Written by Holly Phillips

October 20, 2021

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For decades, cookies have tracked us online. Ever felt like the internet knows you too well? Perhaps you mentioned a product you wanted to buy, and then you see an ad for it a few minutes later… it’s the cookies! Online targeting and advertising via search engines as we know it would not be possible without cookies. But in January 2020, Google announced it would join other search engines in getting rid of them, and it’s testing new methods for a cookieless future. 

Let’s take a look at how this decision came about, and what the future of digital marketing without third-party cookies looks like. 

A cookie is a small file that stores information about an internet user’s visit to a website. On a website, a cookie can “remember” the web pages you’ve looked at most frequently and items you’ve put in an eCommerce shopping cart.  

Cookies are stored on a) a different domain from where the data they are collecting lives (third-party) or b) from your website (first-party cookies). For example, an ad on your website will store cookies elsewhere, while you may house cookies from your website on your domain. 

Digital ads, such as pay-per-click (PPC), rely on data from third-party cookies because they hold valuable information on web users. This data includes user demographics, but also information about items they’ve looked at, put in a digital shopping cart, or even predictive information (if you recently purchased a coffee pot, get ready to see ads for coffee mugs and accessories).

Google uses third-party cookie data for:

  • Website preferences (such as what language you prefer)
  • Personalization (such as recommended content)
  • Security (for authentication)
  • Analytics (to collect data and provide insights)
  • Advertising (serving, rendering, and personalizing). 

But since Google has plans to phase out its use of third-party cookies by 2023, what happens then? It has a new framework called Federated Learning of Cohorts (FLoC) to replace cookies, among other possible solutions—more on this in a bit.

Let’s explore what some call the “Cookie Apocalypse” will bring in the coming years and how your company can survive (and thrive). 

Why cookies are being phased out 

Google’s announcement stated: “Users are demanding greater privacy—including transparency, choice and control over how their data is used—and it’s clear the web ecosystem needs to evolve to meet these increasing demands.”

Browsers Safari and Firefox have blocked third-party cookies since 2013 to protect users’ privacy. Google has similar sentiments, although it’s not doing away with tracking users completely (we’ll get into this later).

If you’re just now hearing about the third-party cookie data controversy, that’s probably because Google’s Chrome browser has served more traffic than Safari and Firefox combined) for the last six years. Chrome’s significant market share is what makes this announcement to shut down third-party cookies the nail in the coffin. 

Google Chrome gets more web traffic than Safari and Firefox, combined.

Google won’t stop tracking people entirely 

Google has already finished initial trials of FLoC, a mechanism that maintains users’ privacy but still feeds an algorithm to create an “interest cohort” (sort of like a user profile) so the user sees relevant ads based on browsing history. This means marketers can still leverage cookie-like functions for web ads.

Although the interest cohort data isn’t as detailed as the third-party cookie data is, Europe has already banned the FLoC trials for not meeting local user privacy standards. Other browsers, such as Firefox and Edge, already refuse to use FLoC. 

Despite this, Google is still moving forward with FLoC trials in other countries, with plans to use it for Google Ads in the second quarter of 2022. Around that same time, the release of browser Chrome 90 will feature the first iteration of user controls, allowing anyone to turn privacy settings on or off. Turning privacy on means a user would not be tracked, and would not receive tailored ads or content.  

Google’s commitment to privacy

In 2019, Chrome launched Privacy Sandbox, an open-source effort to create technologies that help protect users’ privacy. Google encourages developers, ad tech companies, online publishers, advertisers, and web browsers to collaborate on technology for the Privacy Sandbox.

Google also shared a commitment to support business-consumer relationships that enable first-party data acquisition and to provide tools that help build customer trust with businesses that have historically relied on Google Ads for sales. 

How to thrive in a cookieless future

Given Google’s future plans, how will businesses reach their target audience without third-party cookies? There are a few ways: 

Use first-party data

First-party data—information consumers willingly share with businesses—is now crucial. Companies can capture first-party data via social media conversations, emails, SMS, surveys, and customer service interactions. 

For example, send an email survey to customers asking them about their interests, shopping habits, or what they’re looking for in a brand. You can then use this data to shape marketing campaigns, targeted ads, and products—all without tracking or violating user privacy.

At ManyChat, we acquire first-party data via chat marketing. We have carved a cookie-free path that complies with privacy laws around the world. In fact, we have never used third-party cookies. Read more about our privacy policy

Be where your audience is

Another way to survive without third-party cookies is to be in the same place as your audience. ManyChat helps brands engage with customers seamlessly by allowing both parties to connect on platforms where your audience spends time, such as Facebook or Instagram. If your customers spend most of their time on YouTube, invest time in creating a profile and see what videos resonate with your audience.

Have conversations with consumers

Ever notice how social media app algorithms reward users who interact by showing their content to a larger audience? It shouldn’t come as a surprise, but users like being acknowledged! If a customer comments on an Instagram post, reply or send them a DM. If a user mentions your brand in an Instagram story, say thanks! Interacting is a way to show customers you care, and it builds trust. When consumers trust a business, they’re willing to share helpful information, just as they would with a friend or a colleague. Then you can take this user data to improve your marketing and advertising efforts.

Instagram DM Automation by ManyChat can carry this responsibility by doing the manual work for you via the Story Reply trigger and Comments Automation. For example, let’s say you leave a comment on an Instagram post published by your favorite shoe brand. If this brand uses ManyChat’s Comments Automation, it can instantly and automatically send you a predetermined message.

Once the DM is open with that message, you would enter into a flow the brand created. That flow could include questions from the brand such as, “What kind of shoe are you looking for?” or, “Have you shopped the sale yet?” and the brand can even include answer buttons so you don’t have to type.

This first-party data the brand collects serves the next step in the funnel in real-time. If you say you haven’t shopped the sale, the next step in the flow may be sending you an exclusive coupon for an added discount. Even when you leave the DM, your first-party data remains stored in a contact card in the brand’s ManyChat dashboard.

This is just one way chat marketing can create personalized experiences in a future without third-party cookies.

A solid Chat Marketing strategy can improve your customer journey—from lead generation through marketing and sales. Chat Marketing uses first-party data to make business-customer interactions (such as delivering product recommendations or support articles) more personal and convenient.

It doesn’t hurt that Chat Marketing can happen wherever the customer is most comfortable, whether via SMS, Facebook, or Instagram. Relevant customer conversations are a way to build relationships while guiding the consumer through the sales funnel.

In the coming year, we can expect to see updates from Google on FLoC and its other efforts to protect users’ privacy while still collecting helpful information for ads. 

Don’t fret because your third-party cookies may not be available forever. After it’s all said and done, a successful digital marketing strategy just comes down to having helpful conversations with customers. 

Ready to try ManyChat as you prepare for a cookieless future?

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The contents of this blog were independently prepared and are for informational purposes only. The opinions expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ManyChat or any other party. Individual results may vary.