Retargeter Blog

Is the World of Advertising Moving Away from Cookies?

Cookies are the central force behind many online marketing tactics and a sensitive subject for Internet users. Is the world of advertising moving away from cookies? Well, the answer is yes and no. As some organizations move away from them, how does this affect retargeting? Will the marketing practice survive this change, if it happens? Will online marketers be faced with an uncertain future?  Probably not, but it’s important to be aware of the changes that are coming and to prepare for them in advance.

Within the past few months, multiple Internet heavy-hitters including Microsoft Corporation, Google, Mozilla, and Facebook have made announcements related to the development of systems that control and eliminate the use of cookies on their sites. Is this big news? Yes. Are these surprising announcements? Honestly, not really.

The Role of Cookies in Retargeting Campaigns

Cookies are a defining feature of retargeting. In fact, they’re the reason retargeting was able to get off the ground in the first place.

Developers embed code into the backend of sites that drop cookies onto visitors’ web browsers. When a visitor leaves their site and moves onto another site, as designated by the retargeting campaign, an ad from the original site is displayed. This is essentially how retargeting works.

It may not sound like much, but with a first-visit conversion rate average of 2% for most websites, finding a way to bring users back to the site is critical. Traditional advertising isn’t the answer because of its lack of specificity. Traditional online ads have a click-through rate of .07%. For retargeted ads, the rate can be as high as .7%. The increase, due to recognition, trust, or that “oh yeah, I wanted to buy that!” factor, is the indicator of success.

Targeting specific individuals who are most likely to convert is the dream of web marketers. Cookies make this possible. But the industry’s heavy hitters are, in some cases, calling for an end to cookies altogether.

Large social sites like Facebook and Google are espousing the importance of Internet privacy when they call for an end to cookies, but they already have enormous amounts of data about their users, independent of cookies, that they are eager to further monetize. In this way, cookies wouldn’t go away to protect users’ privacy at all – quite the opposite, in fact. At the expense of small businesses and independent advertisers, a cookieless world would mean more profits for the Big Guys with reams of user data at their fingertips.

Is Cookieless Retargeting the Wave of the Future?

Because of advances in the world of retargeting, cookies are no longer necessary for a successful retargeting campaign. Methods that hinge on a user account are what the industry giants are hoping to achieve – strategies that will dictate that advertisers work with these giants or fall behind. Device recognition is another promising piece of the puzzle; by some counts, this practice could increase the ability to reach repeat visitors by 72%. And “algorithmic retargeting” could serve up ads based on formulas that determine the advertiser’s relevancy to a user’s activity, though this is still a long way off. Because of these methods, retargeting could not only survive in a cookieless world – it could thrive.

The real question, however, is will it come to that? Nobody is working on a solution right now to make cookies obsolete, and if they did, it would hurt small businesses and independent advertisers beyond just making retargeting more difficult.

Retargeting: The Numbers

The bottom line is this: in order to reach the 98% of website visitors that leave a given website after the first visit without converting, personalized advertising is a must. While initially based on cookies, the practice boasts too high of a success rate to fall away with the demise of its initial foundation. Check out some of the stats:

  • Retargeting can lead to a 147% higher conversion rate over time in certain industries when used in combination with prospecting, according to CMO.
  • Data released by comScore revealed that retargeting is the most effective method of driving prospects back to a website, resulting in a 726% increase in site visitation rates within the first four weeks of the initial exposure to a given ad.
  • Overall, when users are shopping online, 72% are likely to abandon their shopping carts prior to making the actual purchase. Without any retargeting methods or attempts, only 8% of those customers return to complete their transactions. However, with active retargeting campaigns, the percentage of users who return and complete the check-out process increases to 26%.

It’s as clear as can be; retargeting is one of the most powerful and effective strategies for bringing traffic back to a website to complete a transaction. Because of this, it’s one of the best strategies any online marketer can pursue.

Will cookies become a thing of the past? Perhaps. Our society has vilified cookies because we are focused on privacy and the elimination of intrusions brought about by big brands, corporations, and the government. However, in many ways, a world without cookies will just mean a move to more invasive technologies, like device recognition and linked user accounts.

Will retargeting with cookies remain a strong force for online marketers and brands looking to stay ahead of the competition by staying in front of their consumers and potential consumers? It remains to be seen. However, it’s likely that the elimination of cookies will one day be remembered as leading to even greater innovations. Retargeting is here to stay.


Adrienne Erin is a blogger and Internet marketer who helps all kinds of businesses, such as Sweeperland, succeed on the web. She spends most of her time writing (usually in English, but sometimes in French) but when she’s not, you might find her cooking or mailing postcards.

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