Google SE Optimization Security

The Impact of Third-Party Cookies ending on PR and SEO

Image courtesy of Pixabay

Understanding the implications of third-party cookies 

There’s been significant chatter surrounding the impending demise of third-party cookies. With the process already underway, Google is set to completely eliminate third-party cookies. As of early January, Google began rolling out this change across a small percentage of its platform, with plans to phase out third-party cookies entirely by the end of 2024.  

But what exactly does this mean and why does it matter? 

A brief history of third-party cookie blocking 

It’s worth noting that Google is somewhat behind the curve in its efforts to remove and block third-party cookies.  

Safari and Firefox have been blocking third-party cookies as standard for some time now, and Opera allows users to opt out manually. So why is Google’s move causing such a stir if others have already taken similar steps? The significance lies in the sheer number of users on Google Chrome, which surpasses the collective user base of most other browsers, combined. 

Google has built a substantial advertising and targeting economy around third-party data, making its decision shift particularly impactful. 

Understanding third-party cookies 

To grasp the implications of eliminating third-party cookies, it’s essential to understand how they function.  

Cookies are text files that enable websites to remember user information, such as login details and browsing history. First-party cookies are generated by the website being visited, while third-party cookies originate from domains unrelated to the current site.  

These third-party cookies track user activity across multiple websites, allowing companies to create detailed profiles of browsing habits. 

Reasons for blocking third-party cookies 

Google’s decision to remove third-party cookies stems from societal concerns regarding data privacy. However, given Google Chrome’s dominance in search and advertising revenue, the move presents a complex scenario. Digital marketers have long relied on third-party cookies to drive engagement and conversions, building a successful business model, which makes this transition even more challenging. Google has reaped the rewards of this. 

The search engine brings in around 90% of its revenue through its Google Ads platform. 

They’ve created a mutually beneficial eco-system and, for a very long time, a lot of people have been building their platforms and their success on the foundations of Chrome and its third-party cookies.  

Anticipated changes 

In real terms, the biggest changes are likely by the end users. 

The removal of third-party cookies is expected to have significant implications for businesses and brands reliant on targeted advertising and tracking data. They are going to have to adapt to new ways of targeting their core audiences for themselves and for clients. From an advertising, marketing and re-marketing perspective, those who have previously relied on third-party data will have to shift. 

What are the alternatives?  

The future of Google’s proposed proprietary alternatives, known as the Privacy Sandbox APIs, remains shrouded in uncertainty. Testing on these products has faced prolonged delays and Google has offered scant information regarding their functionality.  

Until we gain clarity on these new products, it’s difficult to provide definitive answers. Moreover, there’s uncertainty regarding their compliance with GDPR in the UK. 

In addition to Google’s Privacy Sandbox APIs, other alternatives such as device fingerprinting, OS-level tracking, and hardware tracking are under discussion as potential replacements for third-party cookie tracking.  

However, there are concerns about the ethical implications. With the risk that they could become ethically opaque and open to misuse. This raises the possibility of replacing one morally ambiguous solution with another, further complicating the landscape of data tracking and audience segmentation. 

Without clear guidance from Google on alternative solutions, uncertainty looms over the future of online targeting. Various alternatives, such as device fingerprinting and contextual targeting, are being discussed but come with their own set of challenges and ethical concerns.  

Shifting mindsets and approaches 

The conversation surrounding third-party cookies reflects a broader shift towards ethical data practices emphasising first-party data. This could be data taken directly from website users on owned sites and apps.  

Another alternative being discussed is contextual targeting; which analyses the content of any given page visited without divulging private user data. This presents new opportunities but also requires regulatory frameworks to ensure accountability and transparency.   

While contextual targeting offers certain advantages, it also poses challenges. One potential downside is that websites would need to increase the amount of text and content to extract meaningful data or signals. Unlike third-party cookies, contextual targeting lacks the same level of granularity in understanding user interests and intent. 

Furthermore, models built on contextual targeting rely heavily on sophisticated natural language processing algorithms. The development and implementation of such algorithms would necessitate unified global AI legislation and regulation, which is currently lacking.  

This underscores the complex regulatory considerations associated with transitioning away from third party cookies. 

Impact on SEO 

While the removal of third-party cookies may not directly impact organic search rankings, it could affect the relevance of promoted search items and snippets. These will likely become less relevant to users.  

Businesses will instead need to focus on creating high-quality owned content to maintain visibility in organic search results.  

Adapting to change 

The transition away from third-party cookies signals a fundamental shift in online advertising and marketing practices. 

As targeting capabilities become more generalised, strategies across various channels, from content creation to digital PR, will need to evolve to capture audience attention effectively.  

In summary, the end of third-party cookies heralds a new era in digital marketing, characterised by a balance between ethical data practices and effective audience engagement strategies. While challenges lie ahead, adaptation and innovation will be key to navigating this evolving landscape.

About the author


Lis Anderson

Lis Anderson is the Director of AMBITIOUS PR-an experienced PR consultancy director and MD with over 20 years’ experience in the B2B and B2C marketing communications industry and a Fellow of the CIPR. Agency-side, she held board level positions at JBP, also as a partner of Worldcom Public Relations Group, and Bray Leino (Speed Communications) before launching AMBITIOUS.