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A World Without Cookies! What the FLoC?

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How to Prepare for Digital Marketing Without Cookies

Summary:

For businesses and digital marketers, the Cookiepocalypse became real when Google announced it would stop supporting third-party cookies in 2022. Cookies help create a better user experience on websites, but also allow for more targeted advertising. Privacy concerns have led to reimagining a better, more privacy-focused way of being able to serve targeted ads, but many marketers are concerned about how this could impact their businesses. They should be concerned, but probably not as much as most are.

Table of Contents:

What are cookies?
Why are cookies going away?
There are two main types of cookies
First Party Cookies
Third Party Cookies
When are cookies going away?
What the FLoC? Google’s Third-Party Cookie Alternative.
How should marketers prepare for a world without cookies?

What are cookies?

In the simplest terms, cookies are a way to identify your computer or device when browsing the web. They come in the form of a small text file and are extremely helpful in creating a good user experience as well as allowing advertisers to serve more relevant ads.

Why are cookies going away?

In general, people have become more aware of cookies and how they’re used and have expressed concerns about privacy. Many people think it’s creepy that a company somewhere could potentially know a ton of personal information about them. Makes sense.

And that's the way the cookie crumbles.

Many browsers like Safari and Firefox have been blocking third-party cookies for years now, so the big fuss is really about Google announcing they would stop using cookies by 2022 in their Chrome browser. Google’s Chrome browser represents 48.51% of the browser market share in the U.S. and 65.2% worldwide, so yeah it’s kind of a big deal.

Graph of browser market share in the United States

There are two main types of cookies

First-Party Cookies

First-party cookies are the ones used to improve a user’s experience when browsing a website. The good news is that these are not going away!!! Phew!!! First-party cookies will continue to help remember your preferences like your favorite sports team, weather preferences, if you want to save your login information, or showing you products you recently viewed.

Third-Party Cookies

Third-party cookies are the ones really under fire. Third-party cookies allow advertisers to more effectively target ads to individuals based on their browsing history. As the name third-party implies, these cookies are not from the actual website you’re visiting, but from a third-party. They could be from ads (or other tracking) or other scripts served by that website.

When are cookies going away?

Well, originally Google announced that it would phase out cookies in 2022, but Google just updated their timeline and said, “Chrome could then phase out third-party cookies over a three month period, starting in mid-2023 and ending in late 2023.”

Here is some more information on their updated timeline:

“After this public development process, and subject to our engagement with the CMA, our plan for Chrome is to phase out support for third-party cookies in two stages:

  • Stage 1 (Starting late-2022): Once testing is complete and APIs are launched in Chrome, we will announce the start of stage 1. During stage 1, publishers and the advertising industry will have time to migrate their services. We expect this stage to last for nine months, and we will monitor adoption and feedback carefully before moving to stage 2.
  • Stage 2 (Starting mid-2023): Chrome will phase out support for third-party cookies over a three-month period finishing in late 2023.”

What the FLoC? Google’s Third-Party Cookie Alternative.

FLoC stands for Federated Learning of Cohorts and is Google’s proposed tracking alternative to third-party cookies.

If you want to get super nerdy, you can download the white paper Evaluation of Cohort Algorithms for the FLoC API and grab a cup of coffee. If that’s not your thing, here is a short overview:

FLoC uses machine learning to create ‘groups of interest’ while protecting the individual’s privacy. The information is processed on the user’s device, encrypted to protect the anonymity of the user, and then uploaded. If you think about it, other than the potential delay of data from it being processed on a user’s device, the actual targeting could be extremely granular. A user could be associated with 10’s of 1,000’s of actual ‘groups of interest’. Google has done some testing and reported that it was 95% as accurate as the current third-party cookie solution.

How should marketers prepare for a world without cookies?

Besides deep breathing and meditation, I’d highly recommend chilling the FLoC out. It’s not quite as bad as everyone thinks.

First, it’s important to educate yourself. I hope my article above provided a little more clarity.

A common question we’ve received from clients is, “Will my Google Search ads be negatively impacted by the loss of cookies?” The short answer is no. If you’re running straight Google Search campaigns your campaigns won’t be negatively impacted at all. This is because you’re targeting predominantly by keyword, not by audience.

Ad campaigns that use audience-based targeting (like remarketing and in-market segments) could potentially be impacted because the way the data is collected and processed is going to change. This won’t happen until mid-2023 though. See FLoC explanation and timeline above.

It sounds like Google is planning for a nine-month window to do testing. My hope is that this will become widely available and if you have access you should definitely take advantage of it. This will allow you to better understand the new audience data collection methods (assuming you’re running any campaigns that rely on this) and try to get a baseline for the difference between the two models.

I’d also recommend communicating these changes and setting expectations with anyone that relies on this data. You should definitely create a note in Google Ads and annotate the change in Google Analytics. This will allow you to better understand how these changes are impacting your attribution data and results.

You can also prepare team members to let them know that there will need to be some updates/changes to tracking codes.

Going forward, it will be even more valuable to get good at collecting first-party data (email, crm data, first-party cookies, etc.) as you can continue to utilize this to enhance your overall strategy and targeting.

While I hope this goes without saying, you should always be looking to create a comprehensive marketing strategy that relies on in-depth customer insights to determine the proper channel and tactic mix (SEO, PPC, social media, email/data collection, automation, etc.) to grow your brand, improve sales, and create diversity. This will position you to be more effective and also less reliant on one specific tactic.

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