The Beginning of the End for Third-Party Cookies

welocalize June 24, 2021

The likes of Firefox, Microsoft, and Apple have been phasing out the use of third-party cookies for a while now and in 2020, Google announced it is going to follow suit.

However, what marketers and advertisers did not expect was Google’s further announcement earlier this year, as they confirmed they would not be investing in or creating any alternatives to third-party cookies and will not be using these in their products.

This is hugely positive news for users as it promotes a privacy-first approach, but it has implications for digital marketers and localization managers who are responsible for international websites and global content strategies.

In response to this industry shake-up, Welocalize digital marketing division, Adapt Worldwide, held a webinar in partnership with the Internet Advertising Bureau (IAB UK) to dissect what exactly a cookie-less future might look like. You can watch the webinar on demand here >>> How to Prepare for Life After Third-Party Cookies Webinar.

Speaking at the event was Ryan Webb, Conversion and Analytics Director at Adapt, who has been immersed in the world of cookies for several years.

We saw an opportunity to fire a few questions to Ryan about his webinar, to help you understand what life after third-party cookies means for global digital marketing and localization programs, as well as provide some insider tips on how you can bridge the data gap these cookies have left behind.

Hi Ryan, 😊 In brief, what do we use third-party cookies for?

Cookies are little bits of, largely anonymous, code that are dropped into a browser as a visitor navigates a website. They are identifiers that allow that visitor to be “stamped” as having carried out a specific action; think of them as the equivalent of a wristband you’re given when you arrive at a concert.

The identifier can then be used later in the visitor’s browsing journey, just like when you then go to the bar at the concert and show your wrist band again to collect your free drink.

So, what’s the difference between first-party cookies and third-party cookies?

First-party cookies are cookies that enable tracking and functionality on the same website. For example, they identify and then display the “other products you’ve viewed” while browsing product pages.

Whereas, third-party cookies help to do a similar thing, but across different websites (e.g., view a product on one website and then be shown adverts for that same product on another website).

What does the departure of third-party cookies mean for global digital marketing?

Wow, that is a big question that could have a very long answer!

In short, it means we need to develop alternatives to third-party cookies that enable the same things but, they need to be more secure and allow greater privacy and control for individuals.

Thankfully the third-party cookie isn’t being disabled overnight, third-party cookies have been blocked by some devices (iPhones) and browsers (Firefox) for some time, so it’s an evolution and the alternative solutions are getting better and better.

For a more in-depth look at what the cookie-less future holds, don’t miss Adapt’s guide here >>> Life After Third-Party Cookies: Preserving Privacy, Ensuring Effectiveness

How does this change affect marketing, localization, and translation managers who manage global digital content in multiple languages?

It affects them the same as any website owner around the world who has visitors that use the Google Chrome browser. Chrome are aiming to make third-party cookies obsolete as a universal goal; it isn’t a goal in a particular country, language or locale. It may affect different countries slightly differently based on the regulations within that territory, or the market share of Chrome, but I think it’s sensible to consider this a broad “all country” challenge. This is highlighted further when we know they are in regular consultation with organizations such as the W3C who explicitly describe themselves as “international” and whose mission is to improve the standards of the internet for all.

There is something that may help put localization and translation teams minds at rest though: Translation tools and functionality don’t typically rely on third-party cookies; they may, in-part, use first-party cookies to enable come functionality on your own (first-party) domain, but first-party cookies are fine for now, they are only likely to be depreciated over a much longer time frame.

Why do you think Google and other platforms have decided they will not be investing in alternative identifiers and will also not use these in their products?

Platforms like Google, Facebook, and Apple are known as “walled gardens” because they have a group of users who are all “logged in” when they use their products. That means they have permission and the ability to make lots of these connections without the need for cookies.

In some ways, the push for increased privacy on the web has played into the hands of these platforms because they have much greater control of what goes on within their own ecosystems; it’s the independent, more isolated (non-logged in) websites that are much more dependent on alternative solutions being developed.

Are first-party cookies a simple and easy solution?

They are being used as an alternative in some specific cases, but they don’t allow tracking across different domains in most cases. Furthermore, they have similar limitations and weaknesses to third-party cookies, so, as better solutions emerge, we expect them to be phased out over time too.

Could server-to-server tracking replace the need for third-party cookies?

Server-side tracking is much more secure than browser-based tracking (of which cookies are one form). The data is much more robust, can be managed more effectively, and is far more secure.

If you then connect server-side data, you’re keeping these advantages, but allowing first-party information to be shared between two parties (with appropriate user permission of course!). These connections will solve some of the gaps left behind by third-party cookies, but not all.

What other solutions or best practices can we begin to implement to obtain a rich data set?

The simple answer is to keep building your own first-party data.

The obvious pool of data you already have is your customer data, such as names, addresses, emails, etc. but in addition to that, you probably have an email newsletter, a list of prospects, competition entrants, etc.

Build on these existing data sets and you’ll be in a good position to plug into the cookie replacement solutions of the future.

For a comprehensive list of actions you can begin taking, Adapt have published a list of 11 top tips and best practices you can use to start preparing for life after third-party cookies.

Hopefully, this goes to show that there’s no need to panic about the departure of third-party cookies. All you need to do is be smart and think outside the cookie jar and you will still be able to create successful advertising campaigns in 2023 and beyond.

Ryan Webb is Conversion & Analytics Director at Adapt Worldwide, Welocalize’s Digital Performance Agency.

*Since this interview was published Google has announced that it is pushing back the final deadline for its phasing out of third-party cookies to late-2023.*

If you have any questions about third-party cookies, please don’t hesitate to get in contact with the Adapt Team, they’re always happy to help. You can connect with Adapt via Welocalize contact form or visit their website, click here.