing strategies to include more content marketing, email marketing, social media engagement, and other channels that don't depend on third-party cookies. Consumers are increasingly diversifying their preferred platforms for search and businesses must broaden their online presence. Now is the time to explore platforms like YouTube and TikTok, which a growing number of users are turning to for products and solutions. I’m personally also keeping an eye on Threads, in which the search functionality was launched in September 2023. It’s only a matter of time until they start monetizing the platform.
Explore Alternative Tracking Technologies: Research new technologies and methodologies that don't rely on third-party cookies. Solutions like Unified ID 2.0 and Google's Privacy Sandbox offer different measurement solutions.
Leverage Machine Learning and AI: 2023… the boom of Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning. Consider utilizing AI and machine learning tools to analyze your first-party data for insights and customer behavior predictions. These types of technologies can help compensate for the loss of third-party data.
Enhance User Privacy and Trust: Be transparent about your data collection and use practices. Update any privacy policies on your website and ensure compliance with data protection regulations. Building trust with your audience through transparent practices is not just a strategy; it's a fundamental core value that we hold in high regard.
Now, I'd like to share some final insights from our team. These reflections aim to provide our perspective on this change and its potential impact, or lack thereof, on the digital landscape. It's our way of framing how we're approaching this shift, offering you a lens through which to view and understand these evolving dynamics.
“On a whimsical note, after battling cookies one way or another for nearly 30 years, I'm happy to see the end of this era. The web evolves and we adapt along with it! We’ve been preparing for the cookieless future for quite a while. We might still have some growing pains as tools and platforms finish catching up, and discussion will linger for longer still. But soon enough we'll be saying “yikes, remember cookies?” as though they were the html <blink> tag.”
Tucker Hottes, SEO Team Lead
“The first step for any marketer is “Don’t panic!” Then, you can conduct a thorough review of all the tracking technologies and cookies in your marketing stack to determine which, if any, rely on third-party cookies.”
Andrew Miller, Co-Founder and VP of Client Services
“The death of 3rd-party cookies vastly increases the importance of 1st-party data, which is rather exciting. In a world where conversion data will largely be a product of modeling and estimation, closing the loop to incorporate CRM data into our advertising strategies will be crucial. The exciting part is that doing so allows us to implement more advanced strategies. Contextual targeting will also rise in importance as tag-based audiences are depreciated. In essence, the Paid Media team is preparing to get more creative to maintain effective targeting and tracking methods!”
“Is 3rd-party cookies going away a scary prospect? Yeah, sure. But this is an industry built on things we once saw as vital coming and going. We survived the introduction and sunset of ETAs, the introduction and sunset of Modified Broad Match, and the early days of “smart” bidding. We’ll survive this too and probably be better for it!”
“The end of 3rd-party cookies is likely the death knell for all cookies, though it still isn’t clear when 1st-party cookies, which make up much of the value marketers glean from cookie-based tracking, will be removed. There will be some data fidelity lost as 3rd-party cookie data, which can capture more insight about a users overall web behavior, is deprecated. Many businesses, and their marketing agencies, have been reviewing first-party data collection options and this area will certainly grow in the coming months and years. As increases in privacy regulation grow, we’re likely to see more opt-in requirements for tracking.”
Brian Forrester, Co-Founder & CEO
"We’ve known for a while that there has been an increased emphasis on user privacy online. Google Analytics itself moved to cookieless tracking with the transition from Universal Analytics to GA4, but many sites are still using third-party cookies for a variety of purposes. Google is making it easy to see which third-party cookies are in use and which tools and applications could be impacted with Chrome DevTools- this is helpful to know as we continue moving forward in the privacy-centric digital landscape."
Julie Kalita, Senior SEO Manager
"I think the deprecation of third-party cookies on Chrome is a natural evolution of the online landscape as we’ve seen a growing emphasis on protecting consumer privacy and data over the years. Take inventory of which of your marketing channels heavily rely on third-party data and consider diversifying your marketing efforts to include channels that don’t greatly rely on this data."
The advancements toward more transparent, privacy-focused practices aren't just a challenge; it's an opportunity to build deeper, trust-based relationships with our audiences. You must be eager and willing to evolve and innovate as these types of digital advancements continue. If you need help in revamping your digital marketing approach or Measurement strategies, get in touch with us today.