Now is the Time to Prepare for a Future without Third-Party Cookies

6.1 min readPublished On: March 2, 2024

Now is the Time to Prepare for a Future without Third-Party Cookies

This past January, Google Chrome started restricting third-party cookies for 1% of Chrome browsers, with the goal of gradually phasing out third-party cookie support in 100% of Chrome browsers by the third quarter of 2024. This initial 1% rollout is a grace period of sorts so websites and services (this is you) can research and test more privacy-focused alternatives for collecting user data.

This is a big deal for digital marketers, as it all but eliminates the use of third-party cookies as a data collection tool. If you rely on third-party cookies, this means no more tracking, targeting, personalization, attribution, measurement, and so much more. Forward-thinking marketers (this is also you) who prepare now for a third-party cookieless digital marketplace will have a distinct advantage over their competition.

What Are Third-Party Cookies and Why Is Google Blocking Them?

First, let’s take a step back and review. Cookies are small snippets of code that websites place on a user’s browser when they visit a website. These are first-party cookies, and they store information about a user’s visits and behavior. On most websites users can manually block cookies or set restrictions, but many users choose to blindly hop on a website to shop, watch, learn, browse, etc. Little do they realize that lots more is happening with every mouse click that they may be unaware of.

While first-party cookies are created directly by the website the user visits, these websites also allow advertisers and analytics providers to drop their own “third-party” cookies onto the devices of unsuspecting users. Advertisers and other companies use these external cookies to gather information about browsing behavior, serve targeted ads across domains, and track performance.

It’s no surprise that third-party cookies have always been controversial due to how much data is being collected without users’ informed consent and the potential for massive data breaches. By blocking third party cookie support, Google is attempting to increase user privacy and security, reduce shady tracking practices and eliminate uncontrolled data sharing. This allows Google to boost security and give users more power over how they are tracked and targeted online.

Google is not alone in their decision to block third-party cookies in Chrome browsers. Safari and Firefox already impose restrictions. So, by the end of 2024, third-party cookie support will cease to exist across all major browsers.

What does the end of third-party cookies mean?

The immediate impact will be on digital advertising and click/conversion tracking. Without access to browser cookies, it will get much harder for marketers to:

  • Retarget consumers across domains
  • Track conversions over multiple sites
  • Personalize advertising and offers
  • Analyze performance of advertising campaigns

Basically, multi-domain and multi-channel attribution and analytics will be severely disrupted. Cross-tracking will be eliminated, and all accessible data will be restricted to the specific domain. This means that digital marketers who personalize and optimize advertising performance will have to find alternatives to third-party cookies to harvest the data they need.

Those (we hope this is you) who can adapt to cookieless tracking alternatives early will have a definitive advantage in the marketplace over those who choose to “wait and see.”

What can you do now to prepare for a cookieless future?

The third-party cookie phase-out will be here sooner than you expect. Many of the core competencies you offer as digital marketers, such as targeting, personalization, insights, and attribution, will be gone in their current form. The good news is that Google won’t prevent the use of first-party cookies, allowing collection of site visitors’ data when they choose to interact directly with a website. And Google aims to have the Privacy Sandbox fully functional long before completely killing third-party cookies. This gives the digital marketing industry some time to reconfigure how they operate.

The bottom line is that with preparation, testing, investment and adaptation, your marketing strategies can still thrive. Now is the time to embrace new ideas, invest in new technologies, and get your team skilled in, and even defining, new best-practices. Take these steps today to stay ahead of the changes:

1. Lean into First-Party Data

When third-party data signals are eliminated, you need alternative sources of customer and lead information. Fortunately, first-party cookies aren’t going away and will be the foundation for marketing in the cookieless future.

The first step is to improve the process of how you collect first-party data and integrate consent flows into your tech stack. Focus on gathering rich, privacy-compliant data through:

  • Customer sign ups and profiles
  • Loyalty programs, memberships, or subscriptions
  • Promotions
  • Interactive content
  • Surveys and feedback forms
  • Integrations with CRM and marketing databases
  • Email engagement

Other tactics include contact info, transactional data, website activity, and app usage. It’s imperative that you provide quality and value to your audience so you can build the trust it requires to get new and existing customers to willingly share personal information.

2. Evaluate Identity Resolution Technologies

Dive into identity resolution and customer data platforms (CDPs). These technologies take disparate first-party data points, such as a user’s device and sessions, and tie them to individual users to create unified profiles using probabilistic matching techniques.

Furthermore, advanced matching algorithms, statistical models, and graph networks allow connecting actionable insights to real people while maintaining privacy when third-party data disappears. And there are alternatives already available, such as Google Ads Data Manager, and more being developed (thanks Google Privacy Sandbox!).

3. Test Cookieless Tracking Methods

New attribution tools focused on first-party data are already emerging. If you’re now relying completely on third-party cookies, it’s time to experiment with alternatives, such as:

  • Browser Fingerprinting – Collecting device settings into unique combinations for identification without cookies.
  • FLoC – Google’s cohort analysis techniques for interest-based tracking segments.
  • Differential Privacy – Adding noise to aggregate reporting numbers for true anonymization.
  • Contextual Targeting – Using page content semantics for smarter placements without behavioral data.

Explore emerging attribution and analytics providers who offer cookieless solutions. Thoroughly test out new multi-touch modeling platforms that leverage privacy-safe approaches like data clean rooms and incremental measurement. The future of performance tracking will require embracing new methodologies.

Xivic is here to help.

It’s true that the end of the third-party cookie will completely alter digital marketing as we know it. But it’s also an opportunity to develop and enable more sustainable, privacy-centric strategies. Rather than relying on external data crutches, brands must focus inward to build first party data universes, understand real audience segments, develop owned media, and form authentic engagement across channels and platforms.

The brands that start putting in the work now to more closely connect with customers through transparency, value, and relevancy have the most to gain after cookies have disappeared. They’ll be ahead of the curve rather than playing catch-up in an increasingly volatile digital marketing landscape.

At Xivic, we stay in front of developments from Google and other tech giants, so we can help our clients adapt to a future without third-party cookies. We can assess how your Google marketing and analytics strategies may be affected, advise on new approaches worth testing that are right for your business, and ensure you are prepared for the inevitable. Who knows? Maybe in a few years, we’ll look back on cookies as a quaint targeting tool of the past.

Reach out to start the conversation about how you can stay ahead of Google’s cookie changes.

Ready to level up your digital transformation?