Data & Performance

Google’s third-party cookie ban: what marketers need to know

Written by Pim van Helten on 17, Juth 2021

For years, third-party cookies have helped marketers better understand customers’ interests, track online activity, and increase sales conversions. However, in 2020, Google announced that it would soon stop supporting the use of third-party cookies in its Chrome browser. This change has left many marketers nervous about the impact this may have on their digital marketing strategy and activities, and how this challenge can be addressed.

What are third-party cookies?

Put simply, third-party cookies are tracking codes placed on a website by external or ‘third-party’ websites. When a web visitor visits that website, the cookies track and collect that data for these third-party entities, who are often online advertisers. Information such as visitors’ online purchases, browsing preferences, and history is collected by the cookies. 

For marketers, access to this data allows you to track customers’ online behaviors and interests, which helps better understand their needs. As a result, targeted advertising becomes much easier.

Why this change matters

Ridding the internet of third-party cookies is a positive step forward in the eyes of millions of consumers and technology users around the world. The decision acknowledges the need for increased transparency around data collection and the use of that data.  It also places the control of data back into the hands of consumers, ultimately (re)forging a degree of trust between businesses and end users.

But while your customers rejoice over the end of third-party cookies, they’ve also come to expect a high degree of customization and personalization online because of them. Third-party cookies enable you to offer customers highly personalized experiences. Without them, you’ll need to find new ways to meet customer demands. If you aren’t able to pivot, you’ll unfortunately have difficulty in both attracting new customers and retaining existing ones.

How to prepare for a cookieless world

In a recent Adobe survey, 37% of respondents declared that they were “very unprepared” for the end of third-party cookies. This lack of preparation – despite Google’s forewarning – reflects how many marketers have adopted a “wait and see” approach to determine how they will modify their digital marketing strategy.

The truth is that a cookieless future is inevitable and requires a fundamental shift in the way marketers approach their digital advertising. It’s important to take action now. It won’t be easy, but it’s certainly not impossible. Follow these five steps to get yourself on the right track:

1. Recognize that this change will affect your relationship with your customers

It doesn’t matter what type of industry you’re in: the end of third-party cookies will have a notable impact on how you’re able to reach and engage with your customers. To navigate this change effectively, it’s essential that you adapt by creating and fostering direct customer relationships

2. Discover where you’re currently using third-party cookies

Before being able to adapt to this new world, you need to understand where your third-party cookies are being used. Communicating with your paid media partners helps you to evaluate your previous third-party cookie performance, and determine how it can be converted into first-party data collection.

3. Focus on collecting first-party data, and make sure to maximize its value

As we move into this new world, the importance of first-party data can’t be overemphasized. First-party data will pave the way for new direct customer relationships, and will help you meet customer needs efficiently. To make sure your hard work pays off, ensure your tech stack lets you keep the data. Owning the data means you own the customer relationship.

4. Audit your current technology and make necessary changes

As first-party relationships become more and more important, brands and customers will need to become much closer. Brands may need to rely on new online tools to grow fresh customer relationships. To ensure your technology will still meet your needs without third-party cookies, it’s crucial to your current solutions. Only by understanding what your technology is capable of, and how it can be utilized, will you be able to navigate this cookieless environment successfully. 

5. Be open to new opportunities 

Ever heard the saying, “The bigger the challenge, the bigger the opportunity for growth”? While a cookieless world does come with its fair share of challenges, it also opens up a whole new world of opportunities. By employing innovative approaches and experimenting with clever alternatives, you give your brand the chance to develop deeper connections with customers.

The shift away from third-party cookies sees many marketers and digital advertisers moving into unfamiliar territory. While the path ahead is not clear, there is no excuse to sit on the sidelines. This move presents an opportunity for the entire industry to come together and create a new system that is transparent, simplified, and better catered to customer needs.

Thankfully, the change will only begin rolling out by the end of 2024, which means there's enough time to make the necessary changes. By following these steps, you won’t miss a beat, and you’ll build the foundation of trust necessary to keep your customer relationships sweet well into the cookieless future.

Pim van Helten

Pim van Helten


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