The End of Third Party Cookies is Here: but could the alternative be even worse?
25 November 2021
Ahhh cookies. Sadly, we won’t be talking about the delicious kind that your grandmother bakes around Christmastime, but the online cookies that love munching on your private data. They can be incredibly beneficial to the B2B marketing world – so why has Google recently announced that it will be phasing them out? Let’s take a look at why the time of the third-party cookies could be coming to an end, and why instead of hurting your marketing strategy, the loss of them could actually benefit it instead.
First let’s take a look at what third-party cookies actually are, and how they differ from first-party cookies. Cookies are essentially just little text files, each containing a small amount of data. These then use that data (be it a username you entered, or what you clicked on) to help personalise, track, or authenticate your visits to other sites. First-party cookies are created by sites to analyse your visits and clicks on their pages, whilst third-party cookies are creating by sites to collect data from other sites, usually through placing ads on them. This ensures a more streamlined browsing experience, as you are exposed to ads more tailored to your interests, and you don’t have to keep re-entering your data over and over again. An example of the benefits of cookies would be online shopping. Without cookies on the website, your shopping basket would revert to being empty every single time you clicked on a new link on that site. Sounds frustrating, doesn’t it? However, there are some definite down sides to cookies. The biggest, and the reason why Google is dropping their cookies from Chrome (we’ll get to that in a bit), is the issue of privacy.
Many believe that third-party cookies are an invasion of their privacy (and sometimes I’m inclined to agree with them). Being tracked across the web every time you go on the internet doesn’t sound particularly safe, does it? On top of this, whilst difficult to do, cookies can be hijacked by malware and used to track your browsing history to lead cyber criminals to your valuable details. This is why it has always been an option to turn cookies on your browser on or off. So long as you go to reputable sites and use a good anti-malware installation, you should remain in the clear, but using cookies will always present a certain level of risk.
But how do cookies help the world of marketing? As cookies are designed to analyse your browsing history and habits, marketers can look at this data and see your preferences and interests. Once these are discovered, agencies can use the information to tailor ads more specific to your individual needs. Marketing is all about connecting with leads and personalising your strategy to solve their specific problems. It makes it easier to funnel valuable leads interested in your solutions through to you and improves the ability to keep track of clients. Cookies can also discover the details of businesses visiting your site, improving your lead generation substantially. Now it’s important to note that I’m talking about a mixture of first- and third-party cookies when discussing these marketing benefits. Remember, first-party cookies can only track people on the site they’re currently visiting.
So, cookies are undoubtable a very useful tool in B2B marketing. So why is Google getting rid of third-party cookies? And why could this actually end up being a positive thing for marketing? There has been a lot of uproar in recent times over the morality of online privacy (or lack thereof). Between Google being handed multiple lawsuits over their aggressive tracking tactics and scanning of private emails and the notorious Facebook and Cambridge Analytica scandal, people are becoming more and more concerned that their private data is truly not safe online. You may forget that you entered your address that one time to get into that one site, but Google certainly won’t. And with a depressingly long history of privacy concerns and data mismanagement, I myself am mildly worried about what Google is doing with all of those little cookies. To try and move forward in building up their trustworthiness again, Google has announced they are scrapping third-party cookies (I feel it’s important to note that other browsers such as Firefox and Safari are already well ahead in removing third-party cookies, catch up Google!). But what does this mean for B2B marketing?
Whilst using third-party cookies has become an effective tool in B2B marketing, it has also led to a certain level of complacency when it comes to attention to detail and pride in our work. When utilising third-party cookies, it swiftly becomes the goal to simply get as many leads as possible. Whilst it may lead to an increase in quantity, a lot of agencies will find themselves in danger of decreasing quality. No matter the number of impressions your ad receives, if they aren’t the right people, the people you actually want as customers, then it’s just a waste of time and money. Without third-party cookies, we’ll have to focus even more on creating eye-catching, interesting ads that will draw people in on their own. Whilst your scale of reach might be slightly reduced, the value of the leads you do get are bound to increase.
Google’s next step in trying to improve targeted ads beyond third-party cookies are ‘FLoCs’ (standing for ‘Federated Learning of Cohorts’, really rolls off the tongue, doesn’t it?). These cohorts will essentially be used to group you into a collection of users possibly thousands strong that share the same interests as you. Google will still look at your browsing history to discern these interests, but unlike third-party cookies this information will not be passed to other companies. Definitely seems like a step up, right? People will still get ads that are personalised to the services they need; marketing agencies’ content will still be seen, and nobody is having sensitive data put at the same high level of risk as before. However, there has been criticism towards the idea of FLoCs, as some are concerned they will pave the way for discrimination and bias in advertising. Some people might be put into groups based on their gender, race or economic status based on the websites they visit. They might then be displayed adverts that are biased towards them and are taken in an offensive way.
On top of this, FLoCs as a concept could be very tricky when it comes to GDPR laws. They will need to give each and every user the choice of whether they want their data used to organise them into FLoCs or not. It also probably didn’t help their case when Google automatically enrolled all websites that show adverts into their FLoC trials. So, it will still allow for targeted marketing, yippee! But at what cost? Is it truly any safer to users than third-party cookies? I suppose we’ll just have to wait and see.