What Happens When Tracking Cookies Disappear?

The cookie is crumbling. As consumers continue to raise their voices in support of online privacy, the tracking cookie, which is utilized heavily in digital marketing campaigns, is slowly but surely going away.

Earlier this year, Google announced that publishers who use chrome would be required to disclose if (or how) they were planning to use data collected on their websites. The penalty for not following the rules? Google will delete the cookies entirely.

In this article, I’ll take a look at what digital marketers need to know in an increasingly cookie-less world.


Budgets and Strategies Will Need to Shift

It’s unlikely that progressive cookie policies will result in decreased digital advertising budgets, but how money is allocated will likely need to change. Industry experts are predicting that keyword marketing will now be the standard.

In addition, contextual ads will become valuable once again. If you’re unfamiliar with the term, contextual advertising means placing ads relevant to what’s on the screen. For example, an advertiser selling outdoor gear will pay to place their ad on a website that focuses on camping. This option is often viewed more favorably as it is less invasive than an ad that follows you around the web.

With a revamped contextual ad strategy comes a need for relevant content distribution as well. Essentially, the focus will now be on getting people to view your content (ads included) instead of simply placing ads using targeting that is based on user behavior.

Although this will likely mean higher costs for advertisers, the overall experience should be improved for both marketers and users.


First-Party Cookies Will Still Exist

Although the elimination of third-party cookies is going to fundamentally change digital advertising, the cookie isn’t going to be rendered obsolete. First-party cookies, meaning data from those who have visited your own site, can still be utilized.

The increased emphasis on first-party cookies means that website traffic will be more valuable than ever. Expect programs, software, and strategies that efficiently utilize first-party cookies to grow in importance over the coming years. If you can become an expert and maximizing the value of your website visitors’ data, you’ll be ahead of the curve when the third-party cookie is completely eliminated from your marketing tool kit.


Google’s Privacy Sandbox

If you aren’t already familiar with Google’s solution to the problem of marketing in a cookie-less world, it’s time to get acquainted with the Privacy Sandbox. Without getting too deep in the weeds, Google’s Privacy Sandbox is a system that is designed to help advertisers find relevant audiences in a privacy-compliant fashion.

Reduced cross-site tracking, which relies on third-party cookies, means new methods must be developed in order to provide a private, yet still personalized ad experience for users. If this sounds like a complicated proposition, that’s because it is.

Google is still working out the details and hopes to have their new system in place and functional by 2022. The media giant has been revealing small insights along the way, so it’s beneficial to stay on top of the latest news regarding the future of this project.


Category Targeting

One solution to the problems targeting problems that will likely be caused by the removal of cookies is category targeting. This is another proposed feature of Google’s Privacy Sandbox initiative.

As the name suggests, this feature would use an algorithm that places users into groups, or categories, based on their browser history. If this sounds like the same old data collection systems that are in place now, there are a few key differences to note.

Category targeting isn’t just less-individualized than what we currently have, it’s as close to anonymous as it gets. Instead of being shown an ad because of your own browsing habits, in the future you might be served an ad because you fall into a group that was targeted by the advertiser. The differences are nuanced, but more details should help fill in the blanks as the systems are fully fleshed out in the coming months and years.


Cultural Marketing

One method of digital advertising some forward-thinking brands are considering is being billed as “cultural marketing.”

Instead of focusing on matching ads to fit the specific users, as would be the traditional method, brands are placing an increased emphasis on creating ads that fit with current events. We’ve seen some examples of this over the past few months as social issues have come into the forefront of our day-to-day lives.

Because this mindset and advertising philosophy is so new, it’s hard to say whether or not it will have any staying power. However, as the future without traditional targeting tools remains uncertain, innovation will undoubtedly be rewarded.


Looking Ahead

The time to start thinking about life without third-party cookies is now. While much is uncertain about what the future will hold, the most consistent sentiment is that content is going to, once again, become the most important component of an effective marketing strategy.

The impact on traditional digital strategies like display and device ID are yet to be fully understood, but it’s a safe bet that the landscape will look much different by 2022.

Get ahead of the curve by focusing on how to best utilize first-party cookies and other user data that you’re able to gather on your own (such as email addresses). This will be worth its weight in gold when the privacy measures are fully set in place.


Wrapping Up

The inner workings of the internet are constantly changing. With how pervasive it has become in our lives today, it’s easy to forget that we’re only about 25 to 30 years into the experiment that is the World Wide Web.

The user base is only growing, so the need for digital marketing isn’t going anywhere. If history is any indication, those who are able to innovate and adapt will gain ground on the competition.