What would marketers do when cookies are not sweet anymore?

As a marketer, we all love this small piece of code embedded in user’s browsers called cookies. As a consumer, are you annoyed with those online advertising that follows you everywhere? I didn’t think much about the cookie topic until I saw more articles reminding marketers to prepare for the end of third-party cookies. I started to dig in with a question in mind – how bad will it be for marketers?   

From privacy and a consumer perspective, if you are a Google Chrome user, I suggest you turn off third-party cookie tracking if you haven’t done so. It’s relatively creepy to think of having someone monitoring your website usage behavior. Apple’s Safari and Firefox browsers have already blocked this type of tracking since 2013. Google announced that it will follow suit by blocking third-party cookies in 2022.  

What are cookies? 

We all know what cookies are. But for the benefits of everyone, let revisit the basic and the principle of how cookies work. First thing first, why are they called “cookies”? There are a few theories behind the name, and no one seems to know the right answers. My original guess, which is proved to be one of the theories, is that the name came from Hansel and Gretel, who navigated a forest using cookie crumbs. Another theory believes the name is derived from the term “magic cookie,” which was a term used for a packet of data back in 1979.

Regardless of how cookies got their name, you normally get ones every time you use the internet. The simplest way to explain cookies is that they are files stored on your computer that begin their life when you visit a website. Cookies identify you on the websites. They store all sorts of information about you, such as your browsing habits, log-in details, browser types, and internet preferences. The idea is to enhance your online experience. 

Cookies generally don’t have bad intentions to do any harm to you. They are just another protocol that facilities communication between your browsers and servers. Most importantly, cookies cannot carry viruses or malware, nor can they transfer malicious programs to other users. 

The most well-known types of cookies

There are three main types of cookies that you should know as a marketer. 

Session Cookies

Session cookies work more like a short term memory in a computer. They are temporary and do not collect any identifiable information about users. Once you close a browser, your computer will automatically delete them all. These cookies’ objective is for a website to remember you when you click from page to page within the same domain. Without them, a website would treat you as a new user every time to click on a new page within the same site. 

A good example is that imagine if you visit the Amazon website to buy a few things for Christmas. Without the session cookies, you wouldn’t be able to fill your shopping cart. You have to remember every item you want to buy as you browse the site. It would be super annoying. 

First-Party Cookies

First-party cookies work similar to the session cookies, except that they collect more information about you and their life last longer. First-party cookies usually have a life between one and two years. If you don’t visit the website within this timeframe, your browser will remove these cookies automatically. But, you do have an option to remove them manually. 

Without these cookies, websites wouldn’t be able to remember your preferences, such as menu settings, themes, language selection, and internal bookmarks between sessions. First-party cookies also allow the sites to remember your log-in credentials. Without them, you would have to enter your log-in every time you visit websites. 

Third-Party Cookies

In the case of first-party cookies, a cookie’s domain will match the domain of the site you’re visiting. A third-party cookie originates from a different domain. Third-party cookies are the reason why cookies got a bad reputation because their only objective is to track your internet usage behavior. The tracking can take many forms; the cookies can learn about your browsing history, online behavior, demographics, spending habits, and more. The only benefit I could think of to have these cookies on is to have online ads that seem relevant to you. 

Third-party cookies are used mostly for the benefit of marketers. If you’re using Chrome and want to block cookies, go to More > Settings > Advanced > Privacy and Security > Content Settings > Cookies > Block Third-Party Cookies. From a consumer perspective, I suggest that you block these cookies, unless you don’t mind sharing your online life with the public. 

What would happen when the third-party cookies are banned? 

I am not a big fan of the remarketing approach. I think it’s annoying. Once you visit an ad once, with remarketing, this ad will haunt you for a long time even though you already bought the product. So, I initially thought with the death of the third-party cookies, remarketing would be gone too. Not so quick! 

The third-party cookies phase-out will not impact the remarketing on Google’s Remarketing Lists for Search Ads product. This is because an ad displays on the Google SERP (Search Engine Results Page) based on a user’s search query and their actions on your website, which is made possible by a Google cookie.

In the case of Facebook remarketing, the display ads on Facebook and Instagram feed that is created based on actions that users take on your website will not be impacted. These actions are tracked via a Facebook cookie; there’s zero reliance on third-party interactions.

Only the display remarketing ads that appear on third-party websites will be negatively impacted by this change. In addition, when third-party cookies become obsolete, many audience targeting capabilities won’t be available in the same capacity as they are now. The data collection campaigns that rely on what users are doing on other websites won’t be possible anymore.  

Welcome back contextual marketing

Next year, I expect to see marketers start shifting their investment to first-party data tracking through contextual marketing. Contextual marketing is an approach that focuses on serving relevant and targeted content to users in the right place and at the right time. It is based on the customer’s current interests and interactions with your brand and customer’s current needs. It is a tool to ensure advertising content is served in context and relevancy to the parent site content.

We will see more investment in content marketing within an inbound marketing framework. Search Engine Optimisation will be more important than ever. The right strategy for the future will be to develop a good content plan, which aligns with the broader SEO strategy. It’s also necessary to include website and content optimisation, persona-based content, and ensuring you’re benchmarking and measuring any changes you implement. 

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