Marketers have been using third-party cookies for years to track website visitors and collect data that helps target ads to the right audiences. This allows brands to learn more about what their website visitors are engaging with online – even after they’ve left the brand’s website.
However, this tactic appears poised to change, raising a new question for higher ed marketing teams: Is digital advertising now dead?
Google is phasing out third-party cookies – so what?
In early March 2021, Google shared their commitment to user privacy when they announced that once third-party cookies are phased out, they will not develop alternate ways to track individuals as they browse different sites across the web. This news comes a year after they announced that Google Chrome would stop supporting third-party cookies within the next two years, following the trend of increased privacy protections already being implemented by other browsers like Safari and Firefox.
To summarize, this news means Google will stop selling web ads targeted to individual users’ browsing habits. Additionally, its Chrome browser will no longer allow cookies that collect that data. This means organizations, including many colleges and universities, that rely on data from third-party cookies will have to find another way to target users.
With these announcements, you’ve likely seen articles or headlines stating that digital marketing efforts will no longer be effective. However, while this will have an impact on traditional digital marketing efforts, it’s by no means the end of digital advertising.
First-party vs. third-party cookies
While third-party cookies are on the way out, they aren’t the only cookies that web browsers currently leverage. There are currently two main types of cookies that store information in your web browser: first-party cookies and third-party cookies. There is little difference between these two types of cookies from a fundamental perspective. Both store similar pieces of information and can perform the same types of functions. The main difference between them is who they are created by – and what they are used for.
- First-party cookies are created by the host domain (the website the user is currently visiting) and only the host domain can read the information stored in them. These cookies are used to collect analytics data, save information from previous visits (e.g., usernames, items in cart and other preferences) and help provide a better experience for the user. First-party cookies are generally accepted as beneficial because they can provide a more positive user experience and they don’t invoke the same type of privacy concerns that third-party cookies do.
- Third-party cookies are created by domains other than the one a user is currently visiting. They are primarily used for tracking a user’s behavior across multiple websites – and for advertising. This type of cookie has drawn increased criticism as users have become more concerned about their privacy and data protection while browsing the internet. Previously, adtracker.com could put their third-party cookies all over the web and stitch together a user’s web behavior as they navigated across the internet. Then all that web behavior data could be used to target the user with very specific advertisements. Without third-party cookies, this unrestricted level of tracking will no longer be possible.
Connecting and centralizing first-party data is now key to informing marketing efforts
If you’re a higher ed marketer who’s relied on third-party data for online audience targeting strategies, there are still ways you can continue to effectively target potential students. At Collegis Education, we have been effectively leveraging first-party cookies for our college and university partners’ websites, making it possible to track basic data about website visitors without relying on someone else’s information. We understand that without third-party cookies more marketers will become increasingly reliant on first-party cookies and other sources of first-party data.
To be successful with your marketing efforts, you will need to be able to centralize and connect all your first-party data. This data can come from Google Analytics, marketing automation tools, CRM systems and/or other data sources. Once connected, it creates a single, streamlined source of truth that can help inform all your marketing efforts. This can help build audiences, create personalization and enable machine learning media optimization.
All of these things will become increasingly important as third-party cookies become obsolete. If you haven’t begun thinking about what your institution’s marketing efforts will look like once this shift takes place, you should start now.