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Third-Party Website Cookies: What Schools Need to Know About the Phase-Out
Kristen Doverspike

We have high expectations when it comes to online convenience.

When your favorite retailer saves your shopping cart, when you set and forget your language preferences, and when a website remembers your login information, you likely appreciate the fact that something is working in the background to save you time and effort — and you probably even expect it.

The magic that makes this convenience possible is due to website cookies, or small bits of data that are stored in your web browser. Cookies, and third-party cookies, in particular, have gotten a lot of attention in the last few years for privacy concerns. As a result, browsers like Safari, Firefox, and soon Google Chrome have announced a phase-out of third-party cookies in favor of a more privacy-first online experience.

If you’ve noticed the stir that the third-party cookie ban has caused recently, then we’re here to ease your concerns. In this blog, we’ll dive into what types of cookies are out there, what a third-party cookie ban means, and why it may matter to your school.

What are website cookies?

In a simple definition, a website cookie refers to information that is stored in your web browser. 

A cookie can enable you to save a login password but they also serve a purpose for the company or organization whose website you’re visiting. Mainly, cookies help create a more customized user experience on a website, and they store information that allows advertisers to target specific audiences based on their online behavior. 

You’re likely no stranger to accepting cookies when visiting a website for the first time. It puts you in control of the information you’re willing to share. You were even prompted when you first visited!

cookie acceptance

You can always take a look at the company’s privacy policy and cookie settings to learn what you’re opting into. The most common reasons a website uses cookies are:

  • To offer necessary web functionality for the user, including the ability to save privacy settings, login details, and more 
  • To enable web analytics and track performance
  • To effectively run certain advertising campaigns

A common misconception is that website cookies are invasive and unneeded, but they often do a lot of good for your experience! When a new family visits your school’s website for the first time, for example, the information that gets stored by cookies allows them to have a seamless experience each time they come back.

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What types of website cookies are there?

There are two main types of website cookies: first- and third-party cookies:

First-Party Cookies

First-party cookies refer to the cookies that automatically get generated when a user visits your website. This is the cookie type we keep coming back to regarding saving passwords, language preferences, and more.

This cookie type is also responsible for allowing you to see your website analytics and visitor behavior. If you use Google Analytics, for example, you’re using the power of first-party cookies on your website to track performance.

Third-Party Cookies

Third-party cookies, on the other hand, are created and tracked by websites other than the one you're currently visiting.

These cookies have historically been created and accessed by advertisers and social media platforms, primarily used to build robust profiles based on a user’s behavior across multiple websites. These profiles are then used to serve highly targeted ads.


Example: A family is planning to move to a new city, and they begin to search online for the best private schools in the area. They visit a local independent school’s website, and then they start to see ads for various private schools all over other websites that they visit that day. This is because third-party cookies informed other advertisers about their recent interest in private schools.


Why are third-party cookies becoming obsolete?

The value of user privacy has become a more prevalent topic in recent years. In support of data privacy and transparent practices, web browsers are beginning to block third-party cookies. To put it simply: they’re recognizing that users want and deserve control over how their online behavioral data is used.

Legislation like the GDPR — which ruled that users in the EU must explicitly give consent to all cookies — sparked a lot of the initial discussion about user privacy, and it may have been the "beginning of the end" for third-party cookies.

Web browsers like Safari and Firefox have already banned this cookie type, and Google Chrome is looking toward a 2023 phase-out. In the meantime, Google is working on a new product called the Privacy Sandbox, which is expected to “sustain a healthy, ad-supported web in a way that will render third-party cookies obsolete,” as detailed in their 2020 update.

How to Prepare for the End of Third-Party Cookies

First, don’t panic! Despite the phase-out of third-party cookies, you can rest assured that the vital first-party cookies your school relies on for web analytics and functionality are not going away.

Second, take inventory of how your school currently advertises to prospective families. There will still be ways to conduct strategic advertising without the help of third-party cookies, through search ads, contextual targeting (which involves showing your display ads on websites that rank for similar keywords, like school ranking sites or school-related blogs), and more. 

At the end of the day, the death of the third-party cookie is simply creating new opportunities for privacy-first experiences and innovations!

Key Takeaway

While the first-party cookies that you use to customize and track your own website experience are here to stay, advertising that previously relied on cross-domain behavior tracking through third-party cookies will soon be a thing of the past. As most web browsers begin to phase out third-party cookies, now is the time to take a look at how you use cookies and make a plan for your future advertising efforts in a cookieless world. 

In most cases, this change will likely not affect your school. Finalsite’s team of website experts and digital consultants is here for you every step of the way. Be sure to request a website report card to see where your school’s website currently stands or set up a call with our digital advertising team to get ahead of your future targeting strategies! 

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Kristen Doverspike headshot

In her position as Senior Growth Manager, Kristen provides the strategy and creation of content across email, website and social media communications at Finalsite. With over five years of experience in content strategy and digital marketing, Kristen has worked with clients around the country to develop their branding, SEM, SEO, social media, and inbound efforts. She holds and maintains a number of certifications from Google, Hubspot, and Hootsuite

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