Third-party cookies have long been the go-to resource for consumer data collection, particularly for targeted marketing and advertising campaigns. But privacy and cybersecurity concerns, along with increasing governmental regulation, have major internet and technology companies phasing out third-party cookies.

It’s time to adapt, and first-party data is the way of the future.

Who’s taking your cookies?

For the uninitiated, third-party cookies are data tracking codes created and managed by an outside service to collect data for your company’s benefit. Cookies collect user data across websites, pages, and devices, primarily for the purpose of targeted advertising.

Here’s how it works. When you own a business, you want to be sure your ads reach the right people. If your company rents vacation homes, you subscribe to an ad network to target consumers researching travel, vacations, and private getaways. If, on the other hand, you own an obedience training school, you would subscribe to an ad network for consumers researching dog breeds, crate training, and the best dog food for puppies.

Using third-party cookies to collect data was, until recently, the smartest choice for gathering information on potential customers. The data is more reliable, and it allows for personalized, targeted ads, which generate more revenue than broad, general advertising campaigns.

But as internet users grow increasingly privacy-conscious, it’s more common for people to clear their cookies or use tracking blockers, and many have complained about cookies as an invasion of their privacy. These complaints aren’t unwarranted. Cookies track a user’s internet activity across many sites — no matter how unrelated they may be to the original website. Others worry about data breaches and other possible security risks. As a result of the ongoing outcry, major web browsers are phasing out the use of third-party cookies in favor of less controversial first-party data collection.

What is first-party data?

First-party data is collected directly by the company that intends to use it. Rather than operating through an outside service, first-party data is collected from websites and other sources owned by the company. This means the data belongs to the company, as opposed to a third-party service.

First-party data doesn’t present the same privacy concerns as third-party cookies because it’s collected with the consent of the individual to which it pertains through sources directly connected to your company. This can be data requested via the company website in exchange for discounts or additional content, or it might be gathered via consumer surveys and other methods of market research. Your company collects the data for its own use according to a stated privacy policy.

Consumers have less worry that confidential data from one site will be viewed and collected by every other web page they’ve visited since they last cleared their cookies.

A world without cookies

Ready or not, third-party cookies are going away. As you prepare for a world without cookies, enhance your first-party data collection approach with these essential steps:

  • Provide the compelling products, services, and content consumers want. You can no longer rely on completely customized content because the data you collect will not be as specific and comprehensive. Use the data you can collect to create products, services, and content to appeal to a wider audience.
  • Establish systems to collect data on company channels. This can mean first-party data, email lists, or even Google’s Privacy Sandbox. Research data collection tools and channel options to find those that work best for your company’s circumstances and marketing strategy.
  • Prepare for contextual advertising. Now that specific, customized ads are less of an option, consider setting up advertisements tied to website content that adds value for your target market. Because these ads relate to content the consumer opts in to view, they’re almost guaranteed to reach an interested audience. Camping equipment companies can’t target customers researching sleeping bags anymore, so their future efforts should focus on websites promoting the joys of outdoor living.
  • Set up personalized email newsletters. Reach out to the consumer. Email newsletters aren’t just an efficient way to share company information. They can also be used to collect consumer data. Send out surveys and questionnaires to get consumers interested in sharing their opinions.

People value their privacy and the security of their personal information. Third-party cookies are increasingly perceived as a threat to information security. Phase out targeted advertising efforts that rely on third-party data, and turn your attention to first-party data collection and contextual advertising. By preparing in advance, your company can avoid the fallout when cookies are gone for good.

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