Since Google’s announcement in early 2020 that its Chrome browser will stop supporting third-party cookies, marketers and business owners have been scratching their heads about what will come next.
According to the latest update from Google, the first stage of the process will begin in late 2022, with a second transitional phase taking place in mid-2023. Then, finally: …”Chrome will phase out support for third-party cookies over a three month period finishing in late 2023.”
With the timeline for the end of third-party cookies confirmed, online organizations are now at the point where strategies are having to be re-examined, and potential changes made.
But is it really such a big deal for your business? To answer this question, we’ve looked at some of the different ways you can deal with the loss of cookies, and ensure that your digital and content marketing efforts are not affected.
First, though, it’s helpful to clarify what exactly is happening.
Why Are Cookies Going Away?
Google’s initial announcement certainly made headlines in digital marketing circles, but it’s actually worth noting that several web browsers (such as Firefox and Safari) have operated without third-party cookies for some time. However, given that Chrome is by far the most widely-used web browser, it’s easy to see why this development is significant.
In its original statement, Google claimed that this pivot is based on user demands for more privacy, driven in part by the introduction of legislation such as the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR).
In reality, though, marketers will still be able to target consumer groups — just not using a person’s browsing history, as is currently the case. As part of Google’s Privacy Sandbox initiative (which we’ll discuss later), users will instead be “lumped” into groups based on their browsing habits, but not targeted as individuals. In practice, this means that if a user regularly visits sports news websites, they will be classed as a sports fan, or if they frequent online clothes stores, they will be classed as a fashion consumer, and so on.
According to LiveChat Brand Ambassador, Marcos Bravo C., this presents new opportunities for marketers and business owners.
I’m actually excited about the change! I feel it will push marketers back to the basics and to learn, look, and listen more about their customers’ habits,” he says. “For years, wrong assumptions have been made from cookies and the focus has been on the path instead of understanding the journey. Dark Social already accounts for as much as 80% of the whole digital sharing landscape, so I hope this change will force us to create better, shareable experiences that relate much better to our customers.
App Tracking Transparency
Google isn’t the only tech giant seeking to make changes, either.
As mentioned, Apple has banned the use of third-party cookies in its Safari browser since 2013, but the introduction of an optional feature in its latest iOS update — known as ‘App Tracking Transparency’ — is also targeting their presence in apps. Under this initiative, any company that runs apps on Apple devices must get explicit permission from users to track their activity on other apps and websites, with non-compliers likely to receive a ban from the App Store.
This development has been almost unanimously supported by users, too. According to mobile app consultancy Flurry, the number of users that have allowed apps to track them stands at less than 6%, confirming that people simply do not want to be followed around the web.
So, What Can Your Business Do?
Many organizations rely heavily on the use of third-party cookies in their business revenue model, and as a result have explored alternative tracking options, such as Local Storage, IndexedDB, and Web SQL.
However, these approaches are essentially “workarounds” that simply continue the anti-privacy trend that Google and Apple are trying to eradicate. In some cases, their use can fall foul of GDPR (and similar regulations in the US), meaning that you could potentially face penalties or even legal action.
Therefore, it’s pertinent to consider the steps your business can take to still acquire valuable insights into your target customers, and to engage with them effectively — all while playing by the rules.
Here are a few things you can do.
1. Embrace First-Party Data.
While third-party cookies will no longer exist on the platforms mentioned above, you will still be able to utilize first-party cookies. This means that you should consider shifting your focus to data collection through your own assets and sources.
You will still require user consent to collect this information, of course, but privacy concerns are minimal compared to those presented by third-party data. This is because you can clearly identify the source of the data, and you also directly own it. It is a cost-effective way of collecting valuable data about your users that can be segmented and structured in a similar way to third-party data segments.
Here are some of the ways you can collect and leverage first-party data:
From Behaviors and Actions Taken Across Your Website, App, and/or Product
This is the most obvious and easiest way to collect first-party user data, as behaviour-capture tools such as Google Analytics (GA) can give you a significant level of insight into how people interact and behave on your site. For example, GA allows you to break down your visitors and create user segments based on their:
- Age and gender (if they have accessed your site while logged into their Google account).
- Location and language.
- Where they came to your site from (i.e. traffic source), and where they go next.
You can also create segments based on how users behave once they are on your site, such as if they purchase a particular product, spend a certain amount, or take a particular action. You can then combine this data with other sources to create something genuinely valuable.
As well as allowing you to collect insights and data in a compliant way, this kind of analysis also allows you to personalize your marketing efforts to different audiences, making your wider digital marketing strategy even more effective!
From Your CRM
As a dedicated database of customer information, your customer relationship management (CRM) system is a perfect, ready-built library from which to acquire valuable insights.
Consider, for instance, that you’re not just recording names and contact information in your CRM database, but also every interaction you have with your customers. Among many other things, this treasure trove of behavioural data allows you to:
- Look at how your existing customers move through the sales funnel.
- Personalize and target communications and campaigns to new target audiences based on your existing customer data.
- Analyze who your top customers are and use that data to construct buyer personas.
When used effectively, this kind of data can be hugely valuable for your organization.
From Your Social Media
If you are actively pursuing social media as a key component of your wider marketing strategy, then you will already be heavily focused on analyzing the performance and impact of your profiles.
Even if you’re not, though, the customer insights you can obtain via your social media accounts are valuable. In this context, the key is to focus less on classic “vanity” metrics such as likes, shares, and comments, and to pay particular attention to clicks.
You can categorize your social content, and then segment users based on whether or not they click on a particular piece of content, thus allowing you to discover the best way to generate actions from people. For instance, if elements of your audience are continually clicking on short-form video posts, then you can segment that group and show them more short video content.
The same concept applies to the different topics you post about, too. If you’re posting a lot of content around a certain subject and you’re getting clicks, engagement, and possibly even conversions from particular segments of your audience, then it makes sense to continue creating similar social content for that segment.
When you put all this data together, you’ll get a far more accurate idea of the kinds of formats and subjects that are popular with your audience, allowing you to target them more effectively.
From Your Emails
One of the biggest benefits of having a subscriber’s list is that when people sign up, you can gather a wide range of information about them (in exchange for something, of course, such as a discount or an eBook). Email addresses can also be used as a unique identifier, allowing you to get a more accurate picture of who exactly your leads are.
As with social media, you can leverage this channel to identify which users take actions based on the different kinds of emails you send. With the addition of email-specific features, such as A/B testing, this really allows you to dig deep into the preferences, behaviors, and interests of your audience, and to target them more efficiently.
One of the easiest — and most direct — ways to gather the kind of information you’re looking for is to simply ask for it (in return for some kind of reward, of course)! This method is particularly useful if you want answers to some pretty specific questions, and doesn’t even necessarily require participants to give you personal data such as names or email addresses.
To get the most out of this approach, though, you should still carefully consider which identifier information you do need, as this will help you to segment the respondents. At the basic level, you might want to know each person’s:
- Geographic location.
- Age bracket.
- Level of income.
You can then measure these identifiers against the responses to your question. For example, let’s say that you sell road bicycles, and you ask the following questions in your survey:
- On average, how many hours do you cycle each week?
- How many years have you been road cycling for?
- How much money do you spend per year on road cycling?
The data from the answers may well be interesting in itself, but to extract the most value, you would want to split the answers by segment. For instance, you might discover that a large proportion of new, inexperienced cyclists are females in their 40s, which would suggest that you run campaigns targeting beginner bikes at that audience.
As an added bonus, surveys also allow you to create unique stories from your data, providing you with some potentially great content that generates backlinks and shares!
From Customer Feedback
You can obtain numerous insights from your customer feedback, especially if you tie it in with your CRM data. Depending on the format of the feedback, the value of these insights could be qualitative (written reviews or posts) or quantitative (actual ratings).
If people leave reviews on your website or social media, then you can also collect basic information about them. This allows you to see if any particular patterns or trends emerge among who likes or dislikes your product(s), and to segment users that leave good reviews and users that leave bad ones. You can then attempt to continue engaging with and targeting happy customers, while trying to find out more about the kinds of customers that leave bad reviews.
2. Create and Promote Customer-Centric, Consent-Based Content.
In order to truly move beyond third-party marketing cookies, it’s crucial to understand the value of customer-centric, consent-based content.
If the content you are producing is unique and high-quality, and it offers helpful solutions to people’s problems, then guess what: you don’t actually need third-party data. You can leverage a combination of keyword research tools and first-party data to target the most suitable audiences, thus allowing you to generate the most qualified leads.
This isn’t ideal, of course; it would still be nice to have access to that third-party data. But the point here is that, with a well-structured, expertly delivered content strategy in place, the impact can be mitigated — and you won’t need to panic!
To illustrate how, let’s look at a few channels that are not dependent on cookies in digital marketing, and which can be leveraged through the use of great content.
As cookies die out, email is one of the few marketing channels that won’t be directly affected. Luckily, it’s also one of the most effective and successful, so focusing on email should be one of your top priorities in a post-tracking world.
This point comes with a pretty significant caveat, however: email marketing only bears fruit when it is done well. This means you need to produce well-written copy that entices people to open your emails and take action.
One of the most effective ways to draw people to your website is by having an active blog and (if relevant) knowledge base. It’s not just about posting for the sake of posting, though; your content should be relevant to user queries and provide genuine solutions to their problems.
This gives you direct access to audiences who may be interested in what your business has to offer; the only difference is that now these people are coming to you, rather than the other way around. Again, though, this is only the case if your content is high-quality, user-aligned, and written in such a way that it engages and hooks potential leads.
For budget-conscious business owners in particular, a successful SEO strategy is highly desirable. It may take time and some initial effort on your part, but once you start ranking for your target keywords, you are visible to your desired audience 24/7 — and with no need for any kind of cookie.
However, always remember that the sustainability and success of this approach depends on two things: how effective and well-researched your keyword strategy is, and how well-written, structured, and credible your content is.
Although the inner workings of social media algorithms are usually shrouded in mystery, you can still retain some level of control over your social success by simply making great content that people want to share.
Every marketing and social media manager wants to produce that elusive viral unicorn, of course, and that may not always be a realistic expectation, but it is certainly fair to assert that if your social content is interesting, engaging, and resonates with your audience, then it can still generate success.
Producing High-Quality Content
As you may have noticed, the common denominator for success across all these channels is being able to produce high-quality content. Unfortunately, this is not always the case for a lot of businesses. For instance, maybe you or your in-house writer do not possess the expertise and experience needed to write effectively for your industry, or perhaps you simply don’t have the resources to hire a writer full-time.
This is where Semrush Marketplace can help. Our platform carefully selects writers and then matches them to your requirements, ensuring that they possess the necessary knowledge and background in your industry. We also provide content solutions across a wide variety of formats, allowing you to publish high-quality content across all your marketing channels.
To learn more about Semrush Marketplace, and how it can help you deliver on your content strategy, just follow the button below!
3. Utilize Google’s Privacy Sandbox.
As touched upon at the start of this article, Google is currently developing a small collection of APIs for the Chrome browser, known as the Privacy Sandbox. Although there is no working prototype or code available at the time of writing, it is anticipated that each of these APIs will combine to protect user privacy while still allowing businesses to reach customers.
According to Digiday, the Privacy Sandbox will consist of:
- a trust API that operates in a similar way to CAPTCHA software;
- a “privacy budget” API that will limit the amount of data websites can acquire;
- a conversion measurement API that lets businesses know if their ad was seen and if it converted;
- a “PIGIN” API that tracks sets of interest groups for a particular user; and
- the Federated Learning of Cohorts (FLoC) API that monitors the browsing habits of groups of similar users (not individuals).
This initiative will still allow you to continue to glean valuable insights about online user behaviours, but in a more customer-focused, ethically favorable way.
4. Contextual Advertising
Contextual ads are being championed by many industry experts as another logical solution, as they do not need cookies (or other identifiers) to be relevant to viewers. This is because ad network algorithms match ads to keywords in the content, so that someone reading a meal plan blog might see ads for Tupperware containers, for instance.
Contextual advertising is not perfect, of course; the success of such an approach can often depend on the quality of the algorithm, and some brands are wary of possible reputational damage (such as a Harley-Davidson ad appearing on an article about a fatal motorcycle crash, for example). However, when used in conjunction with other approaches, contextual advertising is a great way to put your brand in front of your target audience.
On first viewing, the end of third-party cookies and app tracking might be considered at best a hindrance, and at worst a disaster. Ultimately, though, users value their privacy and they don’t want to be bombarded with “personalized” ads that are based on intrusive tracking practices.
Now that the likes of Google and Apple feel the same way, adapting to new methods and approaches is necessary — and that is a hindrance, of course. But as we have seen, there are many effective ways to still understand and reach your target audience, and these techniques and practices will play a vital role in the effectiveness of your online reach in 2022 and beyond.
As Olga Denisova, VP of Marketing at Semrush, states:
While cookie blocking is definitely a disturbing question for any marketer, it’s also a big opportunity to uplevel the game and enhance your marketing communications even more.
To start off, companies should be focusing more on building closer connections with customers and ensuring a high level of trust whenever any user is willing to share data about their preferences directly, whether it’s through surveys or filling in lead forms. Having built this level of trust, business will be able to gather first-party data effectively and fill in the gaps from cookie absence. Also, an enriched database should provide a foundation for predictive modelling, and give a push for in-house customized artificial intelligence solutions. Equipped with AI, companies will be able to identify certain patterns and segment audiences using an array of parameters. With such an advanced personalization coming into play, both content and means of communications can be tuned and tailored to every action of a customer.
All of the above should help build out more powerful approaches to fitting user demands, needs, and interests. User loyalty will come in return, and positive business outcomes will be the reward for that. So at the end of the day, both parties win and a presumable crisis becomes a growth area.
cover photo: Lachlan Donald (Unsplash)