At some point your life, you’ve probably had a run-in with ads generated by third-party cookies.
Think about it. Have you ever browsed an online store, then gone on to a social media network just to see a pop-up advertisement for the exact products you just looked at? Unless you’ve given your email to the ecommerce store you visited, this ad was likely generated with third-party cookie data.
When you visit a site that generates third-party cookies, the site places a tracking code — or cookie — on your browser. The code then allows that website to learn about the other sites you’re visiting and builds a user profile around you. This enables brands and advertisers to generate and launch the sometimes creepily pinpointed ads.
Third-party cookies are different from first-party cookies, which can only give brand information about the sessions a user has on its own site.
According to a number of publications, Google Chrome will only phase out third-party cookies, while first-party data is still intact. And, since Safari and Firefox blocked third-party tracking years ago, this strategy was already becoming outdated.
However, while this move won’t heavily impact some brands, advertisers who’ve relied on third-party Chrome data for their strategies are frantically wondering. “How will I create the same sense of hyper-personalization without the third-party cookie?”
In fact, a number of advertising agencies and organizations have already spoken out against Google’s move. Meanwhile, some marketers are also concerned that Chrome’s third-party cookie phaseout will force brands will have to use Google Ads to create the pinpointed ads they used to launch.
The truth is — there’s plenty of alternatives to both advertising and tracking fueled by third-party data. And, many marketers are already actively using and benefiting from them.
Below, I’ll walk you through four alternatives to hyper-targeted third-party ads as well as three ways you can continue to track your audiences without third-party data.
While some of the tactics on this list will take a bit more time and strategic energy to execute on than automatic ads generated with third-party data, these alternatives can still help you learn about your audience target, develop a buyer persona, and pinpoint ads or marketing materials to the right prospects.
Alternatives to Hyper-Targeted Ads Driven by Third-Party Cookies
1. Circulate content in email newsletters and email-based ads.
When someone signs up for a newsletter subscription, they’ve discovered your brand or website and decided that they want to learn more about your company, your services, or your industry. So, by subscribing, they’re already indicating that they want to see more of your content.
As an email marketer, emailing your subscriber audience with a mix of content and product offers related to your industry is a low-hanging fruit opportunity. Because your email subscribers are ready and willing to learn about your business or product, they’re likely to engage with what you send them — even if this means they just read and remember your campaigns.
Additionally, if your larger subscription audience holds two or more types of audiences, you can segment your lists and send emails to specific demographics. For example, if your company sells sales and marketing software, you can send certain offers to subscribers in marketing roles and subscribers in sales roles.
As an advertiser, you can also leverage another company’s email newsletter for your sponsored content. For example, if you discover a non-competing company or publication in your industry with a huge email list, you might want to consider placing an ad in their newsletter. Although this audience didn’t subscribe or show interest in your own newsletter, these subscribers have already shown interest in learning about your industry or products sold within it. Because of this, they might engage with your ad, offer, or content.
Need more convincing, nearly 60% of consumers say marketing emails influence their purchasing decisions while U.S. brands spent an estimated $350 million on email ads just last year. Right now, it’s clear that email marketing is alive and well. If you aren’t using it already, you might want to add this to your product marketing strategy.
2. Launch targeted ads on social media.
Social media advertising tools allow you to launch hyper-targeted ads, or target promoted social media posts, to people in your industry, target demographic, or show similarities to your own page’s followers. These ads also often allow you to take advantage of contact list retargeting, which you can learn about in the next list item. Here’s an example of one paid Pringles promotion which was likely circulated to Rick and Morty fans on Twitter, as well as audiences within the show’s demographic:
If you’re a B2C brand, social media advertising could be especially helpful to you on platforms like Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram. For those in the B2B industry, targeted ads could be incredibly beneficial on professional networks like LinkedIn. Additionally, if you’re interested in creating video content to market your product within a number of industries, you can also upload and launch optimized video ads to YouTube.
3. Test out contact list retargeting.
Retargeting is when you upload your own contact list to a platform, such as social media networks or search engines. Then the platform’s ad program either targets your content to users that share the same email, or a mirror audience that shares similar demographics to those on your email list.
While third-party cookies allowed advertisers to automatically launch pop-ups and ads to people who’d visited certain websites across the web, retargeting is a more manual process that similarly allows you to target users that are interested in your product or service after simply uploading your contact list.
One example of just one of the many websites that allows you to do this is Pinterest. In a recent blog post, a PPC consultant highlighted how he used retargeting lists on Pinterest to upsell one company’s current customers, To do this, he uploaded a list of customer contacts to Pinterest’s ad tool. Then, when ads were launched, Pinterest users who had purchased something from the company saw content promoting a higher-priced product from the same store. According to the case study, the company was able to upsell many contacts through this process.
4. Consider Google’s Privacy Sandbox in the near future.
While Chrome will no longer use the third-party cookie, Google will still allow advertisers to use Chrome’s first-party cookies to target ads. Chrome will reportedly allow brands to use its first-party cookie, while still protecting the data of Chrome users, via Google’s proposed Privacy Sandbox.
At this point, Google has only announced plans for the Privacy Sandbox, so it’s still unclear how it will work and what the interface will look like. However, since it will leverage Chrome data, marketers expect that this will allow advertisers similar hyper-targeting similarly to third-party cookies.
In a January 2020 interview with Digiday, Amit Kotecha, a marketing director at data management platform provider Permutive, explained the key features of the proposed Sandbox:
“The most significant item in the Privacy Sandbox is Google’s proposal to move all user data into the [Chrome] browser where it will be stored and processed,” said Kotecha. “This means that data stays on the user’s device and is privacy compliant. This is now table stakes and the gold standard for privacy.”
If you’re an advertiser, you should continue to follow news about the Privacy Sandbox in the near future. This will help you learn more about how it will work and how you can leverage it for your own campaigns in the future.
Alternatives to Third-Party Cookie Tracking
1. Leverage email marketing data.
Because people need to subscribe to your email list, marketing email is one of the best ways to learn about what your most loyal audiences want to consume or learn about. And, according to Digiday, many publishers are quickly creating strategies that allow them to learn from their e-newsletters.
For example, if you create a newsletter with a few different types of blog posts featured, you can see how many people are clicking on each link. With this information, you can determine which blog posts are most clickable to your audience and which they are less interested in. This data can guide you to create a content strategy where you’re creating more of the “clickable” content and less of the content which seems less popular.
Aside from learning about which content is most clickable, you can also use interactive features in your emails, such as surveys and polls, to learn more about your audience, their demographics, and what motivates them, This combination of qualitative and quantitative data can help you create, refine, or improve on your buyer persona.
Monitor Social Media Insights
Since you use social media to learn about your current audiences as well as similar groups you might also want to draw to your website, you can use the data you capture on these networks to learn what your audiences will engage with and what types of strategies will help you grow your audiences.
Aside from getting insights on how well your posts or certain types of published content are performing on a given social platform, you can also get valuable information about your following, such as their age range, location, and other demographic information. For example, here’s an image of age demographics that you can find on a YouTube video’s analytics dashboard:
Additionally, while third-party cookies allowed you to see what other websites your visitors had been on, some social media networks can show you other insights to give you an idea of what your competitive landscape looks like.
For example, if you have a Facebook Business page, you can use Facebook Audience Insights to see a list and basic data about how your page stacks up to similar Facebook pages in your industry. This can give you an idea about what similar audiences are looking at other than your own page. With this information, you can identify who your competitors are and look at their own social media marketing strategy to identify what they’re doing better than you and where you can improve upon their tactics.
Use your CMS or website’s first-party data.
Third-party cookies might be getting phased out, but if you primarily use your website’s CMS for analytics, you’ve likely already been using first-party cookies primarily. Since a CMS, like HubSpot’s, usually uses first-party cookies to track basic demographics, visits, setting, and other visitor preferences, you can still gain and leverage a lot of first-party data to create solid campaigns or content strategies.
To give you a better idea of what you can do with a CMS, here’s a screenshot that shows off HubSpot’s list of analytics tools:
A World Without Third-Party Cookies
Ultimately, Google’s third-party phase-out is just one of many moves made to make the internet safer for users. And, because the third-party cookie was already blocked on other browsers, including Safari and Firefox, marketers have already begun to move on from using this type of data.
While the loss of the third-party cookie might be shocking to some marketers, many of the advertisers who were still leveraging it will be adapt eventually due to the many new ways that we can collect and leverage data online.
However, the most important lesson this phaseout teaches marketers and advertisers is to not rely on one avenue or technology for data gathering and ad production. While those who’ve used a number of advertising strategies and alternatives along with third-party data will adapt more easily to this change, companies that have relied on the third-party cookie for all or most of their advertising might have to scramble to test new alternatives.
To learn more about the proposed third-party cookie phaseout, the advertising industry’s response, and the controversies related to the move, check out this blog post.