What is a Cookie?

Have you ever wondered how a website tends to remember the choices and preferences of the purchases you made the last time you visited the website? A little tracking code known as a “cookie” makes this all possible in the digital marketing world.

Cookies are small text files that web servers automatically send to your browser when you browse any particular website. The browser stores each message as cookie.txt and when you request another page from the same server, the browser sends the cookie back to the server. 

These files typically contain information about your visit to the web page, a unique ID for each user, the site name, as well as any information you’ve volunteered, such as your name, birth date, interests, etc.

Cookies enable websites to retrieve this information when you revisit them so that they can remember you and your preferences and tailor page content for you based on this information. The term “cookie” is an allusion to a Unix program called Fortune Cookie that produces a different message, or fortune, each time it runs. Before we jump into the main topic, let’s also discuss what are the types of cookies:

They are of 2 types – First Party Cookies and Third Party Cookies

A first-party cookie is created by the host site, while a third-party cookie is created by an ad platform like ad.doubleclick.net. The reason for a third-party cookie is because the URL (ad.doubleclick.net) doesn’t match the actual domain. The cookie is left by a third-party advertising and hence the name third-party cookie.

Third-party cookies are created by domains other than the one the user is visiting at the time. They are mainly used for tracking and online-advertising purposes.

For example, when you visit bestbuy.com and click on a product, the third-party trackers will collect the information about your activity on bestbuy.com. However, if you leave bestbuy.com and visit a different website, such as bbc.com, you could be shown an ad for that exact or similar product (e.g. an iPhone 11 or a protective phone case).

The way it works is that both bestbuy.com and bbc.com load a piece of code from an ad server (e.g. ad.doubleclick.net). When you navigate to either website, the piece of code is loaded from ad.doubleclick.net from a different domain than the URL in your browser, so the cookies set in ad.doubleclick.net are considered third-party cookies. The cookies left by bestbuy.com are considered as first-party cookies.

How are Third-Party Cookies Created on a Website?

You might be thinking, how can ad.doubleclick.net or any other third-party create a cookie if the user is on a different website at a given moment?

In order for a third-party cookie to be created, a request needs to be sent from the web page to the third party’s server. The file being requested is different depending on the use, but it can be an actual creative (an ad) or a tracking pixel, which is completely invisible to the user but acts as a tracking cookie in situations when there is no click event (for instance, when just a web page is opened) and click redirects cannot be used.

For example, if a user interacts with an ad, an ad tag is generated and triggers a call to the third-party ad server requesting a relevant creative to serve. When the webpage loads, the DoubleClick cookie would be tagged along with the image code and when it is served, a cookie is dropped in the browser at the same time. The Doubleclick image ad would look like this: 

<a href=”ad.doubleclick.net/some-other-parameters-specific-to-this-ad” target=”_blank” rel=”noopener”><img src=”ad.doubleclick.net/the-extension-to-the-creative”></a>

With Safari’s ITP updates about blocking third-party cookies, Chrome blocking third-party cookies didn’t come out as a shocker at all.

Google’s idea behind blocking third-party cookies is to have more secure and precise control over them. We can already see the option now in Chrome browser-

Note: You can get the option using the Chrome 

URL: chrome://settings/content/cookies

Once the “block third-party cookies” option is enabled, Chrome will automatically block third-party tracking cookies on sites that you visit.

Regardless of the browser mode, you can see a list of cookies that are blocked by clicking on the shield next to the address and then clicking on “show cookies and other websites.”  

Prepare for Advertising in a Cookieless-World

For years, brands have benefitted from user-based marketing strategies, using third-party cookies alongside other identifiers, including mobile IDs, offline data, subscribe IDs, and more. The ability to enhance leads, improve returns on investment, and make decisions based on what’s driving true conversions made campaigns uniquely insightful.

Even with the sunset of third-party cookies, digital marketing is still in the picture. However, marketers have to have a different approach in seeing good digital ad spend.

There are a few options that marketers can adopt in order to advertise their business in a cookieless world.

Device Fingerprinting:

Digital fingerprinting is a way to identify a user without capturing their cookie IDs by combining a series of signals and assigning that user a hashed user ID.  

Since these non-cookie signals are things like operating systems, devices, browsers, IP addresses, time zones, and language settings, they can give good results compared to cookie-based targeting. 

However, given the larger trends in privacy, such as GDPR, it’s possible that fingerprinting will go the way of the cookie. A cautious advertiser, however, would look to this as an interim solution while still keeping a future focus on planning for alternate solutions.

Artificial Intelligence:

Whether it’s creating content, email marketing, searching for something, creating chat boxes or web designing, with artificial intelligence marketers have gained a lot more confidence since its ambiguity has been reduced with respect to the results it can provide. These intelligent tools keep evolving more and more and are even reaching a point in which they are able to surpass humans in certain aspects like we’re about to see.

Innovations like Amazon Echo, Amazon Alexa, Google Assistant, Apple’s Siri, and Microsoft’s Cortana make it easy for people to perform searches by just pressing a button or saying a voice command.

Google’s machine learning search algorithm, RankBrain, was created to get more relevant search results and it interprets the user’s voice searches.  Using the power of AI, it provides the user with the best results according to what it interpreted from the user’s language and context.

Universal ID:

A universal ID is an identifier used by Supply Side and Demand Side platforms for identification and targeting.

There are three major players in the universal ID space now: The Advertising ID Consortium, the Trade Desk’s Unified ID solution, and DigiTrust, which started with IAB and the good thing about these universal IDs is that they create what is essentially a first-party cookie that’s the same among all partners included in the solution—it provides one identifier across all partners. This prevents the need for the new coding rules that will soon be in effect with the Chrome 80 release, and makes it easier to identify the same user across multiple platforms.

In the end, the primary source for recording digital IDs has always been cookies but the cookie has been on the decline for a while already. As privacy concerns continue to be at the forefront of the conversation both for marketers and the general public, it will require marketers to shift their thinking and approach. The above options can be a good solution to cookie death.

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Ankita Das

Ankita Das

Ankita is a Paid Ads Specialist at seoplus+, focusing on boosting business growth. She absolutely loves owls and, in her spare time, she loves to travel, garden, and explore new Starbucks drinks.