A cookieless future explained – Part 1

The Cookieless future: Is it time to panic? 

According to Digiday’s roundup of 2023, 73% of agency professionals were actively preparing for a cookieless future. The ‘cookieless’ future of marketing is a phrase we’re hearing all the time, and it’s competing with AI for being the most discussed marketing topic of the first half of this decade.

But is it actually the judgement day of marketing or should we all just head to the Winchester for a pint and wait for this all to blow over?

First of all, what are we talking about? 

Cookies are tiny pieces of data a website stores on a user’s browser when they are visiting websites. Mostly, we hear about first and third-party cookies.

First-party cookies are set by the website you visit and typically are only relevant to that website. This has traditionally been used for website personalisation, remembering preferences and suggesting relevant content or products based on previous browsing.

Judgement day is coming for Third-Party cookies which, unlike first-party cookies, are created by domains separate from the website you are visiting and follow you around the web. Marketers use these for Retargeting and other tactics, but soon that won’t be possible.

Browsers, such as Safari and Firefox, already block third-party cookies by default. And Google has pledged to block them, too. They have, however, just announced a delay to this. It was originally scheduled to happen this year but has now been pushed back until the start of 2025. 

This is all happening due to growing concern for users’ privacy when online. This culminated in two hefty pieces of legislation. In 2018, the EUs General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) came into effect, and then in 2020 so did the California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA). More recently, the EU Digital Services Act came into play in February 2024.

Travis Eyles, our Head of Media, says “at the centre of all these changes is an emphasis on championing user consent online and that’s something we should all agree is a good thing.

What are the implications of a cookieless future?

For marketers and ad platforms, the removal of third-party cookies is going to impact the way we speak to existing and potential customers. 

There is now more widespread adoption of Consent Management Platforms to place cookie consent notifications on websites that communicate consent status to Google and other platforms. Typically around 10% of users choose to decline consent for tracking.

Some other measurement functions will also be impacted, namely multi-touch-attribution (MTA) that relies on tracking user behaviour across a long time period and across different interactions and post-impression reporting, commonly used to support display campaigns.

Jim Kirby, Director Of Strategy, says “We are moving towards a situation where we have a limited view of the effectiveness of our marketing data. Where we were once able to measure close to 100% of website sessions, interactions and conversions, this is becoming increasingly more difficult. And with privacy regulations getting stronger, this restricted view will only increase.”

In addition to measurement concerns, many tactics, such as retargeting and lookalike targeting, lean heavily on third-party cookies to track and identify users across different websites. 

Therefore, doing nothing isn’t an option. Respecting users’ privacy is vital and the cost of inaction will range from an impact on performance as certain Google features become unavailable, through to significant fines from regulators.

However, everyone knows this is an industry that changes all the time, so we’re more than capable of adjusting our approach to fit into a new way of working.

So, is this judgement day for marketing? No. We don’t think so.

For a start this is a change that is not likely to happen overnight. Google will phase their rollout of cookie deprecation, blocking them for a small percentage of users first before the total switch off. We’re anticipating a very gradual change that will mean for most advertisers we only need to worry about making changes when the platforms provide more detail.

Google, and others, are already making preparations for the cookieless future with a focus on retaining as much consented data as possible and then using that data to train AI in order to model the missing data.

Firstly, the move to Google Analytics 4 was designed with privacy in mind using a first-party cookie. These aren’t treated the same way as third party cookies and introduce the ability to compliment consented data with first-party data provided by advertisers.

One of the key features of Google Analytics 4 is the ability to use cookieless signals alongside consented data to model and report an estimated view of total website behaviour. Today, most of the data we see in Google Analytics, Google Ads and other platforms has some level of modelling applied to it rather than being totally cookie-based, as it was in Universal Analytics.

In addition to this, the Google Privacy Sandbox is being developed as a cross-industry standard for providing new solutions to enable continued delivery of relevant advertising without the use of third party cookies. This is still in development and more details will emerge over time.

In short, the industry has a vested interest in the continuity of measurement and targeting solutions, so it is working hard to provide methods to support that.

Our next post will cover what we can do now, leveraging the tools provided by platforms to get ready. 

Need any help?

We hope that you’ve found this article useful. Also check out Part 2 in our Cookieless Preparation Series. Propellernet offers a wide range of Google Analytics Services including Enhanced Ecommerce setup and Google Analytics Training. Please contact us if you need any help.