17 February 2024

Beyond cookies: How businesses and marketers can adapt and thrive in a cookieless world

A life without cookies? For website visitors, Google’s most recent (and long-awaited) Chrome update creates a browsing experience with no cookies … and no crumbs. It’s called Tracking Protection.

With the introduction of Tracking Protection, site visitors using Chrome will no longer leave targetable traces of their visit that pop up in Google ads or on social media.
Instead, they can expect increased control over their privacy settings as Google’s focus continues to shift towards first-party data and consent-based tracking.

Google is pitching Tracking Protection as a feature that protects visitor data and provides more control over how it’s used. It is part of their broader Privacy Sandbox initiative.

It’s worth noting that these changes only affect Google Chrome and websites accessed through a Chrome browser. Other browsers may have different timelines or approaches to cookie usage.

The cookie removal timeline

Google has already started making significant changes to cookies in 2024. Third-party cookies are already being phased out in Chrome. The changes we see this year will impact how digital marketers are able to track and attribute visitors.

  • January 2024
    • Google Drive began serving downloads without requiring third-party cookies embedded on other websites.
    • Google is disabling third-party cookies gradually, with a phased approach. This gives websites and advertisers time to adjust and test alternative solutions.
    • One percent of Chrome users worldwide have already had third-party cookies disabled as part of a gradual phase-out process.
  • February – October 2024
    • Phased approach to disabling third-party cookies continues through this period
  • October-December 2024
    • The third-party cookie phase-out is expected to be complete for all Chrome users by the third quarter of 2024.
    • Once the rollout is complete, third-party cookies will no longer be readable or accessible within Chrome.

What Tracking Protection and The Privacy Sandbox mean for digital marketers

For digital marketers, Google’s shift to removing third party cookies in Chrome is a compelling reason to pivot.

At KLIQ, we’re in fierce agreement with Social Media Today and their call out to digital marketers to “start looking for ways to gather more first-party insights to assist in your targeting, including improved audience segmentation and subsequent connection processes”.

We’ve identified 3 key areas of potential impact out of these important cookie changes.

1. Data granularity and accuracy

The more granular (detailed) your visitor data is, the more precise it is. Precise, detailed visitor data is a critically important tool in successful digital marketing today - and the way that data is collected relies on cookies.

  • Will cross-site tracking be impacted?
    Tracking visitor behaviour across multiple websites becomes more difficult. This affects attribution models and how you understand user journeys.
  • Will we still be able to identify unique visitors?
    Accurately identifying unique visitors and measuring their actions becomes challenging. This can potentially lead to conversions being underreported.
  • Will the impact on attribution models affect our optimisation strategies?
    Assigning credit to specific marketing touchpoints within the conversion path becomes less precise. This can have a significant impact on your optimisation efforts and marketing strategies.

2. Retargeting and audience targeting

Retargeting relies on a fragment of code - known as a retargeting 'pixel' - in the visited web page. This pixel leaves a cookie in the browser of the visitor. In a cookieless world, these pixels will become less effective, and retargeting will be impacted accordingly.

  • Will retargeting be less effective?
    Retargeting campaigns, which rely on third-party cookies to reach visitors who have previously visited a website, will see reduced reach and precision.
  • Will our ability to target specific audiences be impacted?
    Creating and targeting specific audience segments based on cross-site behaviour becomes less effective. You’ll need to adopt alternative approaches.

3. Changes in conversion measurement

Conversion measurement allows advertisers to attribute conversions to the campaign that drove them. In a cookieless world, the attribution and measurement of conversions will need to change.

  • How will ad platforms adapt to a cookieless world?
    Major ad platforms like Google Ads and Facebook Ads are adjusting their measurement and reporting tools to adapt to cookieless environments, so reporting within your organisation or to your clients will be impacted.
  • How will attribution models work without cookies?
    Development of new attribution models that rely less on individual visitor tracking and more on aggregated data and contextual signals. This will impact how you attribute traffic sources and you’ll need to learn about meaningful ways to understand this data.
  • How will server-side tagging play in a cookieless world?
    We expect to see an increased adoption of server-side tagging, where conversion tracking code is hosted on the server rather than the browser, to protect user privacy and maintain some tracking capabilities. There are technical implications for implementation and again, a shift in how this data is analysed and presented, to feed into your content and campaign strategies.

How to prepare for a cookieless world – starting right now

With the impending demise of third-party cookies in Google Chrome, digital marketers need to adapt their strategies for a cookieless future.

The impact of Tracking Protection on online advertising and user experience is still unfolding. Businesses will need to adapt their practices to comply with privacy regulations and find alternative ways to target audiences and measure ad effectiveness.

Here are some key ways to prepare for an uncertain future:

1. Prioritise First-Party Data

Websites need to prioritise collecting and utilising the data collected directly from users through website interactions, subscriptions, or logins. This first-party data will be essential for targeting and measurement.

Strong customer relationships based on trust will be essential. Obtaining consent for data collection becomes crucial for personalised experiences and effective marketing.

Practical next steps

  • Invest in customer relationship management (CRM): Build a robust CRM system to collect and store valuable first-party data directly from your customers.
  • Leverage website analytics: Utilise website analytics tools to understand user behaviour on your website and gather insights for personalised experiences.
  • Run first-party data campaigns: Use your first-party data to segment audiences and deliver targeted ad campaigns without relying on third-party cookies.

2. Experiment and adapt

Marketers need to stay updated and informed about evolving privacy regulations, browser changes, and emerging technologies to adapt their conversion tracking strategies accordingly.

Experimenting with different approaches, such as contextual targeting, cohort-based targeting, or privacy-preserving measurement solutions, will be essential to find the best strategies for the cookieless world.

Practical next steps

  • Contextual targeting: Focus on the context of a webpage or app to deliver relevant ads, instead of user tracking.
  • Cohort-based targeting: Group users with similar characteristics based on aggregated data (e.g., purchase history) without personal identification.
  • Identity solutions: Consider platform-specific identity solutions like Google's Privacy Sandbox initiatives or industry-wide ID consortiums.

3. Embrace data privacy and transparency

Compliance with data privacy regulations has always been important. If you’re collecting and managing with first-party data, it becomes essential.

The foundations of good customer relationships will be about being transparent about data collection practices and obtain consent (opt-in) for targeted advertising. Offer clear opt-out options and user dashboards for managing information.

Familiarise yourself with Australian data privacy legislation like The Privacy Act 1988 (Cwth), the Australian Privacy Principles and state-based privacy legislation.

These Australian laws align with the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) and California Consumer Privacy Act of 2018 (CCPA). These may seem to be outside the Australian jurisdiction, but the focus of all these regulations is on personal data. If you’re offering online services, or reaching people in locations covered by those laws, you need to protect data privacy accordingly.

4. Strengthen organic and community-driven efforts

Organic search traffic doesn’t have to be impacted by Tracking Protection.

You should already be crafting compelling, industry-relevant content to consistently draw in and captivate your target audience. It’s just that in a cookieless world, the quality and relevance of your content becomes even more important. Building and nurturing communities on social media combined with opt-in engagement will also strengthen your ability to connect, turning visitors into leads and nurturing them into satisfied customers.

Practical next steps

  • Focus on SEO and content marketing: Prioritise organic search traffic by creating high-quality content that attracts and engages your target audience. Focus on SEO – on-page and technical.
  • Build strong social media communities: Foster positive relationships with your audience on social platforms to drive organic reach and brand loyalty.
  • Incentivise user engagement: Encourage users to sign up for email lists, loyalty programs, or other opt-in initiatives to collect first-party data and enhance engagement.

In summary and next steps

As we navigate the changes that Tracking Protection and Privacy Sandpit will bring to digital marketing, experimentation and adaptation will reveal new ways to deliver successful campaigns in a cookieless world.

  • Invest in technology and training: Stay updated on the latest cookieless technologies and invest in tools and training for your marketing team.
  • Experiment and iterate: Don't be afraid to experiment with different strategies and measure their effectiveness. Adapt your approach based on results and user feedback.
  • Focus on the customer experience: Keep the customer at the centre of your marketing efforts. Understanding and connecting with customers remains the most important consideration of your marketing decisions. More than ever, the cookieless future is about protecting user privacy and delivering relevant experiences.

Fact! Hubspot's State of Marketing 2024 report has revealed that 76% of marketers say Google phasing out third-party cookies will make marketing more difficult.

Businesses are exploring alternatives to third-party cookies, ranging from targeted social media ads, to collecting first-party data, Google Topics API, contextual advertising, and universal identifiers.

As a marketer, are you currently relying on:

  • cookies as a key component of your digital marketing?
  • remarketing and channel attribution part of your current digital marketing strategy?
  • And most importantly, are you prepared to market in a cookieless world?

Schedule a consultation with our digital marketing specialists, to plan ahead and be prepared for these latest Google changes.

Download our digital marketer’s ultimate guide to life without cookies - or crumbs!

Adapt to Google Chrome's no-cookie future with our guide.
Learn 7 ways to track conversions without cookies.
Immediate cookieless world advice? Contact us!