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The Impact of Cookie Removal on Ad Targeting


The day digital advertisers knew would come is finally here, and the cookies are starting to crumble. But what does this mean for ad targeting? Google recently announced that it would fully do away with third-party cookies from its Chrome browser by 2022. No, this is not the beginning of the apocalypse. Still, it does have significant implications for the digital advertising industry, and users will start noticing changes in the ad targeting they see while browsing the web. 

Google Chrome is the biggest kid on the advertising playground, owning nearly 70% of the browser market. So when they say they are getting rid of cookies, it is BIG news. So strap in; this will be a bit of a lengthy read, but the info is important to everyone running digital ads!


Third-party cookies have kept watch over your internet browsing habits for more than 20 years now, following you as you looked at movie times on Fandango, perused the shoes at Zappos, and then checked out a blog recipe for homemade cosmos.

The result? Advertisers with complex algorithms look at that combination of web habits and say, “Hey! Do you know what he/she would probably like? The new Sex and the City movie. Let’s show him/her an ad for it!” That’s right… We’re referencing a movie from 2008 in this up-to-the-minute post!

When you hear people talk about big corporations ‘selling their data,’ this is essentially what they are talking about. Google places these little bits of code (cookies) on millions of websites to track users as they navigate the web, building user profiles of their interests, and then selling advertising space based on that information.

It’s not quite as scary as it may seem, but either way, Google plans to stop selling web ads targeted to individual users’ browsing habits, and Chrome will no longer allow cookies that collect that data.

Moving away from third-party tracking towards a more anonymous “Privacy Sandbox” is part of a greater trend to increase privacy for web users. 

Back in 2018, the EU began to crack down on consumer data collection and targeting, hailed as “the toughest privacy and security law in the world” at the time. That is to say, the EU sort of went mama bear on user data protection, and it didn’t take long for the rest of the internet world to notice. Just a few years later at the top of 2020, California rolled out its own web privacy regulations under CCPA, the first of its kind in our nation. Although these changes were sweeping, they largely took place behind the scenes, except for the addition of the privacy dialogue boxes we are all now served when visiting a website for the first time.

While this newest addition to the privacy fortress governments and businesses are building around users might seem to have come out of nowhere, it has actually been in the works for years. 

Way back in 2017, Apple’s Safari browser was among the first major browsers to limit the use of cookie collection. It did so with its Intelligent Tracking Prevention (ITQ), which blocked cross-site cookie tracking across the board. This action was later followed by Firefox’s block on third-party cookies in 2019. 

By the time Google announced in 2020 that its Chrome browser would be phasing out third-party cookies over the next two years, it wasn’t much of a surprise. However, the momentum of Google’s privacy regulations started to pick up in March 2021, when the company announced what it had in mind as a replacement, but we’ll get to that in a bit.


All of this cookie talk might make you feel hungry and maybe a little confused about the different kinds of data Google collects on users. Think of it this way: While third-party data is defined as data collected about users visiting a website who have no affiliation to that data, first-party data is collected and used directly by the end-user. An example of third-party data would be data that is collected identifying users who have previously visited a specific website. In contrast, an example of first-party data would be data about your site visitors and their on-site engagement.

Like finding sand in your swimsuit after a day at the beach, Google gave us an extra surprise when it announced that after the use of third-party cookies has ended, “We will not build alternative identifiers to track individuals as they browse across the web, nor will we use them in our products.” A move that will inevitably impact both kinds of cookie collections.

Yet, while this initiative aims to preserve user privacy, it doesn’t mean that Google will stop collecting your data and using it to target ads. Shortly, we will introduce you to Google’s updated data privacy solution, but first, a brief (and delicious) history of recent updates to tracking cookies!



Meet Google’s solution to third-party cookies and traditional alternative identifiers: Federated Learning of Cohorts (FLoC). Unlike a traditional flock (say, a flock of seagulls chasing after your french fries), this FLoC doesn’t want what you have or own. In fact, the purpose of FLoC is to provide increased anonymity by concealing user data within a larger crowd of customers with similar interests. 

By tracking a user’s browsing habits, Google Chrome can place the user in various groups, audiences, or “cohorts” based on those habits. This way, FLoC acts as a “privacy-first” and “interest-based” alternative identifier, creating an aggregated, non-identifiable source of information that can be used to intuit the things you are genuinely interested in.


Google’s decision to end the use of third-party cookies in favor of its more anonymous alternative, FLoC, could be one of the most comprehensive end-to-end shifts away from the use of personally identifiable tracking information that we’ve seen to date.


There are currently search and display audiences that will inevitably be impacted by Google’s decision to swap data traditionally collected from cookies with FLoC data. Since this update influences third-party audiences, ads that depend on this data — such as audiences targeting our ads directed at prospects who have visited competitor websites — will be impacted.

Unfortunately, this data will no longer be able to precisely pinpoint who visited your site. It may instead just more loosely group people who share browsing habits and similar attributes (more akin to a “lookalike audience”). To a data person, this is kind of like looking at a restaurant menu through the bottom of a cocktail glass; it’s all still there, but some audiences won’t be able to make it out with the same clarity.


For the most part, the impact on social advertising will be minimal. Most of the targeting on platforms like Facebook comes directly from interests and habits identified directly on the platform. It’s an independent ecosystem from Google. The main influence the changes will have on social platforms will be on Remarketing audiences. Our Remarketing efforts depend on PPC ads bringing users to the website, so we can tell Facebook to “find those people’s social profiles and send them ads!”


Quickly! And by that, we mean that most of the important components needed to adjust to this change are already in place. Although we may not have the same ability to target the exact people who visited a competitor’s website anymore, we have plenty of other audiences and campaigns that will continue picking up on interest via search and display.

Overall, while seeing cookies crumble might seem concerning at first, we promise the impact won’t be nearly as significant as you may think. The good news is that your PPC and social media ads will continue bringing quality traffic to your site! And if you are reading this on a beautiful, sunny beach right now (which we hope you are!), you might want to finish those fries and the Cosmo you’re drinking before the seagulls start to flock!

Still have questions? Drop us a line!


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