Four alternatives to the third-party cookie

It’s official: the third-party cookie’s days are numbered. But what can replace it? We look at four potential alternatives advertisers are using.

As we learned recently, Google has delayed its plans to scrap third-party cookies from its Chrome browser until late 2023 – two years later than its original proposed time frame.

But while the third-party cookie may be around on Chrome for a while longer, it’s days are still numbered, and wise advertisers are already seeking alternatives.

So, if you don’t want to rely on the third party cookie, what are your options? Let’s look at four solutions advertisers are already using.

Why are cookies going away?

But before we do, let’s quickly clarify what type of cookie is disappearing, and why. The good news is that Google’s announcement only affects third-party cookies, which are placed on websites via a third party (hence their name). First-party cookies, which are created and stored by a website when a user visits it and help browsers to remember data like users’ passwords and items left in carts, will still remain.

There has been a crackdown on third-party cookies because of fears over loss of privacy, and what could happen to users’ data if it was in the wrong hands or abused. (You can read more about the history of cookies and the difference between first and third-party cookies here.)

And it’s not just Google that has had the third-party cookie in its sights:

  • In 2010 the Federal Trade Commission requested that social networking sites and browser developers create a ‘do not track’ cookie system.
  • 2011, the e-Privacy Directive changed the law regarding cookies in the European Union, requiring website owners to tell visitors about the cookies they use and gain their consent.
  • In 2017 Apple rolled out Intelligent Tracking Prevention (ITP), which limited the ability for website owners and advertising platforms to track users across domains by purging third-party cookies after 30 days.
  • In May 2019 Google announced changes that enabled Chrome users to delete cookies used for online ad targeting without losing first-party data.
  • In 2018, GDPR came into force, preventing websites from relying on implicit opt-in, where a website displays a cookie banner but the user continues to browse.
  • Also in 2018, the California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA) introduced new data privacy rights for California residents, including giving consumers the right to opt out of the collection and sale of their personal information to third parties.

What can replace the third-party cookie?

So if you’re not able to use the third-party cookie, what IS the alternative? Here are four potential solutions.

1) Use first-party data

Your first option is to use the first-party data you already have, and gather as much new first-party data as possible. First-party data is data people provide you with directly. This includes email addresses, phone numbers, purchase behaviour, and preferences.

You’ll already have some first-party data – email addresses and other customer details. You can also gather more by asking people to provide you with their email address and other information to log into areas of your website, or providing valuable content (known as ‘lead magnets’) in return for their details. (When gathering and storing first-party data it’s always important that you comply with any laws and regulations.)

But while first-party data enables you to communicate with people who already know and like you, it doesn’t help you bring new people into your customer lifecycle. Which significantly limits your advertising reach – and profits. And without third-party cookies tracking user behaviour, you’ll have limited insights on the customers who are already in your lifecycle.

2) Use contextual targeting

If you want your ad to be successful you need to ensure it’s seen by the right people, in the right place, at the right time. And one way to ensure this without relying on third-party cookies is to use contextual targeting.

In contextual targeting, display adverts are placed on websites and/or pages that are directly relevant to the product or service being promoted in the ad. It’s the same strategy that search engines use – placing ads whose content relates to the subject of searches.

However, while on the face of it contextual targeting makes sense, when used in its basic form it has limitations. For example, you have no idea where the users you are serving your ads to are in the buying lifecycle. Nor can you know where they live or any other demographic information that can help ensure that the people seeing your ads actually need what you are selling right now.

All of this means you can’t tailor your message to their state of mind right now (ticking the ‘right time’ box). So while in theory your ad might be on a website your ideal customer visits, your ads might be seen by the wrong people, or contain the wrong messaging.

3) Use walled gardens

Another alternative to third-party data is to use walled gardens like Google, Facebook, Amazon, Pinterest, Twitter, and TikTok.

The benefit of using a walled garden is gaining access to their first-party data, as these platforms can track consumers across devices when they are logged in. You can also use them to collect your own first-party data from their audiences.

However there are limitations to using walled gardens. To start with you are restricted to the people logged onto their platforms. And as we discovered during the Facebook boycott, while they may appear to be delivering results, that appearance can be deceptive as the attribution only counts the last click.

4) Use consenTag and ActiveID

Over the past few years we’ve been perfecting our own technology that replaces the role of the third-party cookie. Our solution includes our own consenTag, which manages consent, and our non-cookie-based user targeting and attribution technology ActiveID, which allows advertisers to accurately target without cookies.

Our combined solution works by managing consent preferences, using relevant targeting for better performance, and joining the dots with attribution. This enables us to successfully reach users at at all stages of the customer lifecycle without using third-party cookies, as we are doing right now in Apple and Firefox browsers.

Our unique technology also means that we don’t need to build alternate identifiers to track individuals as they browse across the web, nor will we use them in our products. Instead, our web products are powered by privacy-preserving APIs which prevent individual tracking while still delivering industry-beating results for advertisers and publishers.

How will you replace the third-party cookie?

The third-party cookie may have been given a stay of execution by Google, but the day will come when it will disappear – and soon. And the smart advertisers aren’t waiting until it no longer works to find a viable solution that will deliver the results they need while being fully complaint.

If you’d like to learn more about how we can help you, and the results we’re already getting for our clients, get in touch for a no-obligation chat