Digital marketers have long relied on cookies to learn more about their target audience. However, the past few years have seen many major web browsers block third-party cookies by default, and it looks like Google’s Chrome is finally following suit next year. If the “Cookiepocalypse” has you scratching your head, don’t worry. I’ve compiled a list of the most frequently asked questions and answered them to help you better understand what the death of the cookie might mean for you.
What Is a Cookie?
There are three types of HTTP cookies:
- Session cookie
- Persistent cookie
- Third-party cookie
Session cookies only last for the user’s web session. Persistent cookies are longer lasting — like what Amazon uses to keep track of what’s in your cart. Both of these are first-party cookies. Third-party cookies are similar to persistent cookies in that they remain on a user’s browser until erased. However, rather than originating from the site a user visits, third-party cookies are owned by someone else (like a social media company or advertiser).
When Are Google Cookies Going Away?
Back in 2020, Google announced a plan to remove third-party cookies from its Chrome browser by the beginning of 2022. This initial plan has hit some snags, and the search giant is now aiming to sideline cookies by late 2024. In fact, it’s already started deprecating 1% of cookies starting January 4.
However, even with Google cookies going away, Google doesn’t intend to hang advertisers out to dry. After all, the search engine’s business model is based on its ability to sell ads.
Google plans to allow the continued use of first-party cookies that collect data about your own site’s visitors. Additionally, Google has recently introduced Topics, an API that works by assigning people a set of interests based on the sites they’ve visited. The API is still in testing, but it represents a middle ground between user privacy and the needs of digital advertisers.
What Is a Third-Party Cookie?
Third-party cookies are tracking cookies that are placed on your device owned by someone other than the site you are visiting. These cookies follow users around the web after they’ve been picked up. They’re stored under a different domain than the one currently being visited and are usually used to gather information about a user’s browsing habits for advertising purposes. This means that even if you don’t visit the domain from which a certain cookie originates, you can still pick it up.
One example is Facebook’s embedded ‘like’ button. When you click a like button, no matter which web page it’s on, a Facebook cookie is downloaded to your device, allowing Facebook to learn more about you. This cookie will remain (and will continue sending data to Facebook) until you erase it.
Third-party cookies allow advertisers to learn valuable information about the browsing habits and online behaviors of individuals, including the websites they visit, the interests they show across the web, and the purchases they make.
It’s important to understand that Google doesn’t intend to phase out all cookies, only third-party cookies.
Why Are Third-Party Cookies Going Away?
Thanks to third-party cookies, web users unintentionally leave behind a trail of crumbs wherever they go around the web. Unsurprisingly, many people view this as a violation of their privacy and have placed pressure on web browsers to do away with this kind of tracking. As a result, web browsers are moving away from the use of third-party cookies in order to create a safer, more private browsing experience for their users.
When Will Third-Party Cookies Be Going Away?
It’s hard to say exactly when third-party cookies will be definitively wiped from the web. Firefox defaulted to blocking third-party cookies in 2013, and Safari did so in 2017, leaving Google Chrome as the only major browser to still allow them by default. As of January 4, 2024, Google has deprecated 1% of third-party cookies on its browser, with plans to deprecate the rest throughout the year.
The web giant has dragged its feet on the removal of third-party cookies, but in 2020 they finally set a two-year target for getting rid of these types of cookies from their Chrome browser.
Because Google Chrome is responsible for over 60% of internet browsing, the removal of third-party cookies has been dubbed the “Cookiepocalypse.” When Google will completely remove third-party cookies from its browser is anyone’s guess, but their latest estimates indicate that third-party cookie deprecation will happen sometime in late 2024.
What Is a First-Party Cookie?
The third-party cookie isn’t the only type of cookie to be found on the web. First-party cookies are a type of cookie that can only be created and viewed by the operator of the website you are visiting. They’re used on a single domain and do not share the information they collect with any other websites or advertisers.
First-party cookies make site visitors’ experience easier by remembering things like login info and browsing preferences. For example, Amazon uses first-party cookies to recognize a user whenever they visit their site. Thanks to Amazon’s first-party data, the site can remember a visitor without them having to log in again and the items in their cart can be retained without the user having to re-add them.
They can also help marketers learn more about what users do when visiting their site and how often they stop by.
First-Party vs. Third-Party Cookies: What’s The Difference?
There are a few important differences when it comes to first-party cookies vs. third-party cookies.
The first big difference is who created the cookie. First-party cookies always come from the same domain that a user is currently browsing. Third-party cookies do not originate from the domains you visit but are instead placed on a website by a third party via code.
The second difference is accessibility. First-party cookies and the data they gather are only accessible by the website they originate from (i.e., the website the user is visiting.) Third-party cookies, on the other hand, can originate from anywhere else on the web. When a user visits a site that loads a third-party cookie, that cookie collects the user’s data and can transmit it virtually anywhere else on the internet. As the user visits more and more sites, the cookie continues to transmit and store data, effectively tracking the user across the web.
Additionally, not all browsers support third-party cookies. As previously mentioned, browsers like Safari and Firefox have already rid themselves of third-party cookie compatibility, and Chrome remains the only major browser to support them.
Lastly, when compared to third-party cookies, a first-party cookie is generally harmless. First-party cookies help to customize and facilitate the user’s browsing experience, making it easier and more convenient to browse the web. Third-party cookies, however, are intended more for data collection.
Will The ‘Death of The Cookie’ Impact SEO?
No, the death of cookies isn’t really expected to impact search engine optimization (SEO).
In fact, it’s been suggested that with the death of the cookie, the ability to capture organic traffic through SEO may become even more important. Being unable to track users’ browsing and shopping habits across the web will make it harder to serve them with accurate ads. As a result, brands will need to rely on other digital marketing strategies, like SEO, to draw in leads.
Because SEO focuses on creating valuable content around desired keywords, marketers can pinpoint search intent to publish blog posts and pages that drive targeted traffic to their site.
What Does The Death of The Third-Party Cookie Mean For Ecommerce?
Ecommerce sites that rely on third-party cookie data to capture new customers or retarget previous site visitors will need to identify additional avenues for driving traffic to their websites. Diversifying digital marketing efforts before third-party data disappears can help ecommerce businesses pinpoint the most profitable digital marketing channels for their industry.
Will Retargeting Go Away With Cookies?
With the disappearance of third-party cookies, retargeting could become a less efficient tactic. Third-party cookies are a crucial tool when it comes to retargeting since the more information you have about an individual, the easier it becomes to show them relevant ads. However, while it may be more difficult and less effective, retargeting won’t disappear altogether following the Cookiepocalypse. First-party retargeting, which builds audiences for a site based on user behavior on that same site, will still be a viable option.
What Is the Privacy Sandbox?
Google’s Privacy Sandbox is a set of standards and proposals developed to improve user privacy on the web. The goal of these standards is to create a healthy and ad-supported web while rendering third-party cookies obsolete. In the face of increased demand for user privacy, Google is trying to find a middle ground between providing a greater degree of privacy to site visitors and allowing third parties to gather user data for advertising purposes.
The Sandbox features a series of privacy-preserving APIs that support marketing and business models in a world without third-party cookies. The APIs allow for things like conversion measurement and ad selection without having to reveal the personal and private information of individuals.
Google is currently looking for feedback from advertisers, ad tech companies, and publishers to provide suggestions, recommend missing use cases, and share info about how they believe their goals are achievable in a privacy-safe environment.
How Does GA4 Tie In?
Google Analytics 4 relies on first-party cookies to avoid the use of third-party data. In addition, GA4 also uses machine learning to fill in the gaps and create what Google likes to call “blended data.” Google Analytics will undoubtedly become an even more valuable tool in a cookie-less world. Read GA4 FAQs or learn more about the different metrics in GA4 vs. Universal Analytics here.
How Should I Change My Digital Marketing Strategy?
The shift away from third-party cookies will force marketers to evolve their digital marketing strategies and rely on other marketing tools. Waiting until third-party data is nonexistent to adjust your campaigns may put you behind the curve. Get ahead by implementing proven tactics. Enhance your SEO strategy and grow it as a marketing channel to collect valuable data you can use to make iterative improvements and drive more customers to your website. Download our How to Budget for SEO ebook to learn how to start shifting your budget to this data-driven channel.
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