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CRO 10 min read

First-Party Cookies and Their Role in Conversions Tracking

Zach Boyette photo

Written by Zach Boyette

Co-Founder & Managing Partner @ Galactic Fed

Alexandra Goss photo

Expert reviewed by Alexandra Goss

Associate Marketing Manager @ Galactic Fed

Published 08 Feb 2024

Cookies: They’re a common sight nowadays, and we’re not talking about the chocolate chip variety. Think about the last time you visited a new website, whether to look something up or do some online shopping — you more than likely got a pop-up asking you to accept first-party cookies so you could access the site. 

Indeed, we’re talking about internet cookies, a kind of tool that picks up on visitor data and offers valuable information to business owners by way of tracking website conversion metrics. Such details give marketers insight into user behavior that can help them make intelligent decisions that benefit their brand. 

In short, conversion-tracking cookies are a win-win for everyone involved, especially when it comes to conversion tracking, and at Galactic Fed, we know their ins and outs and what makes them such powerful marketing tools. That said, we also know why search engines like Google are cracking down on certain types of cookies and leaving marketers to look for an alternative to third-party cookies, so let’s take a closer look.

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First-Party Cookies — More Than Just Desserts

Just as is true in real life, internet cookies come in multiple varieties. You may have heard of third-party cookies, for example, which are primarily used for online advertising; if you once searched for a product online only to see it advertised on every subsequent website you visit for weeks after the fact, that’s due to the work of third-party cookies.

First-party cookies, however, are a bit different: When you visit a website, only that server can access your data. That kind of system can work to make surfing the internet more seamless and enjoyable, as the websites you frequent will recognize and automatically fill in your unique preferences, like your log-in data, so you won’t have to type them in every time.

Information gathered by first-party cookies also benefits business owners trying to market their brand online by showcasing user interests and behaviors, allowing brands to tailor their marketing strategies accordingly.

The Business Behind First-Party Cookies

First-party cookies are data packets that are created and stored locally by the website operator. They can stockpile various types of data, such as:

  • Website data (language preferences)
  • User-entered information (log-in data, information submitted on web forms)
  • Metadata (the cookie’s expiration time)

Additionally, first-party cookies are responsible for saving entries from search fields, allowing users to re-access them at a later date.

How First-Party Cookies Are Stored

Depending on the web browser you use, first-party cookies will be stored on your computer in one of two ways: Either each new webpage will create a text file to serve as a cookie, or the cookies themselves will be stored in a collective file.

In any case, all browsers give users the option to take control of their cookies. Common choices in the settings tab of any web browser include things like:

  • Deleting cookies
  • Fully or partially deactivating cookies
  • Reactivating cookies

We don’t recommend deleting or deactivating cookies because they benefit marketers and users alike, but web visitors who are skeptical about data collection can at least breathe easy knowing they’re in control.

Advantages of First-Party Cookies for Users

As alluded to earlier, first-party cookies go far in making web browsing a breeze, and the more user-friendly a site is, the more likely a visitor will convert. With that in mind, the benefits of first-party cookies for users include the following:

  • Storing language preferences
  • Automatically entering log-in data
  • Autofilling on web forms
  • Displaying most recently visited subpages
  • Suggesting recently entered search terms

Once a user leaves a website, the first-party cookies on that page won’t follow them anywhere else; it is only once a visitor returns that the cookies will spring back into action.

First-Party Cookie Benefits for Marketers

Business owners also have much to gain by using first-party cookies, including such benefits as:

  • Boosting user-friendliness
  • Generating informative data on user behavior
  • A long life expectancy of first-party cookies

Unlike third-party cookies, which can be caught by ad blockers, first-party cookies are generally more trustworthy. Marketers can use the information stored by first-party cookies to tailor their content, products, or overall services to better meet customer preferences.

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The Disappearance of Third-Party Cookies

Many marketers have concerns about the ever-evolving landscape of tracking users online, and in response, most web browsers are moving to block third-party cookies (if they haven’t already done so), making first-party cookie tracking the better alternative. 

Today’s tracking pixels primarily rely on first-party conversion-tracking cookies, so even though browsers are cracking down on third-party cookies, marketers can still accurately gather data regarding user behavior. 

The General Data Protection Regulation and First-Party Cookies

In 2018, the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) went into effect in the European Union (EU), changing how marketers access user data by restricting the use of third-party cookies in particular. (First-party cookies aren’t mentioned in the GDPR.)

Even though the GDPR’s reach is exclusive to the EU, laws like it are growing in popularity on a global scale; web owners, therefore, must inform their visitors that their data is being collected and subsequently used by way of first-party cookies, even if their purpose is simply to improve the user experience. Web owners can disclose that information in a banner at the top of their site, and once a user reads and accepts its conditions, the banner won’t have to appear again. 

No matter where your business operates, the more transparent you are with your visitors, the better the outcome; people appreciate it when brands are honest about their marketing practices, especially when they involve the collection and use of their browsing data.

The Positive Side of Growing a Business With Fewer Cookies

With third-party cookies on their way out, marketers must adapt to using a first-party data strategy to track conversions analytics. Customer consent is crucial here, but fortunately, it’s easier to get than you may think. 

Users are more inclined to give the websites they visit permission to access their data if they get something in return; for example, the promise of discounts, freebies, or interactive experiences can get them to click “Yes” and take a step further toward a conversion. 

According to Statista, 61% of brand marketing executives are confident about reaching audiences at scale without the need for third-party cookies; we’re just as sure your business can do the same.

Your New Favorite PETs

Privacy-enhancing technologies (PETs) help business owners combat the issues that come with the loss of third-party cookies while also ensuring they make the most out of first-party cookies. PETs help web owners use personal data while adhering to any future privacy rules that may come to fruition.

Some PETs marketers can take advantage of now include the following:

Zero-Trust Data Clean Rooms

These solutions take first-party data from different parties and allow them to intermingle; the best part is that they won’t expose any personal information. If you’re looking for an aggregated measurement of audiences or products, these are what you need.

Differential Privacy

Differential privacy stops personal data from being shared directly by adding randomization and noise to datasets to blur any identifiable information.

On-Device Measurement

Third-party cookies take customer data and personal information and send them to advertisers; alternatively, on-device measurement solutions process events on a user’s device and send that information to ad platform servers.

Where to Find PETs

Understanding PETs can be challenging, but these new technologies allow businesses to use customer data to make informed decisions that significantly better their brand, so it’s crucial to leverage them to get the most out of your first-party data.

Thankfully, many of these solutions are easy to find and use; if you’re interested in data clean rooms, for instance, there are many options to choose from on reputable platforms like Meta, Google, and Amazon.

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The Importance of First-Party Cookies, Conversions Analytics, and Staying Ahead of the Curve

The world of digital marketing is consistently evolving, and business owners need to stay ahead of the curve if they want to succeed. Fortunately, even though third-party cookies are becoming relics of the past, marketers can still leverage first-party data and other conversion-tracking methods to make smarter business decisions.

With PETs on the rise and consumers who are willing to exchange their data for a discount or other such perks, there are many ways in which today’s business owners can access user data without crossing any lines that may become illegal in the future.

If you want to learn more about the first-party cookies your website uses and whether you’re leveraging data in a way that’s respectful to consumers while still positively impacting your bottom line, consider partnering with a marketing agency that can walk you through these topics step by step.

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Zach Boyette photo

Zach Boyette

Co-Founder & Managing Partner @ Galactic Fed