Third-party cookie targeting in online advertising: practices and perspectives

Third-party cookie targeting in online advertising: practices and perspectives

Les points clΓ©s

Third-party cookies allow personalized advertising targeting based on user behavior on various sites.
They provide effective personalization and retargeting, but raise privacy concerns.
Regulations like the GDPR and changes in web browsers are redefining the use of third-party cookies.
The advertising industry must adapt by finding a balance between precise targeting and respecting the privacy of users.

Introduction: definition of targeting by third-party cookies.

The importance of targeting in online advertising.

Third-party cookie ad targeting has long been a cornerstone of online advertising, allowing advertisers to personalize their campaigns based on user behavior.

These small bits of data played a crucial role in delivering relevant and targeted ads. However, with the rapid evolution of the digital ecosystem and growing concerns about privacy, the landscape of third-party cookie targeting is experiencing significant changes. It is imperative to thoroughly understand how third-party cookies work, their current limitations, and the challenges advertisers face in this new context.

In this changing context, let's explore the ins and outs of third-party cookie targeting and look at the new approaches that are emerging to meet the changing needs of the online advertising industry.

πŸ‘‰ How third-party cookies work:

Explanation of how third-party cookies work in advertising targeting.

Third-party cookies play a central role in the digital advertising ecosystem by allowing advertisers to track user activities across various websites. Unlike first-party cookies, which are created and used by the website that the user visits directly, third-party cookies are placed by domains other than that of the site visited. Typically, these cookies are installed by advertising networks or analytics platforms.

When a user accesses a website, third-party cookies are placed in their browser via integrated elements such as advertising banners or tracking pixels. These cookies collect various information such as the pages visited, the time spent on each of them, the clicks made, and sometimes even more specific details such as the search terms used. This data is then used to build detailed profiles of user preferences and behaviors, thus allowing personalized and accurate advertising targeting.

The collection of this information allows advertisers to carry out highly targeted advertising campaigns. For example, if a user searches for information about electric cars and visits specialized automotive sites, third-party cookies will record these interests and may subsequently show relevant advertising for electric vehicles on other sites that the user visits. This method aims to show ads that correspond to the interests shown by the user, thus increasing the probability of clicking and potentially converting.

However, the use of these cookies raises important privacy questions, as users are not always aware of how much data is collected or how it is used. In addition, with the entry into force of more stringent data protection regulations, such as the RGPD In Europe, the use of third-party cookies is subject to more stringent rules, often requiring the explicit consent of users.

πŸ‘‰ Benefits for advertisers:

The use of third party cookies in advertising targeting has long offered advertisers a series of significant advantages, which have shaped the effectiveness and accuracy of online advertising campaigns.

Here are the main benefits for an advertiser:

  • Precise Targeting: Third-party cookies track user behavior across multiple websites, giving advertisers the ability to understand the interests and preferences of their audience in detail. This leads to very accurate advertising targeting based on users' online activities.
  • Customization: With the data collected, advertisers can personalize advertising messages to make them more relevant to each user. Personalized ads tend to engage better and can improve conversion rates.
  • Effective Retargeting: Third-party cookies are essential for retargeting, which allows advertising to be presented to users who have already visited a specific website or shown interest in certain product categories. This increases the likelihood of the user coming back and making a purchase.
  • Measurement and Attribution : Third-party cookies make it easy to track user journeys across different sites and devices, helping advertisers measure the effectiveness of their campaigns and attribute conversions to the right advertising channels.
  • Optimizing campaigns : With the insights gathered through third-party cookies, advertisers can optimize their campaigns in real time, adjusting bids, messages, and targets to improve return on investment (ROI).
  • Frequency management: Cookies help control the number of times an advertisement is shown to a user, thereby improving the user experience and increasing the effectiveness of ad spending.
  • Behavioral analysis: Third-party cookie data allows for advanced behavioral analyses, giving advertisers insights into the buying journey and consumer preferences.
  • Segmentation and modeling: Using cookie data, advertisers can create sophisticated audience segments and model consumer behavior to predict future buying trends and adjust targeting strategies.
  • Competitiveness on programmatic platforms: Third-party cookies facilitate the programmatic purchase of ads, allowing advertisers to buy advertising space more effectively by bidding in real time for the most relevant users.
  • Cross-device tracking: Although complex, cross-device tracking with third-party cookies helps to understand how users interact with brands across devices, allowing for a consistent and unified marketing strategy. It is important to note that, while these benefits are significant, the trend towards a more privacy-friendly internet and regulatory changes require advertisers to explore alternatives to third-party cookies that maintain these benefits while protecting user privacy.

πŸ‘‰ Limitations and issues associated with third party cookies:

Although third-party cookies have been the cornerstone of online advertising tracking for years, they have intrinsic limitations and are the subject of growing concerns in terms of privacy and regulation.

  • Tracking limitations: Tracking based on third party cookies depends on the permissiveness of browsers and user settings. With the increase in private browsing practices and the use of ad blockers, third-party cookies are often disabled or removed, limiting their effectiveness. Additionally, they don't work effectively in multi-device and cross-platform environments. Cookies do not track the user from device to device, making it difficult to create a unified user profile in an increasingly mobile-focused world.
  • Privacy concerns: Third-party cookies raise major concerns about the privacy of users. Large-scale data collection without explicit user consent has led to increased public awareness and distrust. Users are increasingly concerned about who collects their data, how it is stored, who has access to it, and how it is used.
  • Regulation and RGPD:The regulatory response to these privacy concerns has been significant. The European Union, with the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), has imposed strict controls on the collection and use of personal data. According to the GDPR, users must be informed about data collection and must give their explicit consent before their data is processed. These regulations have a significant impact on the use of third-party cookies: businesses must now ensure that they obtain clear consent and demonstrate how they protect the data collected.
  • Consequences for advertisers: For advertisers, these developments mean they need to rethink their tracking and targeting strategies. They must not only comply with new privacy laws, but also find new methods to reach their audience in an effective and privacy-friendly manner. The limitations of third-party cookies have stimulated the search for more sustainable and less intrusive alternatives, such as context-based targeting solutions or the use of first-party data.
In sum, while third-party cookies have been a valuable tool for advertisers, tracking limitations and growing privacy concerns, coupled with an increasingly stringent regulatory framework, signal an inevitable turn towards new methodologies and technologies in digital advertising.

πŸ‘‰ Changes in the landscape of third-party cookies:

The landscape of third-party cookies has seen significant changes, with profound impacts on digital advertising strategies.

  • Browser changes:A major transformation has come from browser developers who have started blocking third-party cookies by default. Apple's Safari and Mozilla's Firefox were among the first to incorporate anti-tracking features, and Google announced plans to make third-party cookies obsolete on Chrome. These steps are being taken to improve user privacy, but they are also redefining the playing field for online advertisers and publishers.
  • Impact on advertisers: For advertisers, the evolution of browsers means a decrease in the availability of user data traditionally obtained by third-party cookies. This forces them to look for alternative methods to target audiences and measure the effectiveness of their campaigns. Identifying users accurately is becoming more difficult, which can lead to an increase in acquisition costs and a decrease in advertising relevance. Advertisers must now adapt by making greater use of first-party data collected directly from their audience or by exploring new technologies such as universal identifiers, which promise to maintain privacy while allowing a certain degree of advertising tracking.
  • Coping strategies: To remain competitive, advertisers must therefore not only comply with privacy standards, but also innovate in how they collect and use data. The use ofArtificial intelligence to analyze behavioral trends, the contextual targeting, where ads are placed based on the content of a page rather than user behavior, and deepening partnerships with platforms with rich first-party data are emerging strategies.
  • Future perspective: changes in the third-party cookie landscape are far from over, with long-term implications for the online advertising industry. Advertisers need to remain attentive and flexible, ready to adopt new tools and approaches to reach their audience. The key to success will be their ability to effectively balance targeted advertising with increased respect for user privacy, which will undeniably mark the future of digital advertising.
Conclusion: Third-party cookie ad targeting has shaped the online advertising industry for decades, allowing advertisers to deliver highly personalized messages to consumers. The effectiveness of this approach is not negligible, offering undeniable advantages such as better targeted campaigns and measurable advertising performance, resulting in higher conversion rates and a better return on investment.

The advantages:

  • Extensive customization: Third-party cookies allow in-depth knowledge of users' preferences and online behavior, leading to a very precise personalization of ads.
  • Effectiveness measure: They offer advertisers the ability to track and analyze the effectiveness of their campaigns accurately, by tracking user journeys across various sites.
  • Real-time optimization: They facilitate the real-time optimization of campaigns through the continuous collection of performance data.

The disadvantages:

  • Privacy concerns: The extensive use of third-party cookies has raised ethical questions and contributed to increased awareness of personal data protection issues.
  • Strict regulations: Regulators have responded with laws such as the GDPR and the CCPA, severely limiting the use of these cookies and forcing advertisers to review their strategies.
  • Ad blockers: Increasing hostility to intrusive advertising has encouraged the use of ad blockers, reducing the effectiveness of third-party cookie targeting.
Striking a balance: The advertising industry is at a crossroads, having to balance the benefits of precise targeting with privacy requirements. This requires strategic thinking about the use of first-party data, adopting privacy-friendly technology solutions, and greater transparency with consumers.


Ultimately, while third-party cookies seem destined for gradual obsolescence, the challenge for advertisers will be to maintain the benefits of precise targeting while respecting new privacy standards.


The inescapable conclusion is that innovation will be the driving force of the advertising sector: new targeting methods must emerge that are just as effective but more respectful of users' privacy.
The ability to adapt to this change will determine tomorrow's market leaders in the online advertising space.


Below are the alternatives for more respectful targeting without compromising your performance.

πŸ”— Semantic targeting ‍

πŸ”— Advanced identification strategies (ID)‍

πŸ”— Cohort targeting




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