Preparing for the end of third-party cookies as a creator

Build Your Audience Content Marketing
12 min read
In this Article

There are two types of creators.

Those who anxiously search everything they can about the death of third-party cookies.

And those who aren’t quite sure what third-party cookies are and why they matter in the first place.

Whichever camp you’re in, one thing’s certain: you can’t ignore the death of third-party cookies, and eventually, your marketing strategy will need to shift (and that’s not a bad thing).

But how big of a shift are we talking about? And how much time do you have to prepare?

The end of third-party cookies: how did we get here?

Third-party cookies are bits of code that follow you around as you surf the web and use apps. If you’ve ever searched for something in Google and suddenly started to see ads for that exact product (or something similar) on Facebook, that’s third-party cookies at work.

From an advertiser’s perspective, third-party cookies are a dream. Want to target a 30-year-old woman who just started a new business? Thanks to third-party cookies, you can ensure your ads are seen by her with ease.

Although businesses might like targeting their audience with laser precision, there’s no denying that third-party cookies feel a bit stalker-ish. And the line between user privacy and advertising has become incredibly blurred over the years. In fact, 86% of Americans say that data privacy is a growing concern.

With Google’s ban on third-party cookies looming in 2023, there has been more chatter—and anxiety—about how creators can prepare.

But Google isn’t the first to ban third-party cookies. In 2020, Apple blocked third-party cookies on their Safari browser, and in 2021, Apple followed up by giving users the ability to turn off tracking from apps within their phones. So while the “cookiepocalypse” might seem scary, it’s nothing new.

How will the removal of third-party cookies affect you?

Wrapping your head around third-party cookies can make you dizzy. Let’s look at a few common scenarios where you might be relying on third-party cookies:

  • If you’re a YouTuber or blogger, you rely on data from third-party cookies to deliver targeted ads on your blog posts and videos—highly targeted ads often mean higher RPMs and more money in your pocket
  • If you’re a coach, you may use third-party cookies to promote your offerings and create ads that reach people at certain stages in their life (i.e., a parenting coach can target ads toward people who are parents to newborns)
  • If you’re a musician, you might use third-party cookies to deliver your ads to people who are interested in bands and musicians similar to you
  • If you’re an author, you might use third-party cookies to target ads to people who are interested in books similar to the ones you’ve published
  • If you’re a freelancer, you may use third-party cookies to create ads targeted to business owners who need your services

For most creators (except bloggers and YouTubers who focus on ad revenue), the power of third-party data lies in the ability to create highly-targeted ads. With third-party cookies disappearing, many creators are left wondering how they can scale their business effectively. Does the death of third-party cookies mean you’ll lose the ability to reach people at scale?

In short, no. You just need a different (read: better) way to reach your core audience.

Why first-party cookies are a sustainable strategy to scale for creators

First-party data is data you own. Think of things like your email list or a pixel (a bit of tracking code) on your website. It’s data you (and only you) can use for advertising purposes.

Aside from being data you own exclusively, first-party data is beneficial for other reasons.

Lower your advertising costs

For large direct-to-consumer brands who have big pockets to experiment on cold audiences, the end of third-party cookies might seem less daunting. But many creators don’t have the luxury to spend thousands of dollars testing and need to find cost-effective ways to reach their audience.

Using first-party data, you won’t need to spend as much money testing the custom audiences you intend to target. You’ll be confident that the people you’re targeting are already interested in your brand (after all, they’ve already signed up for your email list or browsed your website). And because they’re familiar with your brand, you’re not targeting a completely cold audience, so you won’t need to spend as much money on ads trying to warm them up.

Create a flawless multi-layered advertising strategy

Without first-party data, you need to rely on data from other platforms, like Pinterest or Facebook, to build an audience for your ads. Since each platform has different methods for creating audiences, it’s near impossible to ensure you’re targeting an identical segment of people with your ads on multiple platforms.

But with first-party data, you no longer need to rely on each individual ad platform to create your audience. Instead, you can create an advertising campaign that spans across several different social platforms that reaches the same people every single time.

More granular data

With first-party data, you get to decide which data you collect, helping you build valuable audience segments.

For example, if you’re an indie author who has published three books, you can choose to collect data that shows who purchased how many books of yours and which books they bought.

While third-party data can help you create a variety of different audiences, it ultimately lacks the ability to get super specific in regards to your own business.

Your audience is uniquely yours

One of the greatest benefits of first-party data is that it’s yours and nobody else’s. You have full control over how you use your data, how you segment it, and best of all, you don’t need to worry about losing access to it. First party-data gives you major peace of mind.

How you can lean into first-party data

With third-party cookies going out the window, many companies are now rushing to implement first-party data collection. But there’s no need to scramble—there are plenty of ways to prepare for the end of third-party cookies without breaking a sweat.

Build your email list

Building your email list is the best way to collect first-party data for two reasons: you can reach your audience directly, and you can use that data to create custom audiences on ad platforms. And since 92% of consumers say email is their favorite marketing channel, your audience will be delighted to hop onto your list!

1. Reach your audience directly

When it comes to social media, you’re constantly tussling with finicky algorithms and wondering whether your audience is seeing your content.

However, when you shift your focus to building your email list, you get direct access to communicate with your brand’s biggest fans.

With ConvertKit, you can create attractive landing pages and opt-in forms to encourage people to sign up for your list. And through our automations, it’s easy to grow your list, learn about your subscriber’s preferences, and collect first-party data on autopilot—in an ethical and privacy-centric way.

2. Create custom audiences on Facebook and other ad platforms

Have you ever felt like you were crossing your fingers with your ads on social media? Same. Trying to build an audience from the ground up is daunting.

There are many different criteria to choose from when creating ads. All the choices can make creating an audience difficult and confusing.

Enter custom audiences. A custom audience on Facebook is a group of people who have interacted with your business, either by being on your email list, visiting your website, or making a purchase from you. In other words, these people know, like, and trust you as a creator.

You can create a custom audience on various ad platforms by uploading your email list. Then, target your ads to those people.

For example, let’s say you’ve recently launched a course. Using ConvertKit, tag subscribers who are on the fence about enrolling. Maybe they viewed your landing page but didn’t pull the trigger and buy. You can export every subscriber with the tag “viewed landing page but didn’t buy”, create a custom audience with these subscribers on Facebook, and target ads towards them. Seeing more info about your course (through the ads) might nudge more people towards enrolling. You can’t achieve this specificity with third-party data.

Add tracking pixels to your site

Tracking pixels are snippets of code that collect data about your site visitors that you (and only you) can use to create custom audiences on various ad platforms. When someone visits your site and gives their consent, each pixel you set up will store their data.

Tracking codes are unique to you and look something like this one above.

The more people that visit your site, the more data your pixels can gather, which helps you reach more people through ads.

There’s no one-size-fits-all tracking pixel, and you’ll need to install individual pixels depending on which platforms you’ll be advertising on. Luckily, adding pixels to your site is as simple as copying the pixel and pasting it to your code.

Here are some popular pixels/tags you can use to get started:

After installing your pixels, focus on driving people to your site through methods like SEO, social media marketing, and your email list.

Tip: It’s better to add tracking codes to your website sooner rather than later—your pixel needs time to collect enough data before you can use it to create an audience for your ads.

Develop a multichannel marketing strategy

Multichannel marketing helps you connect with your audience in all the places they hang out, making it easier to funnel them to platforms you own.

Focus on growing communities, like private Facebook groups or Slack channels. Use these communities to encourage people to visit your website (where your pixels can gather data) or sign up for your email list (so you can contact them directly).

Get to know your audience

Although we don’t quite know exactly what advertising will look like post-third-party cookies, taking the time to get to know your audience is another way you can prepare.

For example, Google is working on Topics, a replacement for third-party cookies that groups people into cohorts based on their interests. Advertisers can use those interests to target groups of people rather than individuals.

Learning about the interests of your audience will help you jump into things like Google’s Topics when they launch.

You likely already know a good deal about who’s in your audience based on what they’ve bought from you in the past and the links they click in your newsletters but consider sending a survey to learn even more.

Find out things like what TV shows they like, what they do in their spare time, or what books they read. You can create surveys right in ConvertKit using tags, making it easy to understand your audience on a personal level.

Create exclusive content

If you’re a blogger stressing about falling RPMs (and you’re already working on growing your email list and building your presence on different platforms), consider offering exclusive content within your blog posts.

Ad management platform Mediavine saw a need for privacy-centric data collection at scale to keep RPMs high for bloggers. They created Grow, which will soon be open to all bloggers—even those who aren’t with Mediavine.

Here’s how exclusive content with Grow works:

  1. You choose to “lock” certain content (images, downloads, or text)
  2. If a user wants to access the content you’ve locked, they need to create an account with Grow
  3. When they create an account with Grow, they also agree to be added to your email list so you can build your list at the same time
  4. After they create their account, they can access the locked content
You can lock downloads, certain text, and images within your blog posts. Readers can unlock it by signing up. Image via Mediavine.

You might think this sounds like an opt-in, and you’d be semi-correct, except for one subtle distinction: when someone logs into Grow on your blog, they’re giving Mediavine permission to use their data across any blogs they visit that also use Grow.

As more websites enable Grow, Mediavine will be able to collect more first-party data so they can place relevant display ads on a blogger’s site and keep RPMs high.

Scale and achieve sustainable growth through first-party data

While we can’t say with 100% certainty what the digital landscape will look like post-third-party cookies, we do know one thing: it’s an exciting—albeit nerve-wracking—time to be a creator.

You have a rare opportunity to redefine your marketing strategy and make it even more resilient and reliable.

ConvertKit is ready to help you grow your email list and learn more about your audience, so you can feel calm, collected, and in control when third-party cookies are ultimately retired.

Own the relationship with your audience

ConvertKit helps you build a relationship with your followers and own that connection you make with them through your email list.

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Dana Nicole

Dana is a freelance writer who works closely with B2B SaaS brands to create content people enjoy reading. When she’s not working, you’ll find her sipping on a warm cup of tea and reading a good book (the scarier, the better). See what she’s up to at www.dananicoledesigns.com

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