Even though Google has postponed the end of support for third-party cookies in Chrome several times, a new document now states that the time will actually come from mid-2024: The era of third-party cookies will end in the third quarter of 2024. Marketers should therefore look for alternatives in good time. But what options are already available? And how are the cookie alternatives to be evaluated?
Before we take a closer look at which cookie alternatives already exist, let’s take another look at what cookies have done for marketing so far:
Third-party cookies are data records that are stored on the user’s device (e.g. smartphone) as soon as they visit a website. These data records can be used to make statements about the user’s online usage behaviour. For advertisers, this means that they can define target groups and address them specifically with advertising.
When we talk about third-party data, we are referring to data that advertisers can obtain from third parties. This is user data such as search engine queries, from CRM systems or the use of social media, which is used for targeting. This means that third-party data does not consist of cookies and is therefore not the same as third-party cookies. Rather, a large part of third-party data is collected via third-party cookies. But it is precisely these that are threatened with extinction: Because with the exception of Google Chrome, all other browsers already no longer allow third party cookies.
First-party data is an alternative. Here, the data comes from sources that the advertisers themselves own, such as data from their own CRM systems or from their own social media campaigns. However, some browsers have also introduced restrictions for first party cookies.
Both third party cookies and first party data require prior consent from the user to collect this data.
What does the end of (third party) cookies actually mean for advertisers?
- Personalised advertising and pre-targeting will be severely restricted.
- Retargeting will only work to a limited extent (e.g. by hashing email addresses) and the retargeting reach will decrease in the short to medium term.
- Conversion tracking will also no longer be possible with the usual accuracy, as the 1:1 relationship is missing. This means that attribution will lose its significance.
The end of third-party cookies will therefore lead to a deterioration in data quality in the short to medium term.
Alternatives that already work Cookieless in practice today
With contextual targeting, the texts of websites are ranked according to keywords and the advertisements are displayed in a thematically appropriate environment, which usually leads to them being perceived as less annoying by the users. One challenge that can occur with contextual targeting is that the ad is displayed in a negative context if a keyword set appears in such an environment.
A further development of contextual targeting is semantic targeting, in which the entire text of a page is also analysed before campaigns are placed in a thematically appropriate way. In this way, the complete context of a text is taken into account in order to place the campaign in the relevant environment.
Geo-targeting makes it possible to display advertisements according to specific regions. The user’s IP address is used to locate him or her, and location-based advertising can then be played. This form of targeting is particularly suitable if campaigns are only intended for certain regions.
Data Clean Rooms
Data Clean Rooms (DCR) are technological, often cloud-based infrastructures in which the data sets of several partners can be checked for overlaps and thus enable, for example, deeper insights into target groups. The original data is encrypted in such a way that it is used by all partners, but at the same time the individual data can only be fully identified by the collector. This ensures that the privacy of the users is protected. However, the Data Clean Rooms are still in the initial phase and there are hardly any standards for the encryption of data.
Tracking by Login
It is also possible to obtain data from users via their login on other platforms. There are already different options for collecting this data.
With so-called ID tracking, identification takes place via data such as the login on a platform with an email login. This is hashed and encrypted and even enables tracking across different devices. One advantage of this variant is that additional consent to the processing of personal data is no longer necessary, as this is already provided by the platform’s terms and conditions. In order for users to be tracked, however, they must surf in the browser in which the login portal is open. This variant is currently considered one of the best cookie alternatives.
Another possibility based on one login is login alliances. Several companies join together to form alliances and launch their own login tool on the market. This makes it easier for users to log in to their digital offerings, as only one login is needed for several platforms. The advantage for companies is that they can collect data and have already obtained consent to use this data via the login.
So what should advertisers do now?
One thing is certain: the era of third-party cookies is coming to an end and advertisers should definitely prepare for the time after that now at the latest. The first step should be to increase their own pool of first-party data, for example via their own newsletters and logins. In addition, social media can be used to find out which people interact with the brand. At the same time, existing internal data silos must be dissolved and holistic data strategies established. Because in the future, it is precisely the data from the sources that marketers and advertisers themselves have that will be decisive for the efficiency and impact of advertising.
Another promising approach is ID solutions that enable cross-device tracking. Especially at a time when usage is shifting more and more to mobile devices, this is a particularly exciting aspect. However, there are already many providers in this area and no common standard yet. We therefore recommend keeping this topic on the agenda in the long term and preparing for it now and carrying out initial tests.