There’s been a lot of talk about cookies in recent years. If you’re not paying super-close attention to tech news, it can be hard to tell what the bottom line is — are cookies in or out? Here, we cover the basics of what’s changing and, more importantly, what you need to do about it.
What’s the deal with third-party cookies?
The cookie — a unique text file that is placed by a web page and stored in your computer’s memory — has been around almost as long as the internet itself, and its core function is to save you time when you revisit a website. For example, if you log into the same account twice a month, it’s a cookie that tells the site you’ve returned and enables it to recall information you’ve previously provided. This helps your web experience to feel more customized and convenient.
The kind of cookie I just described is generally understood to be a good, helpful thing. The big discussion in recent years has been around the ways cookies have been used for tracking and advertising purposes, which leads to privacy concerns. These are known as third-party cookies or tracking cookies, and they’re placed by a third party that then uses them to essentially follow you around the web and advertise to you.
You have the ability to accept or decline cookies from individual websites, and you also have the ability to modify your browser settings to automatically decline cookies or use an ad blocker. Some commonly used browsers, like Apple Safari and Mozilla Firefox, are taking it a step further by blocking third-party cookies by default for all users. And in 2020, Google announced that its Chrome browser, which currently has 65% global market share, would phase out the use of third-party cookies by 2022.
You may be asking, “Wait a minute — it’s 2023. Has this already happened?” The answer is: not quite. Google has now extended its own deadline for the deprecation of third-party cookies twice. First they pushed it to 2023, and then last year they announced that it would be more like the second half of 2024. The reason is that they’re building something new to replace third-party cookies, a project they’re calling Privacy Sandbox for the Web. The idea is to continue allowing advertisers to show ads and relevant content while ensuring users’ privacy.
Third-party data vs. second-party data vs. first-party data vs. zero-party data
Why the slow death of the third-party cookie matters to marketers is that, as third-party cookies are phased out, it will mean no more third-party data. We at Trekk think this is a great development, and in order to explain why, we first need to break down the different types of data marketers have been using up until now.
- Third-party data is data that’s collected, often aggregated, and usually sold by an entity outside of an individual and the company whose website they visit. These can be gigantic datasets that combine information collected around the web to stitch together user profiles and then target them. This is what all those shoe and clothing ads that follow you around the internet rely on.
- Second-party data is data that’s collected by an entity and then sold. When someone tries to “buy a list,” they’re usually talking about second-party data. List buying and list rental have been a marketing “don’t” for years, not only because they disregard user consent to opt-in but also because they typically don’t get great results.
- First-party data is the data you collect, such as visits and page views, when users visit your website. You can collect this type of data by placing a small piece of tracking code on your site and then use it to enrich the customer or lead records in your CRM and inform your future marketing campaigns.
- Zero-party data is the information that your leads and customers volunteer to you when they fill out a form or survey on your website or make a purchase. (Some people make no distinction between first-party data and zero-party data and call both first-party data.)
Zero-party data is obviously the winner — who better to tell you about your customer than your customer? But for strategic marketers, there’s a little more to it than that, so keep reading.
The good news about the future of third-party cookies
There’s actually a lot of good news. Big companies like Google and Apple are getting more and more serious about user privacy. (GDPR and CCPA obviously gave them a big push in the right direction.) And the deprecation of third-party cookies will mean that companies of all sizes will need to get in line. This is great for everyday people who just want to surf the web without worrying that their data is being compiled and sold.
And there’s even more good news for marketers who have already been using best practices like inbound marketing (providing high-quality content or something of value in exchange for first-party data) rather than buying lists or spamming people who didn’t opt in: on an internet less crowded with noise and less overrun with privacy violations, it will be easier to connect with your audience and gain their trust.
Can I target first-party audiences in ad campaigns?
You sure can. Google now allows you to target your own first-party lists with ads. And if you use a marketing automation platform like HubSpot, it’s even easier to create first-party audiences to target with Google Ads, LinkedIn Ads, and Facebook Ads.
How to best leverage first-party data and zero-party data in your marketing
Zero-party data is great. But zero-party data plus insights from first-party data? Even better.
For example, say you want to target a segment of your contact database who has self-identified as engineers. You’ve asked, “What’s your role?” on all your forms, so you have this information, reported by the users themselves (which is way more reliable than some purchased list of so-called engineers).
But then say you want to narrow your audience even further to engineers who have been on your website in the last 30 days. Here’s where your first-party data comes in. You know who, from your own lists of contacts you’ve converted through your content marketing, has been on your site recently, which allows you to make your outreach — whether it’s an ad, an email, or a special offer — more targeted, more relevant, and more effective.
So the end of the third-party cookie doesn’t need to scare you. In fact, we hope we’ve sparked some new creative ideas for how best to use the pure gold that’s already sitting in your CRM.
One last piece of advice: keep respecting your audience’s time, attention, and privacy; doing the hard work to earn your audience’s trust will pay off in the long run
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