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What Will You Do When the Cookies Are Gone?

June 9, 2020

On the 14th of January 2020, the developers working on Google Chrome published a blog post with an explosive headline: Building a more private web: A path towards making third party cookies obsolete. Google wants to entirely phase out third-party cookies over the next two years.

That’s a big deal for three reasons. One, the digital marketing industry is huge. eMarketer estimated that companies and institutions worldwide spent approximately $283 billion on digital ads in 2018. That number will increase to $518 billion by 2023. That’s the GDP of Belgium, spent trying to convince you to purchase faux leather inline skates in Walmart or a monthly subscription to razor blades and shaving foam. So there’s a lot of money involved.

Two, companies rely heavily on cookies to advertise more effectively. Have you ever felt like an ad was following you? That’s because of cookies. They remember things, like the expensive gaming laptop you put in your online shopping cart at BestBuy.com, how often you check flights from Tbilisi to Athens, or whether you were logged in to the websites you frequent when you visit them again.

Three, Google Chrome is by far the dominant web browser, both on desktop (68%) and on mobile (60%). Google had also taken a softer stance to tracking cookies than other browser companies. Firefox blocks third-party tracking cookies by default, Microsoft Edge has tracking prevention by default, and even Apple has an anti-tracking tool in its Safari browser.

Microsoft Edge Cookies Policy
How Microsoft Edge protects you against third-party cookies

But Google has been wary of following their lead, because they believed that blocking third-party cookies in one fell swoop would lead companies tracking you through less-than-vanilla methods. Browser fingerprinting is one such example, where companies identify you based on your browser type and version, your operating system, active plugins, timezone, language, and a whole host of other variables that, all together, are incredibly accurate in identifying an individual. This is often done without the user’s knowledge, let alone their consent.

Google doesn’t want that, but they also couldn’t stay behind forever. Users want more privacy and more control over their data. The cookie banners that frustrate every Internet user were never a good solution. So Google is phasing out cookies over two years while trying to find a good solution for all parties involved. 

That’s easier said than done, because users won’t want to give up the convenience that cookies bring, advertisers will still want to target the right users with relevant ads, and publishers will still want to earn money through ads. All of these things are impossible without cookies, and there’s no real alternative solution in sight.

Except that there is, it just doesn’t lie in advertising. The solution is content. Instead of relying on cookies to chase people around with insistent ads, content can establish you as a thought leader, an authority in your field. Coupled with good SEO practices, it will pull people to your website. Whether it’s case studies, guides, tweets, ebooks, blogs, emails, or fact sheets, content can pull your audience further down the marketing funnel every step of the way.

I’m not saying that you should abandon advertising altogether. That’d be foolish. Advertising should have a place in every good marketing strategy. But, given the trend towards a more private web, the ROI of advertising is likely to decline, and so should its share in your marketing mix.

Content, on the other hand, is what people have come to expect. Do it poorly, and you’ll struggle to be relevant. Do it well, and you’ll be miles ahead of your competitors before you know it. It’s exponential.

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