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Digital marketing in a world without third-party cookies

Safari and Firefox have already eliminated the use of third-party cookies in their browsers. In 2023, Google Chrome will do the same. With that, all of the most popular browsers will have restricted the use of third-party cookies. What are they and why are they being phased out? And what does this mean for the effectiveness of your website or webshop?

What are first- and third-party cookies?

Cookies are small files stored by your browser as you surf the web. These files contain information about the websites you visit and what you have viewed on those websites.

First-party cookies

First-party cookies are essential for websites to function properly. These files are used to keep track of your language choice or the contents of your shopping cart. These cookies are always linked to the website you are visiting and do not share any information with third parties.

Third-party cookies

Third-party cookies are used to provide information to other, third-party platforms.

For example: during a visit to a webshop, a cookie from Google or Facebook keeps track of the fact that you have viewed a specific brand of sports shoe. This system allows the manager of the webshop to consult statistics about the popularity of the product pages. It also allows them to show targeted ads to people who have visited the website before, or who have shown interest in certain product groups.

Privacy threat

Cookies can be a threat to your privacy. They contain personal information about your surfing habits. Sometimes the data of all cookies on a computer are combined in a practice called 'finger printing.' It's like putting together a jigsaw puzzle to create a very detailed picture of a user.

Since the introduction of the GDPR directives, the protection of online privacy has become increasingly strict. Website visitors must now give explicit permission for websites to use cookies. One step further is the complete elimination of third-party cookies, which Safari and Firefox have already done, and which Google Chrome will do in 2023.

Alternatives to map online behavior

It's not surprising that Google is taking longer to adapt the Chrome browser. A significant part of the ad revenue of platforms like Google, Facebook and Instagram depends on whether or not they can show targeted ads.

Now that the old techniques are in question, Google has set up an alternative with its Privacy Sandbox project. Within this project, Google is looking for different techniques to map online behavior, without violating privacy. These are a few of the possible approaches:

  • Topics API: the browser does not keep track of specific URLs anymore, but instead tracks broad interest groups to which the visited website belongs.

  • Floc API: Data is no longer collected on the personal level, but on larger user groups (flocs).

  • Fledge: A system that lets the browser keep track of usage without downloading cookies. Afterwards, this data is shared anonymously with platforms such as Google Analytics. This way, websites and advertising platforms can no longer make a direct connection with the user's computer.

What does this mean for the online marketer?

Despite all the potential alternatives, we can expect that the possibilities for targeting and re-targeting will strongly decrease. This will force marketers to review all communication channels. Channels that can be used today for conversion will in the future focus on awareness. It comes down to finding out again where your target audience is and how you can reach them. These are some techniques to reach your target audience in a post-cookie era:

  • Contextual marketing. On which websites, platforms, online magazines, etc., can you find your target group? Make sure you are in the spotlight there too.

  • First-party data. Build your own interest group or platform. This can be done by building an e-mail database but also by gaining followers in social media.

If you work with a platform where users have to log in (e.g. an online academy), you can still keep track of their interests and communicate in a targeted way.

  • Organic reach. SEO is dead, long live SEO. If it's hard to find your target audience online, make sure they can find you.

  • Inbound marketing. Invest in valuable online contact moments in all steps of the buyer’s journey. This way, visitors find the way to your story, your products and perhaps even become an online ambassador for your brand.

At Living Stone, we are focused on the marketing trends of today, and the developments that are shaping the future. If you would like to talk to us about your marketing goals, and how you can achieve your objectives in this changing landscape, please contact Anne-Mie by email at, or call +32 (0)55 59 10 07.


How We're Protecting Your Online Privacy - The Privacy Sandbox

Topics API: Relevant Ads without Cookies - The Privacy Sandbox

The Privacy Sandbox: Technology for a More Private Web

Support custom audience targeting using FLEDGE | Android Developers

Anne-Mie Vansteelant
Anne-Mie Vansteelant
COO | Managing Partner at Living Stone

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