Third-party cookies are on their way out, but if you look at recent advertising data, you’d be hard-pressed to know it – cookies were still being used in more than 78% of US programmatic ad spend in Q3 last year, according to a report.

Although cookies are being phased out of Chrome, there are clearly still a lot of them in the system. So if performance is important to you, then now is the time to try out alternative data strategies, while you can still cross-check against cookie-based lines.

Any robust solution should be performant, take into account first-party data, and be able to scale. The adtech community is primed and ready to help. So what should you be thinking about as you test new strategies?

1) First up, things can only get better

Third-party cookies transformed online targeting nearly 30 years ago, setting a new direction based on finding people rather than pages. The programmatic ecosystem has largely been built on this technology, and we’ve become used to a granular level of personalisation, addressability and measurement based on audience profiling.

However useful, cookie data has always had its limitations – it’s primarily based on historic browsing behaviour, so not always relevant by the time it’s actioned. Additionally, the rise in cookie-based audience modelling, paired with consumers increasingly moving between devices, means it’s becoming harder for cookies to definitively track the full journey.

Above all, cookies are no longer publicly palatable. Google may have restricted cookies for 1% of Chrome users, but a huge 67% of US adults reportedly now turn off cookies or website tracking manually, in order to protect their privacy. So if you’re still targeting using cookies, you’re reaching a smaller section of users than you might realise.

In short, cookies are quickly becoming a legacy, outdated technology which is no longer suitable for the modern, interconnected, privacy-conscious world. The industry is now moving to more innovative, performant and respectful ways of targeting, but time is running out. By investigating cookie alternatives, you’re doing the right thing.

2) Test and review – can I isolate my cookieless line?

With this in mind, when it comes to planning your test campaigns, try to let go of heritage techniques and habits, and instead keep focussed on outcomes. In set-up, make sure you can isolate your cookieless line so that you can compare the performance of any trial solutions against your existing cookie-based techniques. The re-tooling of measurement and attribution remains a challenge, as is widely acknowledged, so keep talking to your adtech partners and pay close attention to market trends as different solutions are tested.

3) Is this contextual offering really cutting-edge?

Contextual targeting should absolutely form part of your mix, but as you’re re-working your strategies, take another look at the marketplace. Contextual as you might know it has changed in the last five years and is no longer limited to static, pre-selected topic-matching. The newest methods use AI to understand the live viewing interests of brand and publisher first-party audiences, and can steer campaigns towards high-performing inventory on the fly. This is something you should consider if you want to maintain scaled and performant targeting, so test this type of technology against third-party cookies while you still can.

4) How can I factor in behavioural data, without looking at IDs?

Maintaining effective audience and behavioural-informed targeting will mean thinking differently – but it’s still absolutely possible in the cookie-constrained world. AI is opening up new ways to understand and act upon user behaviour without looking at cookie data or any type of user ID. Inputs include the live contextual interests of known audiences, and ad-engagement patterns within live campaigns. This high-quality data can be used to extend and optimise campaigns based on completely anonymous audience behaviour. Think of it as contextual meets behavioural; this is the best of both.

5) Can this solution be scaled; and is it consistent across screens?

Third-party cookie data was aggressively focussed on scaling campaigns using lookalike modelling. By comparison, static buying against keywords, topics or other metrics will feel like a step backwards. So ask your vendor whether the alternative you are testing can be scaled. And if you’re updating your tech stack, don’t miss the chance to be CTV-enabled. illuma‘s Contextual-AI, for example, will scale campaigns dynamically, based on engagements and live content-consumption data of known audiences; it will also scale these insights into CTV.

With the right strategies in place, I believe the best is yet to come for the online advertising industry. So test your cookieless targeting solutions now while you still can – and make sure you ask the right questions.

Contact us today on to set up a test campaign.

Peter Mason is CEO and Co-Founder of illuma