3 min read
First Party Cookies Illustration from adWhite

That’s The Way the (Marketing) Cookie Crumbles

You may have read that tracking cookies are dead as Google, following in the footsteps of Firefox and Safari, moves to block third-party cookies from Chrome, the world’s most popular web browser.

Of course, when you go to the source to read about this cookie demise you are greeted with a friendly message: “Google serves cookies to analyze traffic to this site. Information about your use of our site is shared with Google for that purpose.”

So, yeah, cookies are still very much alive in 2022 and being used by marketers such as Google, but you do not need to smash a fortune cookie to know that the third-party cookie party is about to come to an end.

“Advertisers have relied on third-party cookies since the 1990s. But third-party cookies in the marketing landscape may soon come to an end, due to security and privacy concerns,” wrote Sean Michael Kerner in TechTarget.

Cookie Crumbles: Google Delays Tracking Phase Out

The internet cookie certainly is crumbling, although more slowly than anticipated.

Google said in January 2020 that they would phase out third-party cookies within two years.

“Users are demanding greater privacy – including transparency, choice and control over how their data is used – and it is clear that the web ecosystem needs to evolve to meet these increasing demands,” Director of Chrome Engineering, Justin Schuh, wrote.  

A year later and Google said it was still on track to remove third-party cookies in 2022.

“We continue to believe strongly that the decision to phase out support for third party cookies is absolutely the right thing to do for user privacy and the industry as a whole,” Chetna Bindra, a product manager at Google, told the Wall Street Journal.

Cookies, however, can be a hard habit to break – try keeping an opened package of Oreos in your pantry for more than a few days! – as Google announced last summer that the cookie jar would remain open a bit longer.

Google now says: “Chrome will phase out support for third-party cookies over a three month period finishing in late 2023.”

More than Crying Over Spilt Milk: $455 Billion Online-Ad Industry

Cookies, text files with small bits of data that track your web-browsing habits, are at the center of a $455 billion online-ad ecosystem.

The name “cookies” derives, according to cybersecurity company Kaspersky, from an old computing term “magic cookies” that was repurposed by programmer Lou Montulli in 1994 as HTTP cookies.

“He created this concept for browsers when he helped an online shopping store fix their overloaded servers,” said Kaspersky.

These marketing cookies are stored in the user's web browser.

“It can track if a user has visited a website before, login information or other user behavior attributes,” says TechTarget.

Cookie was great for marketing and also had its benefits for users, but came with some privacy concerns.

“As a necessary part of web browsing, HTTP cookies help web developers give you more personal, convenient website visits. Cookies let websites remember you, your website logins, shopping carts and more. But they can also be a treasure trove of private info for criminals to spy on,” says Kaspersky.

First-Party Cookies vs. Third-Party Cookies

There are two types of cookies: first-party cookies and third-party cookies:

  • First-party cookie: These cookies are directly created by the website you are visiting to personalize your experience. Also called a SameSite cookie.
  • Third-party cookie: These cookies are set by sites other than the site you are currently visiting and help track users, and their habits, across multiple websites. This type of cookie is being phased out.

First-party cookies can enhance your internet experience by:

  • Personalization: Websites can target advertisements based on your browsing on their site.
  • Session Management: Websites can easily recall your preferences, including login information.
  • Tracking: Sites can suggest products you may like based on previous viewing habits.

Then there are the true cookie monsters – so-called “Zombie cookies”. As the name suggests, you do not want to run into these cookies.

Kaspersky says Zombie cookies “are from third-party and permanently installed on users' computers, even when they opt not to install cookies. They also reappear after they've been deleted.”

What Will Replace Cookies on the Marketing Menu?

TechTarget says that websites should think about what will replace cookies on the marketing menu.

“It's no longer a good strategy for marketers to rely on third-party cookies, as they did during the early days of the internet. It is necessary for marketers to have an alternative online advertising and marketing strategy,” said TechTarget.

For starters, first-party cookies are not currently on the chopping block and can still benefit marketers.

Even better, perhaps, is zero-party data – information voluntarily provided by users to a site.

Your content marketing can play a big role in enticing users to provide zero-party data with offerings such as white papers, newsletters, guides, webinars, special offers and more.

“Zero-party data is information that customers willingly and proactively give to brands, typically in the form of preferences and purchase intentions. It will become even more important in 2022 as marketers move away from third-party data and towards closer customer relationships and full personalization,” says the Digital Marketing Institute.

Here are other alternatives to cookies currently in the digital oven:

  • Contextual targeting: Users see ads based on the context of the site they are visiting. Contextual targeting is not new, but it is on the rise with third-party cookies fading away.
  • Device fingerprinting: Book’em Dano! Device fingerprinting allows the collection of information about a device or browser.
  • FLoC (Federated Learning of Cohorts): Sounds a bit like something from Star Trek. This is Google’s shot at a new industry standard. FLoC would group users together by interests but not individually track them.
  • Identification (ID) providers: Users opt into a service that provides information about them to marketers.

Do not fret If none of these cookie alternatives sound appetizing as marketers are searching for the right recipe to help serve up the future of online advertising.