What will the death of third-party cookies mean for effective campaign tracking?  

Whether you are a business, work in marketing or dabble in analysis, it’s likely (knowingly or unknowingly) that you have relied on third-party cookies at some point to help with marketing efforts. Third-party cookies have helped many of us track users’ online behaviour and tailor small and big budget campaigns based on user interactions, interests and browsing history. 

In recent years, third-party cookies have come to the forefront of online privacy concerns. They track users across multiple sites without explicit consent, leading to debates about data security. And they don’t just keep tabs on your searches for a new pair of running shoes, which leads to you getting a tempting discount you can’t refuse. Their curiosity runs a lot deeper! They track intrusive and sensitive information, prying into areas like your political views or health-related Google searches. It’s not just about you expanding your wardrobe anymore, they can piece together a story about you, based on your digital footprint.   

So, I think we can agree that third-party cookies go beyond clever marketing and into the realm of digital intrusion. With this, many search engines and social media platforms have started to move away from third-party cookies. The biggest search engine worldwide, Google, is phasing out the use of third-party cookies across Chrome. Your favourite social media platforms, whether it be LinkedIn, Meta or TikTok are relying on first-party cookies. This begs the question: What will the death of third-party cookies mean for effective campaign tracking? 

First-party cookies Vs. Third-party cookies 

We are quickly moving into a digital world that relies on first-party cookies. So, what are first-party cookies and what sets them apart from third-party cookies? 

An image that illustrates how first-party cookies and third-party cookies work.

First-party cookies are considered more user-friendly and relate directly to a single website. What sets first-party cookies apart is their discretion – they don’t share your information with other companies or ad platforms and won’t lead to the same level of in-depth behavioural targeting. 

Back when third-party cookies ruled the roost, you could be tracked from a social channel to a website and then to a competitor site. This could all be done without explicit consent. This is a no-no for first-party cookies. First-party cookies put user privacy first, so if someone enters your site through a social media channel that uses first-party cookies and you don’t have the correct tags set up, you won’t be able to track how that user interacts with your site, you may not even be able to track this traffic at all. And this is the core difference between first-party and third-party cookies. 

It’s not doom and gloom, we as marketers must ensure that the sites we work on have the right pixels, tags and consent modules set up to make tracking as accurate as possible, while ensuring that we are giving users the right level of privacy. This will take a little extra work but once you get there, you’ll be able to collect high quality data, including account activity and track user interactions. This data allows for efficient ad targeting and improved targeting accuracy, leading to higher engagement rates.  

What does the phasing out of third-party cookies mean for tracking links? 

An illustration of a man looking through a microscope at a UTM link, displaying that the source equals PPC.

The use of urchin tracking module (UTM) and affiliate links are widely used to measure campaign success. So, you may be wondering how these will be impacted by the phasing out of third-party cookies. Here’s the reassuring part, the phasing out of third-party cookies isn’t expected to directly impact UTM or affiliate links. These work differently and have a distinct purpose, which doesn’t involve creating detailed user profiles. 

This doesn’t mean that you won’t have seen discrepancies between advertising and analytic clicks. The tightening of privacy and cookie policies has had a knock-on effect to the data seen in analytics but this is separate from UTM and affiliate links which provide more context to the performance of a campaign.  

The truth is, discrepancies across social media advertising clicks and analytic clicks have become an unfortunate norm, so you’re not alone if your GA4 channel clicks don’t quite tally up with what a certain social ad platform is telling you. Discrepancies like this can arise for many reasons, including, tracking attribution differences, UTM links being configured wrongly and outdated consent management systems. The list goes on, so, if you want to get to the bottom of why these discrepancies are happening, we’ve got you covered: find out why your social clicks don’t match your analytic clicks

So, is it time to embrace first-party cookies? 

Yes, yes and yes. The future of campaign tracking will be shaped by the adoption of first-party cookies and a privacy-first approach. Embracing first-party cookies isn’t advisable, it’s essential. If you choose to ignore that the big players in the digital game as waving goodbye to third-party cookies, you run the risk of your marketing efforts being hard to track, gaining low-quality insights and creating less targeted campaigns. 

Yes, embracing first-party cookies means putting in a bit more effort to set up the right tools and strategies, but the payoff is a more authentic connection with your audience, higher quality data, and ultimately, more effective campaigns. 

Now that you’re clued up on what first-party cookies are and how they will impact campaign tracking, it’s time to understand how you can ensure this shift works for you. Let’s dig deeper into those discrepancies in your marketing efforts and analytics, so you can take full advantage of first-party cookies. Discover how


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