It’s time to talk about the expiration date on those cookies, and no, we’re not talking about the ones in your cabinet. We’re talking about the ones on the web. The ones that allow you to learn more about your website visitors. The ones that help you retarget those website visitors across the web. The ones that help you find new online consumers that resemble your current customers. And the ones that can track when a consumer saw your online ad and then later made an online conversion. Those are the cookies we’re talking about.

Before we get too excited about all the benefits of cookies (did I get carried away?), we’re here to let you know they’re being phased out — whether we like it or not. And while it’s a seemingly technical aspect of digital advertising, it’s important to understand the larger implications it will have on your online marketing strategy.

Types of Website Cookies

Before we go big picture, there’s an important distinction between a first-party cookie vs a third-party cookie. A first-party cookie simply means the cookie belongs to the hosting website a user is on (like yours). This cookie tracks website sessions on its specific domain, like the useful insights seen in website analytics platforms, or when a consumer’s login details are saved. These website cookies have a longer shelf life (for now).

Then there’s the third-party cookie, which, like the name suggests, is from a separate entity that joins the interaction. This happens when a website pulls through content from another domain. This content can be embedded YouTube videos, Pinterest browser buttons, Facebook Like buttons, or, more subtlety, the invisible advertising partner pixels placed on your site. These integrations allow third parties to track users on various sites across the web. Since these third-party website cookies can piece together user information, they’ve become both an integral part of behavioral targeting for online advertising and, more recently, a red flag when it comes to consumer privacy.

It’s these privacy concerns that are leading the charge of the third-party cookie phase-out. The industry has already seen cookie suppressing efforts from browsers like Firefox and Safari, and Apple’s Intelligent Tracking Prevention. Already, an estimated 40% of users on the web cannot be tracked by third-party cookies. And by January 2022, Google Chrome, which represents 66% of internet browsers used, aims to remove third-party cookies as well.  This change will force companies and advertisers to rethink their approach to online advertising.

What does a cookieless future mean for digital advertising?

So now for the implications. Here are some common digital advertising tactics that will break as we currently know it:

  • Behavioral targeting based on tracking users across multiple sites.
  • Impression tags and attribution of view-through conversions that are based on impression tags.
  • Retargeting users throughout the web-based on third-party pixels.
  • In broader terms: ad serving platforms, programmatic advertisers, and e-commerce will all be impacted in some way.

And here are some tactics that we know will still work:

  • Contextual targeting throughout the web – Showing ads on relevant sites to target consumers during the inspiration, consideration, and conversion stages.
  • Click-through attribution models – When someone visits your site through a unique URL and then proceeds to make a conversion.
  • Retargeting based on first-party data – Using your email list and other first-party datapoints to retarget users directly or through a publisher who also has a matching first-party datapoint on that user.

Rest assured; when the time comes, we don’t believe we’ll be limited to solely the above tactics. This industry pivot will bring new strategies, platforms, and mechanisms to be paired with the tried and true marketing channels that aren’t going anywhere. But in exploring and testing new methods, it’s important to not lose sight of why this is happening. It makes sense that consumer privacy should not just be a priority for consumers and governments but brands and advertisers too. This transition is an opportunity for innovation, transparency, and marketing strategy to all come together.

More to come😉.