Google Chrome to Eliminate Third-Party Cookies, Impacting Marketers and Website Designers

Marketers will see changes to online advertising and to the analytics that marketers have counted on.

Apple's Safari has done away with third-party cookies. So has Mozilla's Firefox. Next up: Google and its Chrome browser, representing more than half of web traffic.

Google has announced it plans to move away from third-party cookies in 2022, a blow to marketers who rely on data from third-party cookies to tailor ads to consumers.

Marketers will see changes to online advertising and to the analytics that marketers have counted on to learn user beahvior for tailored audicences. Marketers rely heavily rely on third-party cookies, even unwittingly, to gather data about targeted audiences. And that's going away.

Google is developing a replacement, the Federated Learning of Cohorts (FLoC), which aims to continue to collect user data for targeted advertising, just in a more anonymized way. What that means for advertisers, however, remains unknown. It's certain that the information that backs targeted online advertisements is undergoing an alteration. How that affects online advertising is unknown -- FLoC isn't expected to roll out until 2022.

The online advertising world is still trying to discern the ramifications of the pivot. Suffice it to say that analytics and targeted advertising will be affected. The how and how much are still being determined. But some of the data that informs when and to whom to show online advertisements is on the way out, being replaced with a method that's still not fully known.

In short, anyone who's relying on third-party cookies either for advertising or web design needs to stay abreast of the developments surrounding what seems like the inevitable demise of third-party cookies. It is commonplace for modern difital marketers and web designers to use third-party cookies, whether they know it or not, and third-party cookies are close to going away.

What are Third-Party Cookies?

Third-party cookies are where some major technology companies are drawing the line.

Cookies are very small data files that web browsers use to identify your computer when you use a computer network (like the internet). Advertisers like cookies because they provide details about the use of your computer – effectively, about you – thatcan be used to target advertising.

Cookies were originally made for more functional reasons, like saving your shopping cart or detecting if you’re logged in. These first-party cookies have been largely accepted, or at least unopposed. But cookies today, namely third-party cookies, are used heavily in advertising, and there is now some resistance with consumer privacy gaining new levels of prevalence, such as with Europe’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) and similar laws that have followed suit.

Cookies have let advertisers know, for example, that you – or whoever is using your computer – visited sports websites and also recently looked for parenting videos on YouTube. So an advertiser might deduce that you’re a a sports fan and a parent and may serve you up ads for children’s clothing with sports logos. Advertisers can use cookies and large samples of cookies to create a rather definitive profile of who you are (ostensibly without identifying you personally).

But third-party cookies are where some major technology companies are drawing the line. Cookies come from the web domains you visit, like your favorite news site. Third-party cookies come from domains that you didn’t necessarily visit, like an advertising network on your favorite news site. Ad re-targeting services (like Google’s display advertising network) are among those leaving third-party cookies behind.

Who's Affected and What to Do?

General web users are affected, in ways that they are likely to find positive. Third-party cookies would be eliminated, which is a win for user privacy. The general user of course will still see advertising. But now the advertising won’t be informed by third-party cookies. Advertisements might not be quite as relevant, but the general web user likely found many ads to be a little too relevant anyway.

Organizations running online marketing campaigns will be affected. Even if the advertiser itself isn’t using third-party cookies, they likely are going through an advertising provider who does use third-party cookies to collect data to target ads, such as Google Ads. The extent to which the ads become less (or more) effective without third-party cookies is still being discovered.

Website designers will be affected. Many web design elements rely on third-party cookies for session tracking, even if not expressly for advertising data. Website elements relying on third-party cookies include add-ons and plug-ins that are common on WordPress websites; iFrames including for payment card processing; JavaScript; and other third-party tools like chat bots and support desks. These elements use cookies for functionality like identifying sessions, more akin to first-party cookies, but they use third-party cookies nonetheless and will be impacted.

Agencies managing online advertising campaigns on behalf of their customers are likely to be affected. These are mostly the ad agencies that currently are using third-party cookies to collect data for targeted advertising, and they would see their mode for acquiring user data fundamentally altered. Again, the extent to which the ads become less (or more) effective is still being discovered.

Google Display advertisements and Google Analytics users will be affected. The third-party cookie data that informs targeted online advertising is the data that informs Google's own display advertising placements and, to a lesser extent, its Analytics tool. (Note that Google Search ads use Google's own first-party cookies, and would be all or almost unaffected by the move away from third-party cookies.) Marketers can be confident that Google is developing an adequate replacement with FLoC, but the replacement is still in development and can't be fully known.

Any marketer that relies on data for targeted advertising will be affected. The extent is still being discovered, but marketers should explore backup plans in the event that advertising no longer can be as targeted, or as effective, as it was before. This may include developing ads for broader audiences, since third-party cookies are so instrumental in defining the tailored audience, and considering more first-party advertising.

Organizations that use first-party cookies will not be affected, at least as far as first-party cookies go. If you’re just tracking user behaviors, saving carts, logins, and preferences and tracking user performance for your own site, the shift from third-party cookies will not affect that.

Essent SiteBuilder, itself, does not rely on third-party cookes but third-party functionality is commonly added to a SiteBuilder website by the web designer and marketers. SiteBuilder, itself, is not directly impacted and users do not need to take action pertaining to SiteBuilder. On the other hand, Third-party functionality added to a SiteBuilder website may be affected without advance notice so the website mangement team needs to perform an assessment on third-party code that is added to a website to determine if the code relys on third-party cookies in order to operate correctly. Essent offers website services to assist with the process.

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