How to Prepare Your Advertising for the Post-Cookie Era

Balint Gergely

May 23, 2024

Goodbye cookies.

We all knew this day would come, and it’s finally here. The phasing out of third-party cookies, also known as cookie deprecation, is imminent.

After years of debate, scrutiny, and fines, Google decided to remove third-party cookies for good. By the summer of 2025, over 85% of the global browser market share will have phased out third-party cookies. Safari and Firefox have already made this change, while Google is expected to finish its process by Q2 of 2025. 

There’s no way around it—digital advertising as we know it will change forever.

Advertisers already waste 73% of their budgets on ineffective ads. This waste will likely increase when one of the most reliable digital advertising methods is gone. Over 75% of businesses worldwide rely on third-party cookies to target customers with their advertising.

The absence of cookies will leave a significant void, forcing the industry to adapt and find new solutions.

Why is Google Removing Third-Party Cookies?

The removal of third-party cookies by Google is largely driven by increasing privacy concerns and stringent data protection regulations. Privacy laws like the ePrivacy Directive, CCPA, and GDPR played a big role in this decision.

These changes reflect a growing concern among people about their personal data. Research by the Pew Institute shows that 81% of people are worried about how their information is used. Simply put, people don’t like being spied on. And who can blame them? The level of tracking was becoming increasingly invasive.

But cookie deprecation isn’t all doom and gloom for advertisers. There are new opportunities and methods emerging that could reshape the future of digital advertising.

Cookie Deprecation Brings New Opportunities

Cookie deprecation doesn't have to be negative

While third-party cookies will be dearly missed, this change has the potential to turn good advertisers into great ones. It’s a once-in-a-lifetime chance to differentiate your business from the competition. Think of it as a new age gold rush, where the first to find and adopt emerging technologies, methods, and systems to replace third-party cookies will be greatly rewarded.

And you don’t have to wait until third-party cookies disappear completely. 

It's better to prepare in advance than to scramble for solutions at the last minute—you might as well start right now.

The Difference Between First-Party and Third-Party Cookies

First-party cookies track users directly on your website, while third-party cookies are collected on other sites and stored in centralized databases

While third-party cookies allow advertisers to track user behavior across sites and applications, they are not the only players in town when it comes to user tracking.

First-Party Cookies

First-party cookies will still be widely used in effective advertising strategies. They collect data on your own channels like websites and emails. This data enables you to personalize user experiences, remember settings, and store login information.

These cookies are considered non-controversial and are seen as an agreement between the user and the website to improve functionality and user experience. First-party cookies are accessible only to the domain that created them and are supported by all browsers, allowing users to manage them through browser settings.

Third-Party Cookies

On the other hand, third-party cookies are generated and stored by a different website than the one the user is currently visiting. These cookies are often used for online advertising purposes and are placed on a website through scripts or tags.

Third-party cookies track user activity across different domains and are primarily utilized for ad retargeting and cross-site tracking. They allow entities other than the website owner to collect and process data about user behavior.

With third-party cookies being deprecated, it’s time to make the most of first-party data:

#1 Increase Focus on First-Party Data Collection

First-party data is the most reliable data of them all, and with the deprecation of third-party cookies, first-party data becomes an even more valuable method for personalizing user experiences.

To supplement cookies with even more first-party data, consider methods like surveys, social media integration, newsletter signup forms, and lead magnets. These allow you to gain valuable information like email addresses and phone numbers, enabling you to personalize your targeted communication even more.

UTM Tracking Links

UTM tracking links allow you to understand campaign impact and see where your users are coming from

A quick and easy way to increase your available first-party data is the use of UTM tracking links. According to Hubspot:

"A UTM (Urchin Tracking Module) code is a snippet of text added to the end of a URL to track the metrics and performance of a specific digital marketing campaign. UTM codes can contain up to five parameters: campaign, source, medium, content, and term."

UTM links are free and can provide tremendous benefits. Platforms like Hubspot offer UTM tracking links for free. Take advantage of UTM tracking links to supplement your first-party cookies with valuable added data.

Tracking links is a massively underutilized tool for advertisers. They allow you to understand which assets drew the attention of your customers. Combined with your cookies, tracking links can give you a fuller picture of the customer journey, enabling you to personalize your offerings to each customer.

Contact Forms

Contact forms enable you to capture leads effectively

Collecting user data through contact forms is straightforward. You offer value in exchange for user data like email addresses, names, and phone numbers. The most popular way to do this is through lead magnets like eBooks and newsletter subscriptions.

Lead magnets like eBooks can help you understand what your customers are interested in. Incorporating newsletter sign-up forms on your website lets you capture user information. By leveraging newsletter subscriptions, you can build a database of engaged users and facilitate targeted communication.

Contact forms are an effective way to collect user data, allowing you to gather valuable insights and personalize your marketing efforts.

#2 Familiarize Yourself with Google’s Privacy Sandbox

Google's Privacy Sandbox offers alternative solutions to replace third-party cookies

The biggest player in third-party cookie land, Google, couldn’t let one of its major money-making mechanisms go to waste without finding suitable replacements. This is why they recently introduced a range of new technologies to substitute third-party cookies, all part of their new Privacy Sandbox.

Google rolled out its Privacy Sandbox to replace third-party tracking with less invasive, yet effective methods to target ideal customer profiles. The Sandbox contains proposals like the Protected Audience API (formerly FLEDGE), and the Google Topics API.

These solutions are designed to help advertisers reach relevant audiences without tracking user activity on third-party websites. While the proposed solutions in the Privacy Sandbox are innovative, they don’t offer the same level of sophistication in tracking as third-party cookies.

Testing some of the technologies offered in the Privacy Sandbox may be beneficial before mass adoption. You might even find some sweet deals due to the lack of competition in the ad auctions offered by these tools.

#3 Get More Out of Contextual Targeting

Retargeting relies heavily on tracking users across websites. With the deprecation of third-party cookies, retargeting will become incredibly difficult. Unless you have data-sharing partnerships with other websites, this method just won't work.

As previously discussed, first-party retargeting may become the bread and butter of marketers. The method of behavioral targeting, which was massively enabled by third-party cookies, will be the most affected by their deprecation. Without third-party data, following and targeting individuals on multiple channels will be practically impossible.

But there’s a solution: change the way you target them.

What is Contextual Targeting?

Contextual targeting is advertising on websites related to your products

Contextual targeting involves placing ads based on the content of a web page, making the ads more relevant to the user. This method can be used on websites, newsletter sponsorships, and other digital platforms.

For example, seeing ads for running shoes on a website dedicated to marathon runners is a classic case of contextual targeting. This approach not only effectively reaches the target audience but also shows the ads at the right moment when the audience is already interested. Contextual targeting reaches audiences in the right frame of mind.

The two main techniques of contextual targeting are:

Topic Contextual Targeting:

This technique places ads on websites based on general categories, such as beauty or sports. Due to the broadness of these categories, segmentation isn’t the most precise. This is where keyword targeting comes in.

Keyword Contextual Targeting:

Keyword contextual targeting places ads on web pages with specific keywords. This allows for more flexibility, accuracy, and potentially better alignment with your goals. However, it also requires a deeper understanding of your target audience’s preferences and needs and more comprehensive research methods.

Both of these techniques are effective at finding your desired audiences, with differences in reach and accuracy. For a comprehensive guide on how to do contextual targeting on Google, you can find their dedicated explainer here

#4 Get to Know Your Customers 

Read how you can think more like your customers here

The more accurate you want your targeting to be, the more refined your customer profile should become. For this, understanding your customers on a deeper level is essential.

At the end of the day, your targeting is irrelevant if your ads cannot successfully attract your desired customers.

With the disappearance of third-party cookies, we can expect a surge in companies trying to understand customers more deeply. This will benefit not only companies in the long term but also the customers themselves. By having more tailored messages, communication styles, and product offerings, consumers will be more empowered to make choices that benefit them.

Neuroscience and consumer psychology have a lot to offer in this regard. 

We wrote an entire article about how you can think more like your customers. For an even deeper dive into this topic, check out this book by bestselling author and Neurons CEO, Dr. Thomas Z. Ramsøy has everything you're looking for.

Watch Dr. Thomas Z. Ramsøy explain the science behind successful ads

Key Takeaways

1. Embrace First-Party Data: Start collecting more first-party data through surveys, social media integration, and newsletter signups. Use UTM tracking links to enhance your data collection efforts.

2. Explore Google's Privacy Sandbox: Familiarize yourself with Google's new tools like the Protected Audience API and Google Topics API to continue effective targeting without third-party cookies.

3. Leverage Contextual Targeting: Use topic and keyword contextual targeting to place relevant ads based on web page content, ensuring you reach your audience in the right frame of mind.

4. Deepen Customer Understanding: Invest in understanding your customers' behavior and preferences to create more tailored and effective advertising strategies.

5. Adapt and Innovate: Stay ahead of the competition by being proactive in adopting new technologies and methods to replace third-party cookies, turning challenges into opportunities.

How to Prepare Your Advertising for the Post-Cookie Era

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