What are cookies and how to advertise without using them

If you advertise online, you make use of cookies. In 2024, you can no longer use some of those advertising cookies. But what are cookies and how do you advertise without them? Find out in this article.

What are cookies?

Cookies are small files that you place on your visitors' computers, laptops or phones. They allow you to track your visitors' behaviour. For instance, you see which pages they view and whether they do so via their computer or mobile phone. You can use this information to improve your website. 

If you advertise via Google or social media and you select your target groups based on characteristics, such as where they live or how old they are, you also use cookies. These are called third-party cookies. Third-party cookies allow you to track visitors when they go to other websites after seeing your ad. Your ad will then also be shown on those other websites.

No more third-party cookies

To better protect consumer privacy, the use of third-party cookies is disappearing in 2024. It will no longer be possible to track consumers, store personal information (such as their age and interests), or show your ad to similar target groups. As a result, far fewer people will see your ad. They also see your ads less often.

This is because of the following:  

  • Your website statistics are less specific. For example, you can still see how many visitors have been on your website, but you cannot see or use personal data, such as age and interests of these visitors for ads. As a result, you cannot advertise among a certain age group, for example. 
  • 'Retargeting' based on third-party cookies is no longer possible. With retargeting, someone clicks on your ad via Instagram, for example, and then comes to your website. They then leave your website and then see the same ad for your product on, for example, Nu.nl. That automatic repeated showing of your ad to the same person will soon be impossible.
  • If you advertise on Facebook and Google, for instance, they will show your ad to a similar target group. This is a group of people with the same characteristics as your current customers. These so-called 'lookalike audiences' are no longer available from 2024. 

In short: thanks to the expiry of third-party cookies, your customer's privacy is better protected, but you have less visibility into who your online customer is and what they are doing. 

Advertise without cookies

Here's how to advertise effectively without using third-party cookies. 

1. Collect your own data in a system

Collect your own customer data so you can advertise in a targeted way. Data you can access yourself are, for example:

  • Your newsletter statistics. In your newsletter software, you can see, for instance, which links your readers click a lot on. If you advertise online, you may use cookies. What are cookies and what do you do when third-party cookies expire in 2024? 
  • Your website statistics. With Google Analytics 4, for example, keep track of how many visitors your website has and what they do on your website. Think of clicking on a link , filling in an online form or watching a video. 
  • Customer data such as name, address and previous purchases that you store in a Customer Relation Management (CRM) system. 

Note: keep in mind the privacy rules of the GDPR if you collect customer data. Keep a record of what personal data you store in a processing register.

2. Contextual ads: advertising by topic

Advertise on websites and pages that are interesting and relevant to your target audience. Or place an ad next to an article or blog that relates well to your product or service. For example, do you sell clothes made from sustainable fabrics? See if you can advertise on websites or blogs where sustainability is the topic. The more the topic is in line with your product or service, the better.

According to a 2020 research, an ad without cookies can be just as successful as an ad you create based on self-collected personal data (Source: Ether Advertising Foundation, STER). STER concluded that ads placed in relevant places receive positive attention. Ads placed on web pages with similar topics also generate more clicks and a better converting action, such as a purchase. 

3. Map your customer journey

Look at the route your customers take before they buy your product or service. That route is also called customer journey. A customer journey consists of an overview of moments when customers encounter your business. Think of social media messages, reviews from other customers, contact with your customer service or interaction in your webshop. Mapping the customer journey gives you insight into the moments when customers buy or drop out. This information can then be used for contextual campaigns: for instance, you place your ads on websites that customers use to delve deeper into certain topics. For example, as a handyman or contractor, you can advertise on articles about applying for a mortgage. People looking for a mortgage want to buy a new house and may also want to have something remodelled immediately.

4. Invest in special software

Investigate your customer's online behaviour with dedicated software. Currently, there are already several tools on the market that allow you to analyse data, without ad cookies, such asGoogle Analytics 4 or the Dutch company Tracedock. Tracedock's software hides part of users' IP address, allowing their data to enter Google Analytics anonymously. With the remaining data, you can improve your marketing strategy."

Getting started

Prepare for online advertising without third-party cookies with the following articles: 

  • Collecting data? Protect your customer data with these 3 tips.  
  • Contextual advertising? Ask how a fellow entrepreneur has handled it. 
  • Mapping the customer journey? A customer journey will increase your sales.  
  • Investing in software? Avoid a bad buy.