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Cookieless retargeting: how to retarget in a cookieless world

Jun 21, 2024

Third-party cookie retargeting has been one of the key elements of advertising for a long time. And now advertisers are trying to prepare for retargeting in a cookieless era, which is just around the corner.

In this blog post, we will dive into the limitations of traditional and the advantages of cookieless retargeting. We’ll also provide insights on how to develop future-proof retargeting strategies. 

How does traditional retargeting work?

Retargeting is an online advertising approach that serves targeted ads to users based on their former internet browsing history and behaviors.

Simply put, retargeting reminds your website visitors about you once more so they can return to your website and make a purchase.

online shopping cart abandonment rate

According to Statista, between 50% and 98% of users abandon their carts and leave the vendor’s website for good. The industries that suffer the least are groceries and consumer electronics. However, the cart abandonment rate in these categories is still around 50%. When it comes to flights, luxury, and fashion, the cart abandonment rate can reach 98%.

There are many forms of retargeting that can come to the rescue. Below are the most common ones:

Website retargeting

Let’s say you plan a long trip and thus need good new headphones for your child. You enter your search engine, type in your request, and look at your options. As you browse, cookies collect your behavioral data. This data is further used to retarget kid headphones to you as you continue browsing the internet for other needs in the following days and weeks.

This is how retargeting works as a rule when it’s based on third-party cookies. You can also implement it with first-party cookies that you set on your website.

Social media retargeting

As of 2024, the average daily social media usage of internet users worldwide was 143 minutes, which makes social media platforms an excellent place for retargeting. No wonder social media retargeting on Facebook and Instagram is a top priority for advertisers. Social media retargeting works by using data from a pixel installed on your website from the social platform you want to use to retarget.

3 in 4 marketers use retargeting on Facebook and Instagram

Based on a SharpSpring study, most marketers focus most of their retargeting campaigns on social platforms like Facebook and Instagram.

Email retargeting

When customers leave their email addresses and agree to receive marketing emails, they can get retargeting emails based on their behavior on the vendor’s website (signing up for a newsletter, viewing some products, abandoning a cart, listing favorite products, etc). All of the tracked information is used to display relevant ads in emails.

Search engine retargeting

Search engine retargeting is based on keyword searches and interests. It works through automation: certain display ads appear when a user searches for a keyword. With search retargeting, businesses gain more impressions and improve brand awareness on multiple platforms.

Why is traditional retargeting not enough?

Phasing out third-party cookies changes how most retargeting forms work, making some impossible to continue as if nothing happened. For this reason, advertisers need to implement cookieless retargeting techniques and polish them before the cookieless era takes over. This way, they can fine-tune new retargeting methods while still getting the most of the well-known ones.

An increasing number of regulations regarding user data privacy and growing user concern regarding where their data goes and how it is used also impact traditional retargeting. More and more users choose to decline cookies, use tracking-prevention software, and block ads across their devices.

Why consider retargeting without cookies now?

Targeting and retargeting will be heavily impacted when third-party cookie deprecation is complete. For instance, any retargeting platform that relies on cookies will feel the change and will have to adapt its operation.

The shift from cookie-driven to cookieless retargeting is a step that needs to be taken promptly. This step may seem daunting initially, but it’s rich with opportunities. Marketers can engage with their audience in privacy-compliant, precisely calculated, and accurate ads when they step on the cookieless path.

Now is the best time to try different cookieless methods while you still have third-party cookies. Simply put, take your chance to get on top of the wave before it washes you overboard.

If you start your shift to cookieless retargeting now, you can break your fall into the cookieless era.

Even though a short-term negative impact is inevitable when the transition is over, some strategies can help streamline cookieless retargeting in the long term. For example, Google is preparing an alternative to its traditional advertising in the Privacy Sandbox Initiative.

How do you retarget an audience without cookies?

Do first-party data retargeting

Even though third-party data is slowly fading away, first-party data isn’t going anywhere. You can collect first-party data from your CM systems, analytics solutions, website, or app. First-party data comes directly from users’ interactions, purchase history, and preferences, so it can be used to recover successfully.

It is the most direct user data available, which makes it the best asset in the cookieless era. When working with first-party data, comply with all the data privacy regulations.

You can use your current email lists for personalized retargeting emails. You can segment your audience based on interactions with previous emails or your website. The effectiveness of retargeting emails depends on their precision and directness. A good example would be sending an abandoned cart reminder email to a logged-in user who didn’t go through with the purchase.

Implement server-side tracking

One of the best ways to use first-party data effectively is to implement server-side tracking. Many platforms already support offline conversions, and you can integrate offline conversion tracking by using server Google Tag Manager container. This integration is possible because sGTM can directly communicate with marketing or analytics platforms API. Webhooks from your CRM or POS can be configured to send data to the server Google Tag Manager, which distributes the information about offline conversions for analytics and ad network use. When you set up offline conversions through sGTM, you get a cost-effective solution that works in real-time.

When you set up server-side tracking and web tracking is blocked, you can still send user data (provided you have the needed user consent). This way, advertising platforms can still understand what kind of user is in front of them and effectively attribute conversions to the company. With server-side tracking, advertisers can understand their target audience better and gather a refined retargeting audience. With Stape, you can set up Facebook offline conversions, Google Ads offline conversions, Snapchat Conversions API, LinkedIn Conversion API, and more.

Try contextual solutions

Contextual retargeting relies on non-personal user identification data to serve ads linked to the content of the websites users visit. This retargeting method is not dependent on cookies, as ads are shown based on the keywords and topics of the website page. When you place your ads in the proper context and they align with the content the user is currently engaging with, you can deliver relevant ads while still respecting user privacy.

Google Ads cookieless retargeting

Even though Google Chrome is in the process of phasing out cookies, it will not stop offering user tracking, targeting, and retargeting. There definitely will be a privacy-compliant alternative. For now, here is what you can do:

  • Engagement-based targeting: go after users who had meaningful interactions with your business, like those who liked your content, followed a link, viewed your video, etc. In Google Ads, you can create audiences based on user engagement metrics. Use these engagement-based audiences to create remarketing lists for search ad campaigns. This way, you can target users when they search for related keywords.
  • Get the most of Google Signals: Google Signals is a standalone Google product integrated with Google Analytics 4, enabling cross-device tracking and remarketing. First, enable Google Signals and link Link Google Ads and Analytics to it. Next, you can use data from Google Signals to create audience segments in Google Analytics and import them into Google Ads.

One suggested solution is Protected Audience API, a Privacy Sandbox technology designed to prevent third parties from tracking user browsing behavior across sites. This technology serves remarketing and custom audience use cases. The Protected Audience API enables browsers to conduct on-device auctions to choose relevant ads from websites the user has previously visited.

Facebook cookieless retargeting

You can use features like Facebook Custom Audiences to retarget audiences based on social media interactions with your brand. You can also retarget the audience interacting with your brand on social media (likes, shares, comments) without cookies.


The main point of cookie deprecation and data privacy regulations is to protect sensitive data from getting into the wrong hands. Since users are growingly concerned about how and what they are tracked online, the only right way for advertisers is to go with transparent, consent-based, and compliant retargeting.

Though we can’t say making cookie deprecation painless is possible, there are still ways to make the shift easier. With the focus on first-party data and consent compliance, you can build retargeting strategies that meet the demands of cookieless times while helping you reach out to your audience effectively.

Strategies like first-party data retargeting, email retargeting, contextual retargeting, social media cookieless retargeting, Google Ads cookieless retargeting, and Facebook cookieless retargeting can make the shift to cookieless advertising easier. Cookieless retargeting is a future-oriented advertising solution that helps deliver personalized advertisements while maintaining user privacy and ensuring compliance with evolving data regulations.

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