January 5, 2024

Google begins its transition away from third-party cookies

Embarking on a journey towards heightened privacy, Google has initiated a preliminary trial of its Tracking Protection feature, signalling the beginning of the end for third-party cookies on Chrome. 

After four years of uncertainty and following their timeline announcements last year, Google has finally commenced their preliminary trial of its new Tracking Protection feature, marking the initial steps towards phasing out third-party cookies for Chrome users.

Designed to eventually restrict third-party cookie access by default, this trial will initially be conducted on 1% of Chrome users, which is a small amount, but will allow Google to examine the impact and a glimpse into the future of browsing without third-party cookies.

What are third-party cookies?

Third-party cookies, generated by external websites, are tracking codes placed on visitors’ computers when they access your site and others. These cookies collect data on visitors’ online behaviour, including frequently visited websites, purchases, and interests. This information can then be used to create detailed visitor profiles and retargeting lists for personalised ad campaigns. 

This differs from first-party cookies, which are automatically generated and stored on your website visitor’s computer, primarily for enhancing user experience by remembering passwords, basic visitor data like adding to the shopping cart and preferences.

It provides insights into the user’s actions on your site, visitor frequency and analytics, enabling the development of targeted marketing strategies. However, it does not capture visitor behaviour data on external, non-affiliated websites as third-party cookies do. 

Why is Google eliminating third-party cookies? 

Following the pattern of other major browsers such as Safari, Edge and Firefox, Google’s phase-out aligns with the growing concern for user privacy and expectations, regulatory pressures such as GDPR and CCPA, and industry shifts, with third-party cookies being critiqued for their invasive nature, allowing advertisers to track user behaviour across various sites. 

Google aims to explore more privacy-conscious methods without compromising personalised advertising, having developed its own third-party cookie alternative, which it calls the ‘privacy sandbox’, which enables Google to feed data to advertisers without needing to capture a user’s browser history.

How will this impact online advertising?

Digital managers had previously relied on third-party cookies to create effective, targeted campaigns and report on their impact, so removing access to this naturally poses some challenges. However this change will simply mean ad targeting strategies need an overhaul.

The shift is spurring innovation and encourages digital managers to explore new strategies such as cohort-based targeting, first-party data utilisation, enhanced conversions and APIs, zero party data, not to mention utilising paid social targeting tools and the aforementioned privacy sandbox features.

How can we adapt to this change?

As mentioned, adapting involves a dual approach: exploring alternative targeting methods and prioritising the collection of first-party data. Businesses must build direct relationships with their audiences to gather valuable data while navigating the dynamic advertising landscape.

One impactful strategy is to collect user information on-site, such as through the creation of an email database. This not only ensures compliance with evolving privacy norms but also establishes a robust avenue for effective follow-ups and maintaining personalised engagement with users.

What is the timeline for phasing out third-party cookies?

Google is targeting Q3 2024 as the window for gradually ramping up to 100% of users, however, despite Google’s assurances to the contrary, a confluence of regulatory hurdles, timing constraints, and technological readiness challenges could push the timeline beyond this into 2025. The main constraint is the UK’s Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) which must grant approval first, which will involve a thorough examination, followed by a ‘cooling-off’ period lasting 60 to 120 days.

Based on the proposed timelines, assuming approval and factoring in a full 120-day cooling-off period, this could result in a race against the clock to disable third-party cookies successfully by the end of September to avoid clashing with the holiday ad rush and impacting a very busy period of the year for advertisers, with the alternative being further delay until early 2025.

What should I do if I have a business that runs online advertising?

If your digital advertising is managed by us here at Air Social, the good news is, nothing!
We’ll ensure this phase-out doesn’t affect the performance of your campaigns.

If we don’t manage your advertising and you require support and guidance to navigate these changes, we have the team to help!

Click here or contact us on 01483 789434.

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