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The End of Third Party Cookies?

Google made an announcement in the middle of January that they would be phasing out the use of third party cookies in the Chrome browser over the next 2 years. This has sent shockwaves throughout the online advertising community, with the use of remarketing being the biggest likely casualty from this change. So how significant is this move?

Just 2 weeks into the new decade, Google made this major announcement about third party cookies, but it wasn’t unexpected and follows the lead taken by Safari and Firefox in the face of increasing privacy concerns about online tracking. However, since Google Chrome is now the most widely used browser, the implications of this change are significant for many online advertising channels, including Google Ads.

Cookies are small text files that are triggered once a user visits a web page or site, and are used for tracking future actions on the same device or browser. There are first party (or same site) cookies that are linked to the domain of the site a user visits, and are commonly used to keep people logged, remember their preferences and support website analytics. Then there are third party (or cross site) cookies which are mostly used for advertising and track a user across subsequent website visits to deliver ‘personalised experiences’ or measure audience engagement.

Apple first introduced blocking of third party cookies in the Safari browser in 2017, through their ‘Intelligent Tracking Prevention’ system. This was extended to first party cookies last year which are now only stored for 7 days, which can have implications for website user tracking in analytics. Mozilla also introduced third party cookie blocking in the Firefox browser last year, so Google’s move is nothing new and follows the trend of protecting online user privacy across websites.

Once one player makes such a move, the others need to consider their position and protect their market share in the face of consumer concerns about online tracking. So Google has joined the other major browsers to gradually implement this change, which will make the browser market more consistent, but also put some pressure on Google’s core revenue from Google Ads.

One of the popular ways to use display advertising in Google Ads is through remarketing, where a third party cookie enables advertisers to follow their previous visitors (audience) across multiple websites and show them relevant ads. This option will now be closed with the browser restrictions, so Google will need to move advertisers across to other targeting methods such as contextual (content driven) or other subject based websites.

There is some conjecture that Google may also be working on other methods of providing some form of personalised advertising and maintain or improve their dominance of the advertising market. Even if this does happen, there will still be a period of readjustment for advertisers as a result of these changes, and a different approach to reach their target audience.

If you’d like to know more about this change, and the impact on your online marketing campaigns, please get in touch.