Cookies are Going Away: What That Means for Your Business

Cookies are a ubiquitous part of the internet. They are found on almost every website, allowing you to power several of your digital marketing campaigns. However, Google announced that it plans to stop supporting third-party cookies — and it expects countless websites and service providers to accommodate this change.

Take a deep breath; this isn’t as big of a change as you think it is. Learn more about cookies, why they are going away, and what this change means for your marketing efforts.

What Are Cookies?

Cookies are small text files that contain data related to you and your web experience. When you browse a website, you click around to different pages and engage with various types of information. This could range from shopping for new golf shirts to watching cat videos on Reddit. Throughout this experience, the website gathers information that can be used to create an even better visit the next time you land on those pages.

For example, if you spend the day scrolling through cat-related subreddits, Reddit will recommend even more cat-related subreddits. If you look at UV-repellent golf shirts on the Dick’s Sporting Good website, the company will recommend golf gloves and UV-repellent fishing shirts the next time you browse.

Tools like Google Analytics also use cookies on the back end of websites through tools like Google Analytics. Your browser information will be added to the data collected from thousands of other website visitors to track behavior patterns. When you click on your Google Analytics page and review your top blog posts, main traffic sources, and key demographics, you are looking at data collected through cookies.

Why Are Cookies Going Away?

Cookies were originally developed in 1994 to help repeat users while solving other problems related to the web experience. When you add an item to a shopping cart on an eCommerce website, you are completing the task with the help of cookies. However, as the internet grew more complex, the use of cookies became more widespread. Debates started popping up over whether all of this tracking was ethical.

In recent years, regulatory bodies in the European Union have passed laws requiring brands to be transparent about what cookies do so users can control whether they are enabled. When you visit a website, this is why you need to consent to cookies and manage your settings so they can track you.

However, no one reads these pop-ups. One study of privacy policy (PP) and terms of service (TOS) reading behavior found that 98% of web users missed “gotcha clauses” and consented to ridiculous things — like providing a firstborn child as payment for access — because they didn’t read the TOS. The study highlighted that it would have taken 30 minutes to read the PP at an average adult reading speed. Most people spend around 73 seconds looking at the pages.

What happens when you don’t read the terms and conditions? Companies realize they can get away with advanced tracking because no one will care. One survey found that 35 out of 50 popular websites use cookies illegally. In late 2021, this led to fines of €150 million to Alphabet (Google) and €60 million to Meta (Facebook) for illegal tracking practices.

Rather than keep up with regulatory compliance and continue to wrestle with the ethical challenges related to cookies, Google decided to do away with this tracking option altogether. It announced in 2020 that support for cookies would end in early 2022 once most website managers found appropriate workarounds.

Are Cookies Still Around?

Cookies were supposed to be eliminated by 2022 — at least on most websites that rely on Google for search rankings. However, they are still around in 2023 and are standard on most web pages. In July 2022, Google announced that it was delaying its phasing out plan for cookies until 2024. This extension occurred because companies are still working out how to move forward in a cookieless future.

Major web players need to reach a consensus on how to move forward without cookies. This isn’t a matter of cutting cookies and leaving the Wall Street Journal or eBay in the dark. There needs to be a unified platform to track data and agreed-upon standards for what is ethical. This will allow companies to track their data against each other (which is essential for competitor research) and to know that their reports are accurate.

This doesn’t mean that developers are resting on their laurels. Many web hosting providers and analytics processors are actively working with Google to determine how they can move forward once this deadline passes. The companies want data; Google wants privacy. The two parties need to reach a happy medium.

To simplify this testing and evaluation process easier, Google launched a “sandbox” in 2019 with different privacy APIs that teams can use. The feedback they received is that companies need more time to evaluate and implement these APIs before cookies can be phased out (according to a statement by Anthony Chavez, Google’s “Vice President of Privacy Sandbox”).

What Does Cookie-Cutting Mean for Business Owners?

If you don’t work for Google or a major tech player in Silicon Valley, this whole cookie-cutting news might seem confusing or irrelevant. You might not notice many changes as the deadlines to go cookieless approaches.

Tools like Google Analytics will need to evolve to report accurate data in a better way. The company is already switching to Google Analytics 4 and bringing users into the next generation of marketing analysis. However, your IT department might experience some problems as they need to move away from certain cookies while relying heavily on others.

First, you need to know that not all cookies are going away: first-party cookies will remain. First-party cookies are created and controlled by websites. They allow customers to add items to their cards and continue browsing for items when they return. The primary focus of first-party cookies is behavioral data.

Third-party cookies are used by advertising companies and placed on the websites by the owners of the domain. These cookies allow advertisers to track users after they leave your site as they browse around the web.

This is a good-news, bad-news situation. On the one hand, you can still use first-party cookies to optimize your website and understand how people engage with different pages, calls to action, and the cart. On the other, you might not have as much insight into the customer journey that brought people to your web pages.

What Can You Do About the Cookiless Future?

You can take steps today to prepare for a world without cookies. Even if Google pushes its deadline back again, you can ensure your business is ready regardless of what happens.

First, make sure you are collecting first-party information. This data will increase in value as third-party cookies are phased out. You can talk with your IT and marketing providers to review the cookies you currently have and which ones will be allowed in the future.

The next step is to consider how abolishing third-party cookies will affect your marketing strategy. Studies show that ad targeting through these cookies has contributed more than $25 billion to the consumer economy. If you are heavily invested in display advertising, these changes might affect you.

“Say what you want about ‘those creepy ads that follow you around the internet,’ but consumers undeniably buy based on those ads, and they have helped brands, publishers, and intermediaries grow,” says Randall Rothenberg, CEO of the Interactive Advertising Bureau.

You don’t have to be a technology expert as a business owner, but you do need to surround yourself with tech-minded people. Ensure you are talking to your website management team, marketing department, and analytics experts to prepare for any changes resulting from cookie-cutting.

Cookie Cutting Could Be Good for Your Brand in the Long Run

There are reasons to be hopeful about changes in cookie usage in the future. This is mainly because your customers hate cookies. Research shows that pop-ups regarding cookie usage make people feel suspicious and scared. These boxes make people feel like companies are tracking them and using their personal information.

Remember, people don’t actually read the privacy policies of every website they visit. Instead, the feelings of tracking are there without any real knowledge of why companies are collecting data.

A pop-up box to review cookies can take customers out of the shopping experience. You work so hard to develop creative paid search and social media advertising campaigns that draw customers in. The last thing you want is to ruin your brand experience with a terms of service pop-up. While most people will click passed these boxes, no one wants unnecessary roadblocks in the customer journey.

Furthermore, there’s nothing you can do about the phasing out of third-party cookies. While you can work with your analytics and service providers to prepare for the change, there’s no point in fighting it. It is better to consider the opportunities that come with this update rather than focusing on potential data that will be lost.

Don’t Worry About the Cookieless Future

The delay in cookie elimination is actually a good thing. It shows that Google is taking this transition seriously and wants to work with marketers to reach a fair compromise between tracking customer data and maintaining user privacy. Cookies won’t go away until most parties are on board with a solution.

“There shouldn’t be much risk of confusion about these companies’ goals,” says Aleksander Levental, co-founder and CEO of Feathr. “They intend to continue providing marketers and advertisers ways to meaningfully engage with people online based on their characteristics and behaviors.”

While you may notice some changes to your marketing capabilities in the short run, you can look into other channels that will drive similar results. Use this time to explore search engine marketing (SEM) and discovery advertising, allowing you to diversify your channels. As long as you have a strong digital marketing presence, you can thrive in a cookieless world.

Let Use Address Your Cookie Concerns

You have enough problems as a business owner without worrying about Google’s latest updates and changes in Silicon Valley. Let us take control of your marketing efforts to ensure you make it through the cookie-cutting process smoothly. Our team at J&L Marketing is actively working with several of our clients to address their concerns and prepare for 2024. Whatever comes from this change, we are ready.

Contact us today to discuss your third-party cookies and how you can engage audiences without them. We can help you build a marketing strategy that helps your business thrive.

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