On January 4th, 2024, Google disabled the tracking data from third-party cookies for 1% of Chrome users – which is part of a greater plan to phase out tracking cookies completely by Q3 2024. 

These aren’t the type of cookies that your grandma makes, either. 

A grandma discovering cookies online.

Despite the innocent-sounding name, third-party cookies are small files that collect analytics, track browsing behavior, and personalize online ads. 

In other words, cookies are the reason why YouTube and Amazon ads all display things you’ve searched for online recently (like a YouTube ad for mattresses playing shortly after visiting mattress websites). 

While third-party cookies have been invaluable for digital ad agencies to gather precious consumer data, they’ve long been viewed as a violation of user privacy. 

Adding fuel to the fire is the fact that hackers can use cookies for nefarious purposes, such as stealing a user’s personal information or financial data. 

That’s why Google plans to eliminate third-party cookies, as they feel it will provide a safer, more private browsing experience. 

Not everyone is celebrating the news, though. 

Lots of ad tech firms rely on third-party cookies to inform their advertising strategies, and as soon as Google gets rid of cookies entirely in Q3, they’ll lose their data collection abilities. 

There is a light at the end of the tunnel, though. 

Stay tuned to learn more about Google’s campaign against cookies (including their plan for the future of ad tracking) and how focusing on SEO will help you kick the cookie habit. 

1% of Chrome Users are Now Cookie-Free 

While 1% of Google Chrome users may not seem like a lot, it’s crucial to remember that Chrome is the most popular online web browser. 

As of December 2023, a whopping 62.85% of online users cite Chrome as their preferred browser. Their closest competitor is Apple’s Safari, which accounts for 20.04% of users, so Google has an immense lead. 

That means that 1% of Chrome users translates to about 30 million online users, which is pretty significant. 

Google chose to start with 1% to enable small-scale testing of the Privacy Sandbox tools during Q1 of this year. 

Once they’re done tweaking and refining the Tracking Protection feature, it will roll out to the rest of Chrome users in Q3 2024. 

This change has been a long time coming, as competing browsers like Mozilla’s Firefox and Apple Safari already phased out third-party cookies by 2020. 

Google planned to follow suit shortly after, but its plans to phase out cookies have been postponed twice already. Initially scheduled for 2022, the implementation was postponed until late 2023 and then again to early 2024. 

The reason for the delay?

Privacy Sandbox vice president Anthony Chavez claims the delays were necessary to test and refine the technologies involved with the process. 

Since Safari and Firefox have already kissed cookies goodbye, third-party cookies will basically become a thing of the past as soon as Google’s implementation is complete in Q3 2024. 

Cookie-Free Advertising: The Way of the Future 

The writing is on the wall for third-party cookies, so the last thing you should do is plan to keep using them in 2024

Instead, it’s time to audit your cookie usage to find ways to collect user data without them. 

This is easier said than done for lots of ad tech agencies, and they remain wary of Google’s proposed alternatives (more on this in a bit). 

As a result, some ad publishers may see an initial decrease in revenue from the removal of tracking cookies. They will only recover from the loss if they adapt and find a new solution to track user data. 

The good news is there are plenty of ways that ad agencies can get ahead of the curve and preserve their business – one of which is Google’s suggestion to switch to APIs

Weaning off cookies with Google’s API alternatives

Google isn’t giving digital ad agencies the cold shoulder during the cookie phaseout, as they have developed alternative ways for advertisers to collect user data. 

In particular, Google has several application programming interfaces (APIs) that mimic the invaluable functions of third-party cookies for online advertisers – albeit while preserving user’s anonymity. 

But can you really kick your cookie cravings with one of Google’s API patches?

The Topics and Protected Audience APIs provide advertisers with limited information about user’s interests. Chrome discovers these interests by analyzing browsing history data that it stores on user devices instead of external servers for better security. 

From there, websites can choose ads based on these user interests, although the API won’t track cross-site activity as third-party cookies do. 

Still, these two APIs provide advertisers a way to collect valuable user data without violating their privacy (hence the name ‘Protected Audience’ API). 

Since these APIs don’t fully replicate the tracking capabilities of third-party cookies, some advertisers may view them as watered down. 

There are also ID-based solutions that advertisers can flock to if they aren’t a fan of Google’s APIs. These cookieless solutions use anonymized email addresses instead of third-party cookies, and they provide cross-site tracking. 

Got No Cookies? Focus on Organic SEO Instead 

If you don’t want to see a significant revenue dropoff once cookies fall by the wayside, you should start focusing on organic SEO sooner rather than later. 

With search engine optimization, you can generate tons of traffic, leads, and sales – and no third-party cookies (or expensive ad bidding) are required. 

As long as you have outstanding content and an impressive backlink profile, you’ll always appear at the top of the SERPs (search engine results pages), Google will trust your content, and you’ll enjoy lots of referral traffic. 

The prevalence of AI, Google SGE, and other factors are significantly changing the online advertising space, so you need to find ways to stay ahead of the curve – and SEO is the best way to do that. 

Moreover, SEO is a form of inbound marketing, so you don’t have to disrupt user experiences with ads. Instead, your informative and engaging content will draw your audience to your front door, making it far easier to land conversions. 

If you need help adjusting to a cookie-less internet, don’t wait to sign up for HOTH X, our renowned managed SEO service run by experts.