Neil Patel

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Data Deprecation: What It Is and How To Prepare

A graphic that says "Data Depreciation: What It Is and How To Prepare

The way you collect customer data is changing forever. 

You can’t hide from data deprecation any longer. By the end of 2024, you’ll lose access to almost all third-party cookies. That will make it much harder for you to track user behavior and personalize your marketing efforts. 

All is not lost, however. 

If you’re wondering what data deprecation is, how you can prepare for it, and what marketing strategies will work in the future, I’m here to help. 

Key Takeaways

  • Data deprecation is the loss of data quality or value over time.
  • Data deprecation in marketing refers to the loss of cookies, strengthening privacy regulations, walled gardens, and consumer privacy expectations.
  • Brands will lose access to almost all third-party browser-based cookies by the end of 2024, meaning they’ll need to use different marketing tactics.
  • First-party cookies (those created by your own website) and zero-party (cookieless) data are two strategies you can use to fight cookie deprecation.

What Is Data Deprecation?

Data deprecation refers to how data loses its value and becomes less useful over time. 

It’s a hot topic in the marketing world at the moment as a string of changes are limiting the amount of data marketers can get their hands on.  

In total, there are four factors that influence data deprecation:

  • Cookie deprecation: Browsers like Google Chrome are introducing Privacy Sandboxes that eliminate cross-site tracking through third-party tracking. 
  • Privacy regulations: Governments have introduced strict regulations like GDPR and the California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA) to ensure user data stays safe and protected. They are enforcing these regulations, too. In 2023, the EU fined Meta €390 million for collecting and sharing user data. 
  • Walled gardens: Technology companies are using walled gardens that give them control over all applications and content on their platforms. Apple, for example, is bolstering its privacy features by eliminating App tracking and increasing Mail privacy protections.
  • Consumer privacy expectations: People are becoming more concerned with how their data is used and want more control over what businesses can and can’t do with their personal information. According to Cisco, 74 percent of people aware of their country’s privacy laws believe they can protect personal data.

Preparing for The Loss of Third-Party Cookies

The loss of third-party cookies is the biggest data deprecation issue facing marketers. 

A third-party cookie is a piece of code one domain creates to track data on another. 

So, for example, let’s say you have social sharing buttons on your blog posts. These cookies are created by the social network platform and used on your site to identify which buttons web visitors have clicked.

While some uses of third-party cookies are harmless, they can be used to track consumers across the web and build deeply personal profiles. Those profiles can be used to build creepily personalized online experiences or sold to other companies. 

It’s no surprise, then, that third-party cookies are in the process of being phased out, due to privacy and security concerns. Firefox and Safari now block third-party cookies by default, with Chrome pledging to stop using them by the end of 2024. 

A graphiic showing browser marketshare differences.

Given that those three browsers account for more than 86 percent of market share, marketers will lose access to almost every third-party cookie they previously used. 

That’s a big problem. 

Research by Adobe finds that 75 percent of advertisers still rely heavily on third-party cookies and 45 percent of marketers are spending at least half their budgets on campaigns based on them. 

There’s no getting around it; marketing strategies are going to have to change. 

How Data Deprecation Impacts Your Marketing Strategy

Data deprecation means we must rethink how we collect and use customer data.

Take targeting and personalization, for example. In the past, businesses used third-party cookie data to identify users and present them with advertising tailored to them. 

But now, marketers will find it harder to personalize offers to users because of a lack of browsing and behavioral data. As we’ll see below, the only way they’ll be able to do this is through cookies on their own site.  

The removal of third-party cookies will also impact analytics-based performance reporting. With no third-party data, it will be much harder for brands to calculate KPIs like return on ad spend (ROAS).  

The same goes for multi-touch attribution. With even stronger limitations on cross-site and cross-platform data sharing, marketers will find it almost impossible to understand how users behave across the entire customer journey. 

Finally, data deprecation will also force marketers to approach things differently. It will be more important to nurture customer relationships and be more open about how personal data is used. By being more honest and building trust with web visitors, they’re more likely to consent to their data being used.

Strategies To Handle Data Deprecation

The good news is that organizations like Google are taking steps to ensure marketers can continue to receive a steady flow of data.

For example, Google Analytics 4, or GA4, has been designed to use first-party cookies rather than third-party ones. It also uses artificial intelligence to predict future user behavior, for example, how likely a customer is to convert on your website.

It’s still important that businesses take steps to review and audit their personal use of third-party cookies. 

There are two ways companies can replace third-party cookies: first-party cookies and cookieless marketing. Let’s look at both options.

First-Party Cookies

Google isn’t phasing out all cookies. It will still let marketers leverage first-party cookies—the kind that track basic data about users on your own site. 

This cookie gets stored automatically on your visitor’s computer when they visit your site. It improves the user experience by remembering your preferences and storing passwords. It’s how Amazon remembers what you viewed the last time you logged onto the site.

How Amazon remembers things that

As Rob Tindula, Director, SEO at NP Digital, explains: 

“Platforms like GA4 and Universal Analytics work using “first party” cookies which are not being changed. The removal of third-party cookies will impact things like remarketing and retargeting campaigns, which is all paid.

If anything, it will make first-party data even more important now. We as marketers will need to make assumptions based on the data we do have and infer that the numbers we see represent less than the overall number.”

No wonder 40 percent of B2C marketers interviewed by Forrester have already implemented a first-party data strategy. 

So, how can you use first-party cookies to your advantage?

Personalizing your website’s user experience is arguably the best use of first-party cookies. For example, you can use a tool like Coveo to personalize product recommendations based on a user’s previous browsing history. 

The Coveo Tool

Alternatively, your site can remember information users have entered in the past so they don’t have to submit it again. This is commonly done with passwords and payment information, but you could also remember your customer’s dress or shoe size.

Best of all, sixty-nine percent of customers are more than happy with website personalization if they’ve consented to share information.

Use first-party cookies to link customer profiles across different platforms like websites and mobile apps. This helps provide a smooth and seamless omnichannel experience.

You can also use first-party data to create customer segments. For example, you can build lists of customers that have visited a specific section of your website, or that abandoned a shopping cart. This helps you create targeted advertising, like remarketing or retargeting.

Cookieless Marketing

Cookies have their uses, but you don’t necessarily need them for advertising. This is where marketing without cookies comes in.

Also referred to as marketing with zero-party data, the benefit of a cookieless approach is that the only user data you’re capturing is information customers voluntarily provide. This approach makes it much easier to stay compliant and ensures you aren’t upsetting consumers with practices they might find creepy. 

One of the best ways to utilize cookieless marketing is through email marketing. If customers are willing to give you their email address, you’ve opened up a low-cost and effective marketing channel you can use to advertise to them.

It’s why e-commerce stores are so willing to give you a discount when you provide your email address:

An example of an e-commerce discount.

Contextual advertising is another zero-party data marketing method. This is where you place ads in line with a web page’s content. This means that the audience most likely to buy a product or service will see the advertisement.

For example, let’s say you sell women’s clothing. You can advertise a particular dress within a blog post about women’s evening wear. 

Cohort audiences also come under the cookieless marketing umbrella. Let’s say you’ve collected information about customers who buy from your business. 

Cohort advertising uses artificial intelligence and machine learning to find people that haven’t bought from you, but that closely match the demographics, interests, and behavior of people that have. You can then advertise to these people using the platform of your choice.

This type of marketing is ideal if you want to use paid social tracking without cookies.

And don’t forget the other digital marketing strategies that don’t rely on third-party cookies, including SEO and content marketing.

Why Agencies Can Be Your Data Deprecation Solution

With data deprecation right around the corner, it’s important that organizations make the right moves to adjust their data collection and targeting strategies. 

But where should they start? 

Research shows most marketers aren’t prepared for the loss of third-party cookies. In fact, just 33 percent say they are well-prepared. Even those who have taken steps to deal with the loss of third-party cookies don’t know how to take action. According to one study, 82 percent of marketers say they have access to zero-party data, but 42 percent don’t know how to use it effectively. 

The truth is that the loss of third-party cookies requires such a shift in marketing strategy that many brands are unable to handle it alone. 

So, if your business relies heavily on third-party cookies, you should consider hiring an agency to overhaul your strategy. Most agencies have experience in a wide range of industries, which means they can quickly develop a data deprecation strategy that delivers results for your organization. 

The right agency partner will evaluate what first-party data you need, identify alternative data sources, and determine which systems you can use to gather and store this information. For example, they can help you optimize your existing CRM platform to segment your customers more effectively.

An experienced agency will also keep you up-to-date with regulations to ensure compliance, and they’ll help you adopt privacy-centric guidelines and standards to build trust amongst your web users.

FAQs

What is data deprecation?

The meaning of data deprecation in regards to digital marketing is how certain types of data become irrelevant and unusable over time.

For example, take third-party cookies used by businesses to gather information and advertise to prospective customers. Browsers like Safari and Firefox have now blocked third-party cookies, with Chrome set to block them by the end of 2024.

Can data deprecation impact marketing analytics and reporting accuracy?

Data deprecation will significantly impact the reporting accuracy of any marketing analytics tool that relies on third-party data. 

The vast majority of your Google Analytics reports will be fine, because these rely on first-party data from your website. But advertising reports, multi-channel attribution analytics, and customer journey analysis tools will all be affected by a lack of third-party data. 

This will make it harder for brands to understand where customers come from, which channels are the most profitable, and how they should spread ad spend. 

Conclusion

Data deprecation will completely change the playing field for marketers. But it doesn’t necessarily mean your campaigns have to suffer. 

There are plenty of other strategies available, including SEO, content marketing, and email marketing.

Besides, by focusing on first-party and zero-party cookies, you can still build powerful personalized experiences for users—the kind that foster deep customer loyalty.

And if you’re still stuck, my team and I are always here to help. 

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