Cookieless Advertising: Strategies and Solutions

Jun 6, 2024
Jun 5, 2024

Cookies have long been a crucial part of digital advertising and marketing. However, times are changing fast, and with users and governments raising concerns about data privacy, more cookie regulations are emerging. What’s more, cookie deprecation seems to be inevitable. Google has announced that they will delay the deprecation of third-party cookies for Chrome until the first quarter of 2025, so advertisers have more time for a smoother transition into a cookieless future

In this post, we'll dive into strategies and solutions for cookieless social media and Google advertising, keeping in mind growing privacy regulations.

Audience segmentation and user targeting without cookies

Even though Google has already postponed cookie deprecation twice since it initially announced it, the advertisers are still actively preparing for inevitable changes. There is yet so much confusion about how advertising will work without cookies.

One of the best ways of preparing for the cookieless future of advertising is to leverage your first-party data with the help of retargeting and lookalike audiences. Naturally, most advertisers do not rely solely on first-party data; they happily utilize third-party data.

However, such practices are in danger at the onset of cookie deprecation. While advertisers try to make the most of third-party data when it’s still available, it’s only wise to test some alternative approaches.

  • Google Topics API is a solution that labels a participating website with a topic from a pre-defined list. The Topic API assigns users a new topic every week based on their browsing history. Participating sites can choose three topics to show targeted ads to the user. All the topic data is stored on the user’s browser for better user data security and privacy. Users can review and delete their data if they wish.
  • Second-party data is another great tool for audience segmentation. When companies exchange data through partnership, collaboration, or company merger, each party receives valuable first-party data from their partner. This way, a company can get a new audience segment to tailor their ads. For instance, a yoga app business can partner with a sporting goods store and cross-reference user databases.
  • Social media is one more tool for gathering and segmenting first-party user data for segmentation. On social media, breaking down and organizing your target audiences based on shared characteristics like demographic information, behavioral habits, and geographic location is quite easy. Social media platforms allow advertisers to target their ads to precise audience segments.
  • Contextual advertising is a proven tactic to reach the needed audience segment without overstepping privacy boundaries. It is proven that the context in which an ad appears significantly impacts its effectiveness. Advertisers can target audiences based on specific interests, relevant events, seasons, topics, etc.
  • Retargeting is definitely more challenging in a cookieless world, but that doesn’t mean it’s impossible. With the right tools and data, you can reach the audience segments you want with ads tailored to their needs best.

Can Google Ads be cookieless? Naturally, when third-party cookies are phased out completely, Google Ads will have to shift to a more privacy-focused approach or switch to using first-party cookies. The easiest way to use first-party cookies for Google Ads is by configuring server-side Google Ads tracking.

Focus on first-party data

Google Ads will most likely rely more on first-party data. Currently, there are two ways how to leverage first-party data in Google Ads:

  • Google Ads enhanced conversions. The key element when configuring enhanced conversions is to configure a user-provided data variable that will deliver user-provided data, such as email, phone number, first and last name, etc., to Google.
  • Offline Google Ads conversion tracking. It allows sharing first-party data that was colelcted through offline data sources like CRMs, CMS, leads, etc.

Google Ads is enhancing its conversion tracking with first-party data and machine-learning models. This way, conversion tracking becomes accurate without any third-party cookies.

Privacy Sandbox Initiatives

  • Federated Learning of Cohorts (FLoC) proposes grouping users into large cohorts based on similar online behavior. It allows advertisers to target users without identifying them.
  • Topics API is a newer initiative that replaces FLoC. The idea is that a browser assigns several topics to a user every week, and the user gets targeted ads based on these topics.

Contextual targeting

Google Ads can use contextual data instead of relying on user-specific data. This means that the ads will be served based on the web page's content the user is viewing. This method will work without tracking the user across different sites. Instead of monitoring the user, criteria like keywords, topics, and content themes are analyzed to display relevant ads. 

Social Media ads without cookies

Social media is probably one of the advertising locations where the cookie apocalypse storm is just a sprinkle of rain. In other words, social media ads can work just fine without cookies. How? They have strong allies: platform algorithms, massive user-provided data, and contextual advertising. Let’s take a look at each of them a bit closer.

Social media platforms analyze user behavior within the platform with the help of machine learning and sophisticated algorithms. Likes, shares, follows, and other ways of interacting with the platform content give advertisers a good idea of how and what ads to cater to the users.

Social media users provide platforms they use with a lot of information voluntarily. Such information can include details that are really valuable for advertisers, like age, gender, location, interests, etc. User-provided data is first collected when a user signs up for the platform and is further enriched as they continue using it.

Contextual advertising is a powerful strategy on social media. Based on the pages the user views, ads are shown without tracking user behavior.

Lastly, platforms can use device and browser fingerprints, such as device, screen resolution, font, and so on, to create an identifier for ad targeting.

As you can see, there are many ways in which social media platforms can cater relevant ads to users while complying with the cookie and data tracking regulations.

The key point for social media without cookies is setting up all applicable CAPI types. We recommend the following solutions:

  • Implement server-side tagging for social media platforms. Most popular social media platforms already support server-side tagging and stape-created tags for them (Facebook CAPI, TikTok Events API, Snapchat CAPI, Linkedin CAPI). The critical element when configuring server-side tracking for social media is sharing user data since, for now, this is the key way how social media networks can attribute users who saw your ad to the one that converted on your website
  • Use offline-first party data. Since, for some businesses, a significant part of conversion happens offline, for example, in offline stores, through phone calls, or orders through chat, sharing first-party data can positively affect campaign results. It happens because brand managers will be able to count not only online conversions but also offline ones), targeting (social media networks will better understand the interests and behaviors of your target audience), and remarketing. We have a blog post that describes how to set up offline conversion tracking in detail.
  • Build a custom Customer Data Platform (CDP). For most of us, CDP is associated with something very complicated and expensive. However, with the Google Tag Manager and Stape Store servers, you can build a custom CDP without paying an additional price. Configuring custom CDP using sGTM requires some technical knowledge, but it's definitely doable for those already familiar with sGTM. We have a blog post on how to build a custom CDP and enrich event data using server-side GTM.

Cookies in affiliate marketing

Cookies play a crucial role in affiliate marketing. Linking sales to specific affiliates is hard to imagine without cookies. Cookies help track user activity from the affiliate to the merchant sites. They can help merchants to attribute sales or conversions to the correct affiliate. Also, cookies collect data on user behavior, preferences, and interactions. All of this allows advertisers to optimize their strategies and improve targeting.

Without third-party cookies, affiliate marketing needs to find alternative ways of tracking and attribution. Here are some of the most fitting solutions:

  • Server-side tracking. Instead of relying on third-party cookies, server-side tracking relies on long-lived first-party cookies. The cookie lifetime is very important in affiliate marketing since a long cookie life allows affiliates to get proper commission for all orders their clients create.

For example, a user opens a website in Safari and clicks on the affiliate link. They land on the advertiser’s website, which does not use server-side tracking. In this case, a cookie differentiating a particular affiliate will live only one day (in most cases). According to the affiliate program rules, the affiliate can earn a commission if a purchase occurs within 30 days after the click.

In the scenario with Safari and client-side tracking, the affiliate won’t be able to get a commission since the cookie will be erased from the website within one day. That is why the most extensive affiliate networks made server-side tagging mandatory for their advertisers. Stape has blog posts and server GTM tags for Awin, Rakuten, Outbrain, Taboola, and other affiliate platforms.  

  • Unique affiliate links: Each affiliate can be given unique links or discount codes. These links and codes can be used to identify which affiliate should receive credit for a sale without relying on cookies.
  • Fingerprinting: This technique combines data points (such as device type, IP address, and browser type) to create a unique user identifier. However, this method raises privacy concerns and may face regulatory challenges.
  • User accounts. To track user activity without cookies, businesses must encourage users to create accounts and log into them whenever they browse the website. This way, advertisers can track user accounts without cookies.

So, even though cookies play an important role in affiliate marketing, life without them is still possible.

Retargeting campaigns without cookies

Retargeting shows customized ads to users who have visited your website page or performed a specific action on that page. It is an effective technique for driving visitors back to your website or app. Traditionally, retargeting is based on data collected by cookies.

Advertisers need to implement new privacy-complaint tracking techniques for cookieless retargeting campaigns. Note that different solutions fit different platforms in this case.

  • Google’s Protected Audiences API is an on-device ad auction that serves remarketing and custom audiences without cross-site third-party tracking. It divides users into interest groups, defined by the publisher, based on their behavior on a website. This technology helps publishers choose relevant ads from websites the user has previously visited.
  • Meta Conversion API will also be helpful in retargeting campaigns without cookies. It bypasses the user’s device and sends events directly from the advertiser’s website to Meta. Based on these events, advertisers can retarget users on Meta.
  • New solutions. Many advertisers are developing their own cookieless ad solutions. Solutions like LiveRamp (RampID) enable global addressability without third-party cookies, device IDs, or IP addresses.
  • First-party cookie-based retargeting shouldn’t be overlooked, either. Since first-party cookies aren’t going anywhere, advertisers can focus on first-party data-based retargeting. So, increasing the value of first-party data and using it for retargeting on other platforms is one of the best strategies for retargeting in a cookieless world.

Final thoughts: what digital marketers should consider

Advertisers and marketers worldwide are concerned with this very same question - how to prepare for the cookieless future? With third-party cookies being one of the main powers behind online marketing and advertising, the search for an alternative is vigorous. The focus of marketers shifts to first-party data and server-side tracking solutions, since they can help advertisers cope with the shift better.

To slide into the cookieless future of advertising easily, we recommend doing the following:

  • Focus on first-party data instead of relying on third-party data. Find and implement solutions that work with first-party data to polish personalization and nurture your connections with customers. First-party data allows fine-tuning targeting (by utilizing customer behavior and purchase history data).
  • Switch to server-side tracking solutions. Server-side tracking has many benefits in general and in times of third-party cookie deprecation and tightening of data privacy regulations in particular. When you switch to server-side, you get more control over data transmission and management. Also, it helps you provide better data protection. Thanks to the richness of data you gather on your servers, it can help you create privacy-compliant advertising perfectly suitable for your target audience.
  • Give offline conversions more attention. Offline conversions help advertisers understand and measure the effectiveness of their marketing campaigns, they provide valuable first-party customer data. Focus on offline conversions can help advertisers close the gap between online advertising and offline sales. Data from offline conversions can enhance audience insights and optimize advertising campaigns accordingly. Moreover, offline conversion data can help advertisers maintain privacy compliance in a cookieless world.

Using server-side tracking is the simplest way to cope with the depreciation of third-party cookies while getting the most of the data you gather. Contact us if you have any questions or need help implementing cookie-free tracking. Stape is an expert in server-side tracking. You can try Stape for free to see what it can do for your business.

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