A Cookie-less Future? The New Future of Digital Marketing

Editor’s note: This post was originally published in August 2021 and has been updated for comprehensiveness.

Consumer privacy has been a hot-button topic over the past few years. While Safari and Firefox have long blocked third-party cookies to protect their users’ privacy by default (though users can turn them on), Apple reignited the conversation when they introduced App Tracking Transparency in their iOS 14.5 update in 2021. This allowed users to approve which apps can track their activities.

After a series of delays, Google has finally started phasing out third-party cookies on Chrome and is expected to have this completed by the end of 2024. However, unlike Safari and Firefox, they will not offer an option for users to turn on cookies.

Even if Google decides to delay its phase-out again, the cookie era is coming to an end. This shift towards a cookie-less future may seem overwhelming for home builder marketers who heavily rely on these tracking mechanisms. Here’s everything you need to know to prepare for this new future.

Cookies: first-party vs third-party

Not all cookies are the same. There are two main types: first-party and third-party cookies. Let’s breakdown the difference.

First-party cookie: first-party cookies are created by the website a user is visiting. These cookies allow the website owner or company to collect analytics data, remember user settings (including passwords) and perform other functions that provide a good user experience. These types of cookies are only accessible on that specific website.

Third-party cookie: third-party cookies are created by a separate company, typically an Adtech company and placed on a website by a line of code, script, or tag. These cookies are most often used for online advertising. Unlike first-party cookies, third-party cookies can be accessed by any website that runs the third-party’s code.

Third-party cookies are why you see ads for items you were looking at in an online shop or why you get emails encouraging you to complete a purchase or sharing recommendations for other items you may be interested in.

How will digital marketing change?

If your digital marketing strategy was dependent on third-party data for targeting, you’re probably worried about what’s next. Thankfully some marketing tactics are remaining the same while new options are emerging.

Advertisers are returning to older strategies that target based on keywords. Google Ads is still an effective option for home builder marketers, along with contextual advertising. Contextual advertising is advertising on a website that is relevant to the page’s content. This type of targeted advertising uses keywords and other metadata (this is why SEO remains important) to decide which ads to serve.

Google may be ending its use of third-party data but it will invest in other tracking alternatives. One such option includes its Privacy Sandbox. Still in development, Google hopes to create technology that could allow marketers to serve relevant ads while still protecting user privacy.

In addition to the Privacy Sandbox, Google has introduced the Topics API as a replacement for the failed FloC algorithm. Topics aims to anonymize user data by creating cohort profiles based on the subject-matter of the websites they visit. This allows individuals to hide in a group of people with similar interests while keeping that person’s web history private.

Advertisers are actively looking for solutions and developing new tools to adjust to the new normal. To be honest, third-party cookies lost some effectiveness once Safari and Firefox implemented ad blocking.

What home builder marketers should do next

Just because the industry is turning away from third-party cookies is no reason to panic. Right now, the best thing to do is stay updated about data privacy news that could impact your business. Begin looking for alternative software and tools that can help you transition away from third-party cookies and also look inwards. Here are strategies you can implement to adapt to this new reality and continue delivering personalized experiences to your audience.

Focus on first-party data: With the demise of third-party cookies, investing in first-party data will be crucial for understanding your audience and their preferences. By collecting data directly from your website visitors through forms, surveys, and interactions, you can build a more accurate picture of who they are and what they’re interested in. This will enable you to create targeted campaigns without relying on third-party cookies.

Implement contextual targeting: Instead of relying on tracking users across the web, consider shifting towards contextual targeting. This means placing ads based on the content of the webpage rather than individual user behavior. By aligning your ads with relevant content, you can still reach your target audience without compromising their privacy.

Explore alternative technologies: While third-party cookies have been a staple in digital marketing for years, alternative technologies are emerging that can help fill the gap. For example, Google’s Privacy Sandbox is working on developing new solutions for ad targeting that prioritize user privacy. Stay informed about these developments and be prepared to adopt new tools as they become available.

Build trust with transparent data practices: In a cookie-less world, transparency around data collection and usage will be more important than ever. Be clear with your audience about how their information is being collected and used, and give them control over their preferences. By building trust with your customers, you can foster stronger relationships and loyalty in the long run.

Test and optimize your strategies: As we navigate this transition towards a cookie-less future, it’s important to continuously test and optimize your marketing strategies. Monitor key metrics like engagement rates, conversion rates, and customer feedback to understand what’s working well and where improvements can be made. Stay agile and be willing to adapt as needed.

The end of third-party cookies may mark a significant shift in digital marketing practices, but it also presents an opportunity for home builders to prioritize user privacy and deliver more personalized experiences through alternative means. With a strong content marketing strategy and using available technology and tools to your benefit, there’s no need to be all doom and gloom about the “cookieless future.”

Need help with your digital marketing strategy? With over 27 years of experience working exclusively with home builders, we know what works. Connect with us to see how we can help fine-tune your digital marketing strategy.