In 2013, internet browsers Safari and Firefox initiated third-party cookie blocking in an effort to protect users from information oversharing1. The move positioned Google Chrome as the emerging browser powerhouse, a status that it maintains today with 64.06% of the web browser market2.
But times are changing. Balance between user privacy and marketing personalization needs to be struck. Google is compelled to join its competitors in phasing out third-party cookies.
Google promised action in this area back in 2020, committing to a two-year action plan culminating in the phase-out of third-party cookies on Chrome by 20223. With the turning of the calendar, the reckoning is upon us. If Google keeps its promise, there are speculative consequences for users and inbound marketers.
Cookies are small text files that websites create and store on users’ computers to aid in recognizing and tracking behaviors and preferences. Cookies are divided into two categories: first-party and third-party.
First-party cookies are created by the website a user physically visits (also known as the host domain). These cookies are intended for improving and personalizing the user experience by helping browsers “remember” key information such as user names, passwords, and language preferences. Since first-party cookies are deemed necessary and beneficial, web browser settings are typically set to allow them by default.
Third-party cookies are created by websites other than the one a user physically visits — usually advertisers, analytics providers, and retargeting and tracking services. The purpose of third-party cookies is to track users’ online behaviors and display targeted ads across websites most relevant to individual user preferences.
The General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR)
Since third-party cookies are attached to users’ devices for tracking purposes, users increasingly see them as an invasion of privacy. This brought about protective legislation surrounding the purpose and process behind how to enable cookies for a website.
Enacted in 2018, the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) is a data privacy law that gives citizens of EU countries more control over how their personal data is collected and used.4 However, GDPR protections don’t stop at the EU borders. The global reach of online activity means nearly any website securing personal data from EU residents falls under GDPR enforcement, regardless of where the organization behind the website is geographically situated and with very limited exceptions.
Giving the people what they want — and don’t want
Movement toward stricter privacy protections in answer to user demand quells some concern, but it’s also causing pushback. Nearly 90% of users surveyed across multiple markets prioritized “purchasing from brands that understand ‘the real me’ and what I care about.”
To that end, privacy seems to give way to the desire for personalization. About 65% of Millennials, 58% of Gen Xers, and 46% of Baby Boomers readily admit a willingness to share personal information with companies in response to personalized offers or discounts.7
And that frames the challenge for inbound marketers:
If the world’s largest internet browser does away with third-party cookies to give 73% of users what they allegedly want in terms of privacy, how do marketers provide targeted ads that users also claim to want?
The way the cookie crumbles
Understandably, the 88% of U.S. marketers that saw measurable improvements due to personalization are in a bit of a panic.7 After all, data powers the digital experience.
Not being able to leverage third-party cookies to track or target users for the projected 8 hours per day they spend in the digital space likely has a negative business impact. Marketers will arguably find it more difficult to:
- Reach people who are interested in and/or loyal to their brand
- Deliver relevant ads to users
- Optimize conversions, which ultimately increases acquisition costs
- Accurately capture marketing campaign data and KPIs
However, the anticipated Google third-party cookie phase-out may not be all gloom and doom for marketers. It’s important to keep in mind that Google isn’t eliminating all cookies. First-party cookies remain in place and offer businesses primary data for lead generation and relationship building.1
Also, Google isn’t placing a hard stop on tracking user behavior. It will, however, shift focus from the granular, individualized data mining of third-party cookies to tracking groups of people and aggregate data using privacy-first and interest-based marketing technologies like Privacy Sandbox and Federated Learning of Cohorts (FLoC).8 As a result of the use of aggregate data, inbound marketers have an opportunity to deploy traditional outbound tactics to maximize their online presence.
Putting contextual marketing in context
Pairing Google Chrome group tracking data with contextual marketing practices allows inbound marketers to deploy targeted ad strategies. While not necessarily delivering a one-on-one digital experience, contextual marketing puts key messaging in front of people whose behaviors indicate interest in a particular product or category, if not a full-blown readiness to buy.
Wait. What? You’ve committed to strategic, SEO-driven B2B inbound marketing — why would you revert to outbound tactics like group ads? Largely because Google says so, if, indeed, the third-party cookie phase-out happens on the browser (Chrome) that accounts for more than half of all global web traffic.1
With contextual marketing comes a slew of other targeted “push” opportunities such as pay-per-click (PPC) ad campaigns, search engine ads, display ads on industry websites, and social media ads. Discover how paid media can help you pivot toward marketing success in the pending third-party cookie-free era. Click the link below to access The Inbound Marketer’s Guide to Paid Media now.
1HubSpot, The Death of the Third-Party Cookie: What Marketers Need to Know About Google's 2022 Phase-Out, Undated
2Oberlo, Most Popular Web Browsers in 2021, Undated
3Vox, Google's plan to get rid of cookies isn't going well, June 24, 2021
4GDPR.EU, Does the GDPR apply to companies outside of the EU?, Undated
5International Association for Privacy Professionals, LGPD, Undated
6State of California, Dept. of Justice, California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA) | State of California - Department of Justice - Office of the Attorney General, Undated
7LeadsBridge, How a cookie-Less World Will Impact Advertising [WEBINAR], 2021
8Statista, Time spent per day with digital versus traditional media in the United States from 2011 to 2022, Undated
9Google, Building a privacy-first future for web advertising, January 25, 2021