Retargeting Without Cookies: Alternatives, Strategies and How to Make It Work

When Google announced plans to remove third-party Cookies from its Chrome browser, elements of the advertising industry went into meltdown. This eliminates a simple yet highly effective way of monitoring user activity. Critical to the process of retargeting, i.e. following users online and presenting them with focused adverts, advertisers are now looking for alternative strategies.

Even though third-party Cookies have already been phased out on Mozilla’s Firefox and Apple’s Safari browsers (see more about it on the article we’ve written about third-party cookies going away), the move by Google effectively kills this helpful tool. The Google Chrome browser currently accounts for circa 70% of the browser market and 50% of worldwide online traffic. So what do these changes mean in practice, and how will this impact advertisers and consumers?


What are Cookies?

Created in 1994, the humble Cookie is central to a multibillion-dollar advertising industry. The Cookie is a simple file held on your browser, holding an array of data. Initially created as a means of tagging return visitors to websites, specific pages, shopping carts and saving login details, it became integral to an advertising method known as retargeting. 


What are Third-Party Cookies?

A third-party cookie allows a third-party to track all of your Internet activity, such as the websites you visit and products you buy/view.

While you will not be identified by name, your IP address will be held, and the Cookie will build up a profile of your interests and Internet activity. It is not difficult to see how this would interest those looking to advertise on the Internet.

There are also first-party and second-party Cookies, which are defined as follows:

First-party Cookies

First-party Cookies connect users to a single website, holding limited information that will enhance your online experience. Essentially, they remove the need for your browser and a website to continuously go through the “welcome” procedure each time you visit the site. They are also used to collect individual user data specific to that website.

Second-party Cookies

Second-party Cookies collect the same information, but under a data partnership, they can be transferred from one company/website to another. An example of such a relationship would be an airline sharing Cookie data with a hotel chain, enabling the hotel to carry out retargeted advertising.


What is Retargeting, and How Does It Work?

Retargeting is a powerful marketing strategy which uses third-party Cookies stored on your browser to access details of your Internet activity and specific interests. This data is then used by third-party websites, such as Facebook and Google to present focused advertising, thereby enhancing conversion rates. For example, after visiting a website selling walking boots, you will see related adverts when you next log onto your Facebook account.

By molding the shape of online adverts towards your recent interests/browsing activity, this can encourage potentially lost customers to return. You are effectively preaching to the converted, and the ability to draw customers back to your website, enhancing conversion rates, is priceless in the world of business.


Why are Third-Party Cookies Dying?

In a word, privacy. In 2018, the European Union introduced GDPR (General Data Protection Regulations), two years in the making; this is a means of protecting the collection, use and storage of personal data. While covering all data, not just that gathered online, GDPR will have significant repercussions for eCommerce (read more about it here) stores and the online advertising industry.

For example, even third-party Cookies that don’t record your name, address and personal details will still track your Internet activity. Seen by many as a secretive/underhand means of profiling Internet users and presenting targeted/retargeted advertising, the introduction of GDPR sounded the death knell. The announcement that Google will remove third-party Cookies from the Chrome browser by 2023 will finally kill off this means of data collection.


How Do these Changes Impact Retargeting Ads?

Removing third-party Cookies from browsers will deny advertisers access to the essential information required to provide retargeting ads. While businesses will still be able to advertise on “related” websites, they are effectively advertising blind, unaware of the recent activities and interests of those viewing their adverts. Unable to “follow” potential customers around the web, they will lose the impact of advertising to those actively interested in specific products/services.

The demise of third-party Cookies will remove a very efficient and subtle means of collecting information on an individual’s Internet activity. While not the only means of servicing retargeted advertising, this method will soon be redundant.


Advertising Strategies without Cookies

It is important to reiterate that removing third-party Cookies is a blow to the retargeted advertising industry, but is not the only means of creating focused advertising. There are several advertising strategies available which don’t use Cookies and can, in some circumstances, be very lucrative:

Behavioral Analysis

As the term suggests, behavioral analysis is the study of behavior, in this instance, online activity. In effect, this is a means of predicting a potential customer’s behavior, e.g. the websites they will visit and presenting focused adverts on that medium.

Build Your Own Client Profile Database

First-party Cookies will not be outlawed; therefore, individual website owners will still be able to collect information from visitors. Thankfully, within the legal framework of GDPR, you can still build a client profile database and use this to perfect your advertising strategies.

Direct Relationships

While often underrated and not always structured correctly, newsletters can encourage engagement with existing and potential clients. Using focused newsletters, you can hone in on an individual’s specific interests and present them with encapsulating adverts and offers.

Average Customer Profile 

Identifying the browsing habits of your average customer using market research may not be an exact science, but it will offer the opportunity to provide retargeted advertising. However, all businesses should already know the average profile of existing and potential customers.

Artificial Intelligence, Trend Analysis

Artificial Intelligence (AI) is now central to the advertising industry, gathering information, identifying trends and predicting online behavior. Also described as Machine Learning (ML), it is akin to having a digital worker in the office.

IP and Device ID Tracking Identifiers

While third-party Cookies will effectively be outlawed, you may be able to use anonymous IP and device ID tracking identifiers. The information gathered in this process will allow you to create an existing and potential client profile.

Contextual Advertising

Contextual targeting will be a blast from the past for many of those who have been involved in online businesses for some time. This simply means matching on-site adverts with the content on an individual page. Easy, but very effective!

Contextual Marketing as an Alternative

As we discussed above, those with a relatively long history in the advertising industry will be aware of contextual marketing. This is a simple method of inserting adverts into an article/content, related to the page’s subject matter. The idea is simple, reading an article about a particular subject, for example, an iPhone, and then seeing an advert for an iPhone in front of you could prompt an impulse purchase.

In order to display the most appropriate adverts, contextual marketing encourages the business owner to create more focused, SEO-targeted content – a win-win for all parties.

Create Impactful Marketing In A Cookie-less World with Verfacto 

Verfacto offers a comprehensive solution to third-party Cookie free advertising and retargeting in this new challenging world. Based upon client profiles, browsing behavior and predicted visitor intent, you still have the ability to laser focus your advertising strategy. Using data gathered directly from your website, Verfacto allows you to:

  • Perfect the time to interact with your customers, increasing conversion rates
  • Present personalised content based upon the user’s historic activity
  • Introduce new metrics such as attention score, recency, frequency and lifetime value
  • Implement cross-channel tracking
  • Access customer profiles in real-time for advanced onsite marketing
  • Feed focused profile data back to the likes of Google and Facebook, enhancing retargeting

The collection of anonymous data from your website, the key to creating detailed customer profiles, conforms to the latest data protection and privacy regulations. Removing Cookies eliminates the “Big Brother is watching” adverse scenario many customers fear.

Being proactive rather than reactive is vital in this changing environment. Confidential and sensitive data gathered by Verfacto is exclusive to the business owner, with the customer’s experiences greatly enhanced, leading to a finely tuned marketing approach. In addition, real-time reporting allows you to monitor the impact of various targeted campaigns, honing in on conversion rates and sales.



Third-party Cookies have been instrumental in the stratospheric growth in online advertising in recent times. Unfortunately, the often intrusive nature of these Cookies, greater transparency and customer awareness, and ever-tightening regulations will make third-party Cookies obsolete in advertising. Therefore, it is essential to understand, adjust and refocus your advertising/retargeting campaigns within the new parameters. While there are many options, sometimes reverting to historic strategies or using cutting-edge technology, it is essential to act now.

Here at Verfacto, we have a deep-seated understanding of this new environment, the ability to connect and collect highly focused data while respecting data protection and privacy regulations.


The use of third-party Cookies is central to the traditional method of retargeting advertising. A simple file stored on your browser allows advertisers to build up a profile and target advertising to individuals.

In effect, the advertiser can “follow” a customer/potential customer, placing highly focused adverts on numerous websites. While some Internet users have become “advert blind” as a consequence of being bombarded, this is still highly effective.

There are alternative ways to predict Internet activity, such as behavioral analysis and an average client profile, but third-party Cookies remain the most effective and cost-effective.

There are alternative ways to initiate retargeting without the use of third-party Cookies. Using the latest technology, such as behavioral analysis, AI and an average client profile, advertisers can often accurately predict future Internet activity.

While first-party and second-party Cookies will still be legal and valid, contextual-based advertising is likely to be a popular alternative. This simple method will align on-page adverts with the content, attempting to secure a sale while the visitor is “interested”. In addition, many websites will look to introduce a degree of personalization to their offering, which can guide visitors down a particular avenue, exposing them to retargeted advertising.

We will likely see various non-competing groups working together to accumulate vast amounts of market research. Using the latest in AI, it is simple to identify new and emerging market trends and predict/influence Internet user activity to an even greater degree.


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