In recent years, the digital marketing landscape has undergone a significant shift due to the increased focus on privacy and data protection. One of the biggest changes to emerge has been an attempt to rid the internet of cookies used to track consumers’ behaviors and serve relevant advertising to the user based on their online habits.

internet cookies

Cookies are why you see ads everywhere for the shoes you searched a few hours ago. But after a few years of postponement by Google, these tracking mechanisms are about to disappear from Chrome. For real this time.

This presents a big problem to solve for those of us in digital media and may even make the most seasoned marketer sweat if they’re unsure how to pivot. Many find themselves wondering, “If I can’t see the online habits of my best prospects, how can I reach them most efficiently?” And further, “How can I optimize campaigns if I can’t capture leads and follow interested customers to drive conversion?”

What is a cookie?

Let’s start by defining a cookie and identifying the problems they present.

Cookies are small text files that are placed on a user’s device by a website when they visit it. These cookies are used to store information about the user’s browsing behavior, such as their search history, preferences, and location. This information is then used by advertisers to deliver targeted ads to the user.

However, cookies have become a controversial issue in recent years due to concerns about privacy and data protection. Cookies can track users across the internet, even when they aren’t on the website that placed the cookie. This has led to concerns and greater caution around privacy protections, and many web browsers have started to block third-party cookies by default. This has also led legislators to enact consumer privacy laws.

So, you ask, how do we solve for this challenge and maintain effective digital media campaigns?

It will certainly have a significant impact on the way we reach our best prospects, and we will have to depend on other data sets to keep our messaging in front of them—though a bit more anonymously.

To start, we’ll need to put a greater emphasis on first-party data. This means collecting data directly from our clients’ own customers, rather than relying on data from other websites. The challenge here is that not all first-party data is equal. Some clients have robust and well-maintained lists, while others are…um…lacking.

Beyond the state of the data, there are other challenges for industries with the strictest privacy laws, such as healthcare. Work-arounds exist, like using third-party data-transfer sites such as LiveRamp to scrub out protected health information (PHI), leaving just the unidentified data points to create look-alike audiences. From here, existing customer data is analyzed to build profiles of similar audiences. This will help you reach potential customers with similar interests or demographics.

There will be a greater reliance on contextual advertising, in which we target ads based on the content of the website rather than the user’s browsing history. Without cookies, contextual advertising will become more important and will be treated the same way golf products are advertised during televised golf tournaments. The assumption is that if you’re watching golf, for example, that you’re also likely to play golf, and therefore might consider purchasing that new golf ball, club, shoe, or whatever.

Serving retargeted messaging to people who have already shown an interest in your products or services will play a more important role as well. This can be done by tracking a user’s behavior on your website, such as browsing products, adding items to the cart, or abandoning a purchase.

There’s also likely to be an increased use of alternative tracking technologies. Since necessity is the mother of invention, alternative technologies such as fingerprinting (a hash that uniquely identifies data), device recognition, and cohort analysis (behavioral analytics that look at a group of users and defines their usage patterns based on their shared traits to better track and understand their actions).

With this greater emphasis on privacy and data protection, advertisers will need to ensure they are collecting data in a transparent and ethical way and are respecting users’ privacy rights. Not doing so has led us to this point, and we doubt this will be the end-game. Consumers want privacy, and their governments will continue to fight for it by passing legislation that requires full disclosure.

Although this was expected to happen a few years ago, the use of cookies is going away on Google Chrome no later than 2024. Seeing that Chrome represents 49% of the marketplace, this is significant. Safari represents 35% of the US market but stopped using third-party cookies quite a few years ago. You can update your settings and accept them, but you’d probably be the first person ever to do so. Other browsers (such as Firefox) have either never used them or stopped as well.

Advertisers will need to adapt to these changes by finding new ways to target their ads, measure their effectiveness, and protect user privacy. While the transition to a cookie-less future may be challenging, it presents an opportunity for the industry to evolve and become more transparent and ethical in the way it collects and uses data.

While cookies have been a useful tool for targeting audiences, there are still several effective ways to reach your best prospects without them. By leveraging first-party data, contextual targeting, look-alike targeting, retargeting, and leveraging new, emerging technologies, we can create more personalized and effective marketing campaigns that work just as well as—if not better than—campaigns did in the days when cookies were king, or even a monster. (See what I did there?)

Contact us to discuss how we can support your organization, and email us at to share your experiences.