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11 Ways to Prepare for the End of Third-Party Cookies

2nd June 2021

On June 16th, Adapt is hosting a webinar in conversation with Head of Ad Tech at IAB UK, Tina Lakhani, about how businesses can start preparing for life after third-party cookies. Register here…

11 Ways to Prepare for the End of Third-Party Cookies

Third-party cookies are soon to be a thing of the past.

This – we hope – shouldn’t be brand new information, as Google announced in February 2020 they were going to begin phasing out third-party cookies on Chrome next year.

What’s caused a stir more recently is Google’s further announcement that they are not going to create “alternative identifiers” to track users and will not use these in their products.

And that was not the way many marketers wanted the third-party cookie to crumble.

For marketers, these trackers were our bread and butter – they allowed us to not only track our website users, but we used them to improve user experience and, most importantly, to ‘collect data that helped us target ads to the right audiences’.

It’s obvious that we need to go, at least partly, back to the drawing board and properly prepare for life after third-party cookies. But a lot of us don’t know where to start, despite the fact many of the points below are, arguably, best practice already.

To help you better prepare for life after third-party cookies, we’ve put together a list of the 11 ways we think you should be readying your business for the incoming data gap.

1. Utilize existing first-party cookie solutions

This again is one which we hope you have begun exploring. If you haven’t then now is the time to start.

Google’s customer match is a very nifty tool. You can use information that your customers have shared with you to create targeted ads across search, the shopping tab, Gmail and YouTube. It will also help target new customers who have similar interests to your existing users.

Another great tool to have in your wheelhouse is Facebook’s custom audiences. With this, you can opt for your chosen ad to target your desired audience among Facebook users. It also allows you to utilize Facebook’s customer lists and website traffic to develop a tailored audience of users who have engaged with your brand.

2. Help your first-party data flourish

Now is the perfect time to get creative and come up with new ways that will encourage users to share data with you. Here are three ways you could grow your database:

  • Events – Topical online and in-person events will always pull in your desired customer. The registration form is a great way to collect valuable data to add to your current list, but always be mindful and follow GDPR guidelines.
  • Landing page subscriptions – We see this tactic used a lot on e-commerce sites. For example, when you go on a clothing website an icon will pop up on the screen inviting you to join their newsletter, and if you do you get 10% off on your first order, which is a very enticing offer most users won’t ignore. By signing up you’ve gained vital data to use in the future.
  • Newsletters – Adding a clear subscription option for your newsletter on your website is a great way to obtain data. You can also add subscription options to other parts of your website including blog posts or competitions.

3. Consent is vital

This shouldn’t be a new concept for you since GDPR came into effect.

Be sure to check the data you already have in order to gain a clear insight into what data you’ve got, and then update your privacy policy to shed light on how you are using this data.

Permission management tools should be on your radar, and you can add these to your website so users can take control of their consent and data.

4. Take time to strategize

As we are now losing valuable data, we need to start thinking beyond the usage of cookies. We can do this by optimizing our usage of the data we still have.

Now is the perfect time to experiment with various management strategies to see which ones are most effective. Once you have found which strategies work best you should make these bulletproof for the future.

5. Get involved in ad platform tests

Many industry-leading tech companies are developing new ways to harness first-party data, so it’s worth taking an active role in as many tests as possible.

Google is encouraging businesses to lean into using privacy-focused solutions, and one they are championing in particular is the use of ‘value-based bidding’, as well as a new first-party cookie solution to assist with conversion tracking.

6. Make context a key focus

Contextual targeting is often overlooked, but it’s a great strategy to use as it doesn’t use third-party cookies.

While it does involve dedicating a great deal of time to figuring out where best to place your ads on certain platforms, it is certainly worth the effort.

Your targeted audience is more likely to respond to these ads as they won’t feel as though their privacy has been breached. Once you have gained the trust of your customers, you will be able to build strong lasting relationships.

These relationships can help you further as you will soon be able to spot patterns and user behavior within specific groups, which will provide you with vital data you can track.

7. Switch to people-based targeting

MartechSeries defines people-based marketing as “a means to create a customer-centric, cohesive marketing system that revolves around customers and their real-time behavioral data”.

When you combine this data with your first-party data you will be able to target your desired audience in real-time across a variety of channels. People-based marketing is a great solution as it does not rely on third-party cookies and it also allows you to engage with users directly at a time that suits them.

According to BounceX, a successful people-based marketing strategy has three key elements:

  • Identification – First, you need to identify your customers and the devices they are using. Most customers will use various devices to look at your website. If you do not track the customer journey correctly, you will have incorrect data about your users’ behaviors, resulting in poorly-designed strategies.
  • Data – As well as historical data, brands should also use real-time behavioral data such as information on a user’s device, their interaction with your website and their carts, as well as the products and categories they visited while browsing. Combing these data points will help you get a detailed singular view of your customer.
  • Automation – People-based marketing eliminates the need for cookie-based data as it generates all the data you need into a single source. This means brands can automate an omnichannel marketing approach across all devices under a single cohesive marketing strategy.

8. Get to grips with Google Analytics 4

GA4 will be an excellent tool to use as it is being developed with stronger cloud-based, machine-learning modeling and will pair nicely with server-side tracking.

While GA4 won’t be a replacement for the current iteration of GA, having both these analytics tools at your disposal will have a considerable impact on your data tracking.

9. Use Google Tag Manager

Or you can use other systems like Google Tag Manager that focus on site-wide first-party tagging. These are designed to drastically increase the volume of the conversion data you already have.

To put it simply, you really should be using these, as these ad platform tools have been created to help optimize these conversions.

With this amount of data, you will be able to distinguish in more detail what campaigns are proving effective, and which need to be restructured.

10. Work with what you’ve got

It’s not just about quantity when it comes to collecting data, it’s also about quality. So rather than worrying about what data you don’t have, work with the data that you have now.

Focus your energy on hiring the right people who will be able to go through your data with a fine-tooth comb and optimize your business models.

We also recommend giving your contact lists a refresh on a regular basis to ensure you don’t have irrelevant contacts. You could make this automatic by creating a system that deletes contacts who haven’t reacted to your messages for a pre-determined period of time.

Allowing your users to have the power to opt in or out of their subscriptions is another great way to maintain the quality of your database. Those that leave are contacts you do not need, and this opt-in system shows users you comply with the data protection legislation.

11. Identify, identify, identify

If you want to get ahead in a cookie-less world, you need to understand what identifiers your business is using, and with this information you can begin to profile your visits.

Create ‘collection points’ throughout your website and then you can use this collected data to understand your audience in a more detailed light.

CookiePro, for instance, is talking about two types of User IDs that could be used in the future. And while we’re not confident enough to make the same claim ourselves, they do offer an interesting glimpse at the types of solutions that are incoming.

The first is Probabilistic ID, which is a type of ID used to reap the rewards of anonymous data points. You can use this type of data to find behavioral parallels between these anonymous users and your known users.

Deterministic ID is basically a form of identifiable data. Examples of this type of ID are log-in data, offline data, or information the user has agreed to share with you.

Final thoughts

The departure of third-party cookies is something that we can’t ignore – it’s going to drastically change the digital marketing landscape as we know it.

But we still have time to re-think and re-model our marketing strategies, and the earlier we start to implement these changes, the more prepared we will be when third-party cookies have gone stale.

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About Adapt

Digital performance marketing, analytics & consultancy for growth-minded brands.

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