Hero image: third-party cookies are going away

How Healthcare Advertisers Can Target Audiences Without Third-Party Cookies

By Stewart Gandolf, Chief Executive Officer

Targeted advertising is powerful and effective.  

It relies on data about who your audience is and what they are looking for. 

Up until recently, advertisers had easy access to valuable third-party data and targeting options from giants like Google and Apple. These companies gathered this data through cookies, hence the name, third-party cookies. 

But things are about to change. 

With recent developments from Google, Apple, and Facebook, advertisers are walking into a new world – one without data from third-party cookies. 

Without this data and targeting options, advertisers will need to figure out new ways to collect, use, and market data points they have relied on for years. 

Finally, I offer a solution to this major shift – start collecting first-party data now.

Feel free to jump to the information you need now:

Now for some basics about data. 

User Data: First Party versus Third-Party Data 

To understand third-party data, let’s first understand first-party data. 

What is First-Party Data?

First-party data includes any user information collected directly by the website and is intended to enhance the user experience. First-party data is accurate, compliant with General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), and includes things like:

    • Login credentials
    • Website activity
    • Shopping cart items
    • Purchase history
    • Demographics
    • Language preference
    • Email engagement
    • Sales interactions
    • Support calls
    • Customer feedback surveys

What is Third-Party Data?

Third-party data collects the same user information; however, it’s collected by third-party companies that do not have direct relationships with users. 

These companies might pay certain websites to collect their user information. The data is stored in third-party cookies (snippets of code) and is then pieced together to create detailed user profiles as users move around the web.

Third-party cookies, also known as tracking cookies or trackers, are commonly used by third-party websites to build marketing profiles. Marketers and advertisers then use these profiles to create highly targeted ads. 

Though the impact is unknown, Google’s efforts to phase out the third-party cookies on Chrome will dramatically affect options and data points healthcare marketers can advertise.

As mentioned above, marketers have used third-party cookies for years to track and collect user data, giving people a highly personalized user experience with tailored ads and content. 

Eliminating third-party cookies will completely unravel how companies use this data to increase conversions and generate revenue. 

Why is Google getting rid of third-party cookies? 

Google cookies are going away amid user demands for greater privacy, transparency, choice, and control over how their data is used. 

According to a study by Pew Research Center, “72% of people feel that almost all of what they do online is being tracked by advertisers, technology firms or other companies, and 81% say that the potential risks they face because of data collection outweigh the benefits.”

This move also comes on the heels of a recent ruling by the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), the toughest data privacy and security law in the world. It was drafted and signed into law in 2018 by the European Union (EU); however, GDPR carries heavy legal responsibilities for organizations across the globe. 

Google’s Official Announcement and Recent Developments 

In January 2020, Google announced it would phase out third-party cookies on its web browser. Chrome, which owns approximately 64% of the market share worldwide, is the only major web browser that does not block third-party cookies by default. 

In June 2021, Google published an updated timeline that outlines its new cookie depreciation milestones. These milestones ostensibly push the launch of the phase-out from January 2022 to mid-2023, with planned completion by late 2023.

Google’s Director of Product Management, Ads Privacy and Trust, David Temkin, adds, “Once third-party cookies are phased out, we will not build alternate identifiers to track individuals as they browse the web, nor will we use them in our products.”

Once Google pulls the plug on third-party cookies, 44% of marketers speculate they’ll need to increase ad spending by 5-25% to reach the same goals as 2021 and 2022.

While this all seems like bad news, I have three pieces of good news for you:

  1. These changes do not take effect until late 2023.
  2. There’s more than one way to gather the data you need.
  3. Thanks to HIPAA guidelines, healthcare marketers are used to working with fewer data points, so we’re already ahead of the curve.

How do advertisers and healthcare organizations use third-party data today?

Advertisers and healthcare organizations use third-party data to target new audiences that align with their existing client personas.

Let’s say someone is searching for a physician specializing in cardiovascular disease treatments in Mission Viejo (a suburb of Los Angeles). Third-party data helps advertisers group target audiences into smaller segments, allowing them to more effectively market their services locally. 

What does cookie depreciation mean for healthcare organizations?

Luckily, healthcare marketers are relatively well-prepared for a cookie-less world because we’re accustomed to maintaining HIPAA compliance in everything we do. This compliance extends to collecting protected health information (PHI) and personal identifying information (PII) online.

However, healthcare marketers will still need to adapt to the changing landscape. 

We believe first-party data will become increasingly important for providing valuable content for users. Savvy marketers should start planning now to create timely, relevant content that’s so compelling that users will gladly exchange their personal information to access it.

More tech giants are losing their cookies, too.

Google isn’t the only tech giant tightening its grip on privacy. Apple and Facebook are also making moves toward cookie depreciation. 


What’s happening at Apple?

In April 2021, Apple rolled out new privacy updates requiring apps to obtain explicit permission, using an opt-in prompt before tracking user behavior across devices and websites. 

What does this affect?

Unless users opt-in to tracking, app providers have lost the ability to track users across platforms—and deliver tailored ads. These changes give iOS 14 users the ability to turn off browser-side tracking and limit the data advertisers can collect.

Since the iOS 14 privacy changes were rolled out, 62% of iPhone users opt out of device tracking for ads.

What steps can you take?

Healthcare marketers need to pivot and focus on alternative strategies like organic and paid SEO tactics and nurture programs to gain and win user trust and customer loyalty.


What’s happening at Facebook?

According to Graham Mudd, Facebook’s VP of Product Marketing for Ads, the company’s targeted ads will also evolve over the next five years to accommodate more user privacy and less granular ad targeting. While we don’t have specifics yet, healthcare marketers should assume less visibility into their data. 

In the meantime, they’re focused on outpacing Apple’s recent privacy changes with Conversions API. This software creates a direct connection between your marketing data and the Facebook systems, which will help optimize ad targeting. Essentially, advertisers will need to rely on Facebook’s Conversions API to collect data about their users’ interactions with their Facebook ads.


What’s happening at Google?

To recap, Google is phasing out third-party cookies on the Chrome browser by late 2023. However, they’re looking at ways to access user data in a way that preserves anonymity. Implementation details have not been published, but Google just announced Topics API, which proposes a way to provide marketers with topics that users might currently be interested in, based on their recent browsing activity. 

What will the cookie phase-out effect?

Publishers using the Chrome browser will have to adjust the code on third-party cookies to reveal how they track users across the web. If they don’t, Google will delete them. This move has left digital marketing professionals in many industries scrambling to strategize the continued collection of consumer data.

What steps can you take?

Google remains confident that privacy-preserving and open-standard mechanisms like the Topics API proposal for their Privacy Sandbox can sustain a healthy, ad-supported web while rendering third-party cookies obsolete. In the meantime, healthcare marketers should focus on first-party data collection on their websites, apps, and social media channels

Four Ways Healthcare Advertisers Can Prepare for a Cookie-less World

While these changes may seem overwhelming, now is the perfect time for healthcare marketers to prioritize their first-party data strategy. 

Here’s what you can do:

1.      Collect first-party data

Make a plan to collect first-party data from the sources you have available, including:

    • Mobile apps
    • Websites
    • Social media
    • SMS (text messaging)
    • Email
    • Surveys
    • Beacons
    • Customer service interactions
    • CRM systems
    • Direct mail (using digital data to inform your offline campaigns)

2.      Update your CRM

Optimize your Customer Relationship Management (CRM) tool to ensure it’s collecting, organizing, and unifying customer data. A CRM creates comprehensive customer profiles that draw from multiple data sources and systems. As a result, marketers have a holistic understanding of where, when, and how their customers like to interact.

3.      Identify alternate targeting tactics.

Reach out to key media platforms (e.g., Facebook, Google, Apple) to learn more about their solutions to help navigate this change.

4.      Consider different strategies

Contextual targeting is an oldie but a goodie; this strategy matches ads to relevant sites in the Display Network using your keywords or topics, among other factors. Moving forward, advertisers need to focus on value and relevance.

The sooner healthcare marketers embrace the idea of a cookie-less world and adjust their strategies to focus on first-party data, the better off they’ll be once Google says goodbye to third-party cookies forever.

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