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There has been a lot of speculation over if, when, and how exactly Google will move away from third-party cookies. But, at this point, it’s safe to admit to ourselves that it is happening. Our old way of doing business is going away, and now we need to look at how we’re going to adapt and succeed as marketers.

The Official News from Google Surrounding Third-Party Cookies

For those that missed it, Google is removing third-party cookies from Chrome in 2022. Firefox and Safari have already made this move, and Apple’s ATT update 14.5 is putting tracking permissions into the user’s hands by offering opt-in tracking as opposed to opt-out. What this all means is there will be less data available to marketers going forward (but therefore more privacy for users). For eCommerce companies, this is a big deal because it drastically affects your ability to target and remarket when it comes to PPC advertising. 

There are some alternatives on the table such as Google’s Federated Learning of Cohorts (FLoC) that promises to offer cookie-like ability while still offering privacy to users by bunching them into groups (cohorts). The jury is still out on whether or not that will work, but you can learn more about this process here

Below, however, we’re going to focus on a worst-case scenario approach (also most-likely scenario) and assume that third-party cookies and anything that mimics them is gone for good. With that approach, we’re here to discuss the actionable ways a marketer can set themselves up for success regardless of what happens in the larger umbrella of tracking.

Collect First-Party Data

The number one thing that you can do to boost your performance is to collect first-party data. Hopefully this was already a part of your strategy, but now refining this process is more important than ever.

Collecting first-party data means that you are gathering and storing data provided by customers when they interact with your site. This usually means essentially collecting email addresses, but it can also be billing information gathered at checkout or other data entered when participating in a survey or quiz. There are a few ways to can start to prioritize collecting this data:

  • Alter your forms: Right now, you may have this information set to “optional,” but you may want to make a few of your form fields required. This very likely will lose you a few subscribers so do keep that in mind when looking at your data, but those who are serious about your products and services should offer information more willingly. This is becoming more commonplace in 2021, so you should still see success.
  • Email your subscribers: Having an email list that you can reach out to and use to track site behavior is never going to go out of style, and this is a part of those first-party cookies. The sooner you start building this up, the better off you’ll be (regardless of what happens with cookies).

Pursue Contextual Advertising

Contextual advertising never really went away, but it got lost in the fray. Now, it’s coming back stronger than ever. The idea of contextual advertising goes back to our roots as advertisers – it’s when you’re sitting at a bar and have a big neon beer sign in your face, or when you go to the baking aisle in your grocery store and see an end cap promoting a new brand of sugar. In other words, it’s targeting your customer base by marketing to them where they already are.

In digital marketing, this is most commonly associated with search advertising. You don’t need cookies to know that someone who just searched for “bikinis on sale” is in the market for some new swimwear. 

To go one step further, there are display networks with sites for every niche and, of course, there are social media platforms with thousands of groups organized by interests. The reality is that most of your advertising dollars can still be very targeted as long as you know your customer. Some marketers have even said that they’ve saved money using this method. It prevents you from serving ads to someone who might have been in the market for something, but has long since made their purchase and moved on from shopping. 

Get Conversions the First Time

The hardest-hit portion of our eCommerce site’s current digital marketing strategies is remarketing. You may have noticed that most articles discussing the future don’t have a lot to say about this fact, and that’s because nobody really knows how viable remarketing will be now that third-party cookies are going away. To put it plainly, it’s not looking very good. 

Again, assuming the worst-case scenario, let’s just say that remarketing is going away forever. Giving up hope on one channel allows us to decide what our new priorities are in the existing ones. The possible reality of a world without remarketing means that CRO, UI, UX and customer loyalty are more important to eCommerce sites than ever before. You might really only get one shot to enthrall your prospects, so you just can’t afford a high bounce rate anymore. Two major ways to help you put more focus on these factors include:

  • Investing heavily in conversion rate optimization: It’s another one of those things you should have been doing anyway, but is now more important without a fall back. Get a team that really knows what they’re doing and uses research to design your site in the most conversion-focused way possible. This doesn’t necessarily mean pretty (though most often a nicer looking site is going to perform better) and it definitely doesn’t mean your site needs to be unique (studies show that the easiest sites to navigate and understand will win).
  • Focus on your content: Once a user leaves your site (preferably after buying something) you want them to think of you again. This comes down to the fundamentals of a successful business. You need to engage with your prospects and customers on an emotional level. Sure, you need to nail the transaction, fulfillment, and customer service aspects, but those are the easier parts. Customers return again and again (without any advertising influence) to companies that went beyond just taking care of a short-term need, companies that made them feel something. 

At the end of the day, the best companies and the best marketers will still win even without third-party cookies. Everyone is in the same boat, so start building a true relationship with your customers and you’ll have a great eCommerce business for many years to come.