Preparing for a Cookieless Future
The only constant is change.
This mantra could never ring truer than for those of us who spend our days focused on digital advertising. With technology advances, shifts in policy priorities, and an ever-evolving user base adjusting its online activity, we know change is always around the corner.
But when you’re tasked with bringing in mission-critical revenue for some of the nation’s biggest nonprofits, you can’t be afraid of that.
The latest wave of change in the online ecosystem? The looming sunset of the third-party cookie. Or rather, the decision to retire support for it in Google Chrome (several other browsers have already retired third-party cookie support in recent years, citing privacy and other concerns). But with Chrome’s 65% market share (and 70% on mobile!) this decision effectively puts the nail in the coffin.
Last year, Google announced its decision to sunset support in Chrome in 2022, and since then a flood of bad puns have filled the advertising space and industry papers about cookies crumbling, half-baked tech responses, and other groaners. Google has since adjusted its timeline to delay this change to 2023, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t start preparing now.
Why does this matter? First- and third-party cookies are a big part of what makes the internet function. They help websites deliver a customized web experience to you (think leaving an item in your online shopping cart), and they can ensure that the ads you receive (and that keep your favorite websites online) make sense for you as the individual.
We (Van Do, Senior Strategist, and Mike Crump, Digital Advertising Manager, along with Pete Ellard of Nexis Direct) were fortunate enough to present on what’s next in the digital advertising space without a third-party cookie as a part of DMAW’s Digital Week. (For a deeper dive than we’re able to fit in a blog post, take a look at our presentation here).
Here’s the thing though: despite a lot of chatter on the end of the third-party cookie, for 90% of your nonprofit advertising and fundraising efforts, you’re not going to see a real change.
You want to raise the most revenue for your programs, and the strongest direct results in the nonprofit world right now are generally coming from the “walled gardens” of Google, Facebook, etc, with robust first-party user data. Could this change? Sure. Soon? We’re not betting on that.
But there will be an impact on programmatic advertising like banner ads on websites, which use web signals (anonymous) and credentials to build out and fine tune user profiles for optimal ad delivery and to remarket. Historically, programmatic delivery has relied on third-party cookies that help connect a user’s web activity across different websites.
As we already noted, the third-party cookie has been on the decline for several years.
And the industry has been preparing for that. New tech like Google Turtledove and Privacy Sandbox have been under development to specifically address the sunset of the third-party cookie. And while those tools will take some time for full development and rollout, rest assured that they are on the horizon.
So let’s look back at first-party data, which is where we’ll need to focus in the short term.
What can you do right now?
- Take a look at your access to first-party data. Are your Google Tag Manager and Analytics accounts fully set up to maximize data collection?
- Look at your users. What additional information can you gain about your customers to tease out new targeting models? What are some overlying interests and demographics? What content sources do they follow? How can you use this information strategically?
- Start testing. Start your testing now — if you’re quick you may even find some learnings that can be applied at year end.
- Native and Contextual Targeting to supplement programmatic display budgets
- Direct buys with content creators utilizing their internal user data
- Other data sources like IP targeting
- Robust targeting lists from data vendors
- Inventory from niche sites relevant to your mission
The TL;DR: If your organization is small or new, or otherwise has a small ad investment program, focus on high-impact, high-result channels first (Google Ads, Microsoft Ads, Facebook & Instagram). Prioritizing these platforms while results are strong will limit the impact of the cookieless future on your program.
And for your programmatic and display budgets? Dig into the data and start testing! But don’t scale until you see results coming in to warrant a spend.