third-party cookies

How Small Businesses Can Navigate the Elimination of Third-Party Cookies

Businesses need customers to stay competitive. To get those customers, most companies engage in digital marketing. However, one major type of digital marketing tool looks like it’s going away—the third-party cookie. And marketers who rely heavily on third-party cookies need to come up with replacement solutions now.

Though this might sound dire, a reduction in third-party cookies isn’t such a bad thing. For years, consumers have worried about online privacy issues. They don’t appreciate being tracked without their permission. A Cisco study from 2021 reveals that 86% of consumers care about protecting and controlling their digital footprints. Seventy-nine percent said they’d willingly pay more to keep their virtual comings and goings private. Therefore, your company has an opportunity to show consumers that you care as well by backing away from the use of third-party cookies.

How do you embark on a limited-cookie diet in a way that won’t crush your marketing ROI? First, you need to put a plan in place that allows you to phase out third-party cookie dependence. A good way to create this plan is to get an education on Google’s proposed elimination of third-party cookies.

The countdown to fewer online cookie options

In the late 2010s, consumers, advocacy groups and governments started pushing for companies to be held to higher consumer privacy standards online. This resulted in regulations like the European General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) and the California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA). The goal was to make the Internet a safer, more secure experience for users. 

Browsers Firefox and Safari jumped onto the bandwagon quickly. In 2020, Safari announced it was blocking third-party cookies. By 2022, Firefox followed suit. However, Safari and Firefox aren’t the “big browsers” on the block. Google is—and it’s Google’s decision to end third-party cookies by the final quarter of 2023 that has everyone talking.

Originally, Google announced it would disable third-party cookies by 2022. Google moved its goal post, giving businesses like yours a little breathing room. Nevertheless, third-party cookies as we know them are going away. Remember, though, that Google makes a huge amount of money on digital ads. 

The search engine giant doesn’t want to lose its digital ad revenue income. Therefore, Google’s team members are actively working internally and crowdsourcing external ideas to come up with alternatives to third-party cookies. 

In the meantime, you don’t have to wait for Google to come up with The Next Big Thing since the chocolate chip. You can “taste test” from a buffet of other tasty methods to ensure that you keep fueling your marketing engine and driving interested audiences into your sales funnel.


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Third-party cookie alternatives

If you’ve invested big-time in third-party cookies, rethink where you’re putting your advertising budget dollars. Below are some techniques for you to substitute data you would have gotten from third-party cookies. That way, when third-party cookies are completely (or mostly) gone, you won’t be left scrambling.

1. Rediscover contextual advertising.

It’s time for a digital marketing blast from the past: contextual advertising. Contextual advertising used to be a huge must-do for online marketing teams. Though the practice takes a little more insider work than just placing third-party ads, it can work well.

Contextual advertising involves placing your company’s online advertisements like pay-per-click (PPC) ads on sites that are most likely to be visited by your target personas. For instance, you might sell a line of organic, fresh cat food. Who would be most likely to try your product? Pet parents. So you would make sure your ads showed up on websites, blogs, YouTube channels, etc., built for pet parenting.

As with any digital advertising campaign, spend time mapping out each contextual ad journey. Write compelling content. Have a specific call-to-action that sends visitors to an appropriate landing page. And keep measuring your success and conducting split tests. Remember that the easiest way to find places to publish your ads is to conduct site-based keyword research. When a site’s keywords match up with your target keywords, you may have found a winning publication partner.


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2. Bulk up your content marketing to drive first-party cookie data.

With all the talk about third-party cookies, it’s essential to remember that first-party cookies are still valid and viable. First-party cookies are the cookies that your site generates on a visitor’s computer. These are the cookies that you can use to store customers’ passwords. They’re also valuable for being able to track the way your site visitors move around your pages. 

To stay ahead of current and proposed consumer privacy regulations, many sites tell visitors that they collect first-party cookie data. This allows visitors to opt in or opt out. So what makes a visitor more likely to agree to let you collect first-party cookies? One word: content. If your site has pertinent content that visitors want, those visitors will be more likely to give you the green light.

A good way to find out if your content is up to par is to check your analytics. Which pages are driving the most traffic and leads? Why? Drill down to find out what type of content seems to appeal to your visitor and customer base. The more first-party cookie information you can collect, the vaster your knowledge will be about your target audiences.


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3. Ramp up your email marketing.

According to HubSpot analysis, email marketing can produce revenue return rates of up to 36X. However, many marketers have fallen into the belief that email marketing doesn’t have the same impact it once did. While email open rates have fallen slightly per SuperOffice measures, they still hover at an average of more than 20%. That’s not bad at all. Plus, they’re likely to go up if you keep testing different headers and messaging.

As you attract people to your website through contextual ads and great content, be sure to ask for their names and emails. Not only can this feed into your CRM, but it can allow you to begin connecting with leads via email marketing. Essentially, email marketing can become yet another means of highly targeted advertising

Don’t be tempted to purchase email lists, though. It’s best to create your own from the ground up. Since third-party cookies are still available on Google, you might want to use your third-party cookie campaigns to bump up your email collection process.

4. Try Google’s FLoC advertising.

Google isn’t about to leave its standard third-party advertisers in the cold. The search engine has announced a substitution advertising method called Federated Learning of Cohorts (FLoC). FLoC doesn’t track individuals’ movements online. It tracks groups.

Think of FLoC versus third-party cookies as the difference between looking at a crowd of football fans versus a single fan. Even if you’re just looking at the crowd, you can get a lot of information. You know they’re rooting for specific teams, you know where they chose to sit (the expensive or cheap seats), and you may even know which percentage wears fan gear. 

FLoC can’t be compared one-to-one to third-party cookies. Nonetheless, it’s a solution that gives consumers control while still allowing your ads to get in front of people. Additionally, it’s a good bet that Google will make FLoC increasingly user-friendly and profitable.

Hearing that third-party cookies aren’t sticking around doesn’t mean the end to any business’s digital marketing success. It just means that you need to be open-minded to all the sweet replacements at your fingertips.


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