The Difference Between 1st & 3rd Party Cookies

What is the difference between 1st and 3rd party cookies?


No, not that kind of cookie. Although it does make us want some asap. Mmmm.


With the iOS14 update taking over most conversations within the digital world right now – one of the biggest pieces of the puzzle that we think needs to be understood is the difference between 1st & 3rd party cookies and what you should be doing with them.


What is a cookie?

3rd party cookies

A cookie is a piece of code that lives on your web browser (Safari, Chrome, Firefox, Windows Explorer etc), and it is designed to identify and store information about each user on your website.

On the surface, both 1st and 3rd party cookies are the same. They perform the same function and store the same information. The difference between the two is how the information collected is used, and by who. 


1st party cookies

1 cookie

1st party cookies are created by a domain or website to enhance a users experience when they are on the site. 1st Party cookies allow website or domain owners to collect data like language settings, remember a users location, their login details, pages they’ve visited and actions they’ve taken on your site. Storing this information enhances a users experience when they return to your site. 


3rd party cookies

Have you ever been on a site and looked at a specific shoe, added it to your cart in your size, and then that exact shoe and size follows you everywhere on the internet? Yeah, that’s a 3rd party cookie working it’s magic.  3rd party cookies use the code on a website to send data about a user and their activity to a 3rd party, usually advertisers such as Facebook or Google Ads. The information stored from 3rd party cookies are used to retarget users with personalised ads and messaging based on activity taken online eg, viewed product, added a product to cart, initiated checkout etc. 


What’s changing in 2021 and beyond? The death of the 3rd party cookie.

In a release from Google late 2020 and early 2021 – they announced that 3rd party cookies will be completely removed from Google by 2022. Instead of tracking individuals and the actions taken, Google will be now be tracking groups of people with common interests. They refer to this as FLoC.

Federated Learning of Cohorts (FLoC) proposes a new way for businesses to reach people with relevant content and ads by clustering large groups of people with similar interests. This approach effectively hides individuals “in the crowd” and uses on-device processing to keep a person’s web history private on the browser. “

For Apple device users, the latest iOS update means that users can now opt-out of 3rd party tracking on apps like Facebook. Users are served an ATT (App Tracking Transparency) message which gives them the opportunity to opt-in or out of the 3rd party tracking. This update was released in the last few weeks and early statistics are reporting that as many as 85% of iOS users are already opting out of this tracking. 

Facebook app tracking


So, if both Google and Apple are removing 3rd party cookies – what does this mean for business owners and advertisers?

We can’t forget about 1st party cookies! Remember that domain owners have complete control over the information that they collect on their site and can use this information to create targeted messaging and advertising. 


Ecommerce response? What you need to do/change/update. 

Review the data you’re currently collecting. Are you relying on 3rd party cookies to generate targeted traffic and advertising? It’s time to switch it up. 

Collect more valuable information from website visitors. Make your email marketing sign up forms more enticing, and gather key information you need from users. Once in your database – it is crucial to segment this information effectively. Sending segmented, relevant marketing emails will be much more effective in driving conversions and keeping your audience subscribed. 

Further, when it comes to tracking events and conversions through Facebook advertising it’s not all bad news. Despite now only having access to 8 conversion events tracked by Facebook Pixel, the key events that eCommerce merchants and marketers are still available to track, eg add to cart, initiate checkout etc. So, whilst we might not be able to track every single activity on our site, we can still effectively track the success of advertising campaign with the metrics that are most relevant to us in eCommerce. 


What do we suggest?

Whilst we might not be able to collect data about our customers and site visitors from 3rd party cookies in the near future, we will still have complete control over the data we receiver from 1st party cookies. Here’s how we think you should collect, optimise and make the most of this information.

Collect more data directly from your website visitors and customers. Data is everything – so utilise your current database and customer information. Segment, understand and utilise your data properly. Show your current customer data list that you value them, send targeted, personalised information their way. How can you re-engage those who perhaps haven’t opened an email in a while, or who haven’t clicked? Think about repositioning your messaging to celebrate your brand community and make your customers feel valued. Valued customers are always willing to engage more, and spend more with your brand. If you haven’t already, implement a loyalty program to your Shopify store. We’ve done a whole article on why this is important here.

The last 18 months in eCommerce have been a whirlwind and it can feel overwhelming trying to stay on top of all of the changes and updates. So, if you need a hand from a digital strategist, get in touch with us.