In early 2020, Google announced its removal of third-party cookies—and they’re not the first to move towards a cookieless future; browsers such as Safari and Firefox have already begun phasing out third-party cookies due to privacy concerns.

You may be wondering what this loss of third-party cookies means for you. Although Google, in particular, has postponed this change until 2023, they have yet to find an equally valuable solution for businesses. This leaves many business owners scrambling to make up for the loss of the data that third-party cookies provided them. 

The good news? Although cookies are on their way out, new technologies are finding innovative ways to provide businesses with cookieless data to help identify target customers, market more effectively, and measure online conversion. 

What are cookies and why are they going away?

Most people know that when we talk about cookies in the context of websites, we’re not referring to gooey, chocolatey morsels that pair perfectly with a cold glass of milk. Internet cookies are more technical—and less delicious—than that. But what, exactly, are they? 

Google defines cookies as “a small piece of text sent to your browser by a website you visit.” This small piece of text can help a site remember specific information about you, your interactions with the site, and even your interactions with other sites. Basically, cookies make websites and advertisements more customized to the user, providing a more personalized experience. 

There are two different types of cookies: first-party cookies and third-party cookies. 

First-Party Cookies 

A first-party cookie is a piece of text that gets created when a user visits a website. This kind of cookie is created and managed by the website itself. 

First-party cookies can optimize the user experience by remembering:

  1. The user’s name (if provided)
  2. Items in the user’s cart
  3. Language preferences
  4. Other user preferences like light mode or dark mode

If a user had first-party cookies disabled, they would have to log in to sites like Podium, Amazon, and Google, every time they visited them. While this might not sound like a huge deal, inconveniences like having to log in over and over can be a deterrent for users.  

Here’s another example of how first-party cookies customize the user experience.

Let’s say you’re interested in a Podium product, like Campaigns. You visit the Podium site, browse through web pages related to the Campaigns product, and enter your name in the Webchat box. The next time you visit the site, you may see a message such as, “Hey, [YOUR NAME], are you still interested in Podium Campaigns?” 

First-party cookies aren’t just convenient for users—they also provide valuable information to business owners, such as: 

  1. How a user interacts with your site
  2. The number of times a user visited your site
  3. The number of clicks or sessions on a page
  4. Browser type
  5. Basic demographics

However, first-party cookies do not provide any information regarding a user’s online shopping experience on other sites, which can help you advertise more effectively. That’s where third-party cookies come in. 

Third-Party Cookies

Third-party cookies are tracking codes that collect data from websites or organizations other than your own. This data provides an overview of what your users do across multiple sites and can be used to optimize online advertising efforts. 

Again, we’ll use Podium Campaigns as an example. 

Say you’re a small business owner interested in Podium Campaigns, but after a few minutes of browsing Podium’s site, you get distracted and leave. Over the next few days, you might start seeing Podium Campaigns advertisements on sites such as Facebook. These advertisements might include case studies, blog posts, and other relevant content that leads you to look into Podium Campaigns again. 

Sound familiar? If you’ve ever performed a Google search and then noticed that all of the advertisements you see for the next few days are related to that Google search, third-party cookies are likely the culprit. They are collecting data about you and using it to customize your browsing experience. 

The Good, the Bad, the Ugly

We’ve already talked a little about why cookies are useful, but let’s recap.

Cookies allow users to: 

  • Easily find information about products and services that are of interest to them
  • See relevant, interesting advertisements
  • Enjoy a quicker, more simplified checkout experience on e-commerce sites
  • Reap the benefits of a better user experience when browsing websites

Cookies allow businesses to: 

  • Collect powerful data about their website visitors
  • Gain insight into their ideal customers
  • Optimize their marketing campaigns 

So, if cookies are such a powerful tool…why get rid of them? Well, cookies—specifically third-party cookies—have their cons. Are they gathering too much information about users? Are users aware that their data is being collected? 

Because third-party cookies collect so much data, users may feel like their privacy has been violated. Additionally, many people worry that businesses will utilize cookie data in less-than-honorable ways.

These privacy concerns explain why Google and other companies are moving away from third-party cookies. A cookieless future is not just inevitable, but necessary to build more trust with customers. 

Cookieless Data is the Future 

The march towards a cookieless future is not just driven by Google, but by customers as well. Customers want more control over their buying journey, privacy, and a say in how companies communicate with them. 

But how will businesses make up for the loss of the impactful data third-party cookies provided them? It all ties back to customers and what they want—personalized solutions to their problems. And they’re willing to give you data that helps you get there, as long as it’s on their terms.

One of the best ways to do that is to invest in technology that encourages conversation and helps build tailored online experiences. By doing this, businesses can gather data about the people who initiate conversations with them while also building relationships that turn potential customers into lifelong buyers. 

As a business owner, the best thing you can do is start preparing now. You don’t need to wait for the extinction of third-party cookies to put together a non-cookie marketing plan for your business. Companies like Podium are helping small businesses keep up in this brave, new, cookieless world. 

To learn more about how you can modernize your businesses and improve customer experience, check out our complete guide

Erika Cox
Erika Cox Product Marketing Manager

Erika is a Product Marketing Manager over Ecosystem and Mobile at Podium, the premiere marketing and communications platform that connects local businesses with their customers. She is an expert in product positioning, content messaging, and brand awareness.

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