Marketing teams in the Channel have been using third-party data for years. Whether they’re analysing website traffic, segmenting target audience data for advertising or making website changes based on user behaviour, it’s been essential for all levels of marketing optimisation. With the announcement that Google is joining Firefox and Safari in ending third-party cookies, what will this mean for channel marketing?

In its 17 January 2022 announcement, Google will no longer support third-party cookies across its products by the end of next year. For companies who’ve been reliant on this data for years, this may kickstart significant changes to marketing operations. Andy Horn, IntraLAN CEO, discusses how the end of third-party cookies could impact businesses in the channel and what steps you can take now to reduce your reliance before they’re gone forever.

What are third-party cookies, and how are they used?

Third-party cookies begin when companies implement Google’s Universal Tracking script on their website. Once that is in place, marketers use UTM tracking links when they want to collect data from outside their website.

Third-party cookies provide information about customer behaviour from external sources via Google Analytics. For example, third-party cookies show when customers come from specific websites such as social media platforms. Additionally, third-party cookies have been integral in targeting audiences with digital display banners on external websites.

With the end of these essential marketing tools, you may be asking yourself how you’ll move forward with website optimisation and audience segmentation and targeting. According to Andy, the answer is simple:

“Marketing is a world of evolution and adaptation. With constant changes to algorithms, teams have become accustomed to adapting, and the end of third-party data will be no different.

“In this situation, teams will need to roll back time to when we relied on first-party data – and customers will be happier knowing there are no more pesky cookies tracking their movement across multiple websites.”

What is first-party data?

Not all cookies are ending; first-party cookies will still provide marketers with valuable data about behaviour on company websites. When you see cookie pop-ups on websites you visit, those are permissions for first-party cookies.

First-party cookies are just as helpful to visitors as they are to businesses, and the majority of companies use them. They track visitor behaviour within a website and end once the user navigates off the website. They collect information about what pages are visited, how long visitors remain on the page, items placed in shopping carts and what preferences have been selected.

Why are third-party cookies ending, and how will it affect my business?

The end of third-party cookies is driven by increased consumer and government worries over privacy. The introduction of General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) on 25 May 2018 brought consumer privacy into sharper focus, and there were further calls for protection against websites collecting visitor behaviour.

Firefox and Safari ended their support for third-party cookies in 2017, yet Google was much slower to enforce this change. This delay is thought to be because of the profits from its advertising.

This change equates to a movement towards solutions that fill the absence of third-party data for businesses. Marketing teams will no longer have the ability to use retargeting ads, like those you see if you visit a product on one website, navigate away and are shown an ad for it on social media.

Instead, gathering data on consumer behaviour will come from first-party data and targeting for digital advertising will rely on contextual data (what was used before third-party cookies). With contextual data, you won’t be targeting specific demographics. Instead, marketing teams will focus on placing ads on websites that match relevant keywords for their products or services.

What can my business do now to get ready for this change?

Whilst third-party cookies aren’t ending on Google until 2023, being proactive with changes now will reduce stress when the time comes. Here are a few things your business can do to become less reliant on third-party cookies and big data:

  • If you haven’t already, make sure you have a cookie opt-in/opt-out policy on your website. This is already required for GDPR compliance.
  • Begin segmenting the data collected from your website differently. Use segments such as:
  • What they purchase
  • Demographics
  • Location
  • Commonly visited pages
  • Pages with the highest average ‘time on page’
  • Interests based on commonly visited content
  • Begin using contextualised targeting in your Pay Per Click (PPC), dynamic display and social media advertising.
  • Optimise your website to provide increased personalisation for your visitors.

News of the end of third-party cookies initially caused a bit of panic within the marketing industry – but there’s no reason to worry. Preparing for the coming changes, tailoring your approach to marketing and ensuring teams are trained in contextual marketing will ensure your business’s success once third-party cookies stop collecting data.

By Andy Horn, CEO of IntraLAN

Andy has over 20 years’ experience of strong sales-focused leadership in IT outsourcing, telecoms, data centre and software organisations and is currently the CEO of IntraLAN. His company ethos is all about communication, consistency, and care, with a little bit of fun thrown in for good measure!

When he’s not working, Andy can be found sailing, surfing and mountain biking with his sons.

Visit Andy’s LinkedIn profile here