For the first time, Facebook is allowing advertisers to use first-party cookies on the platform, in a move that will improve user targeting and data accuracy.

Facebook has traditionally allowed its advertisers to use only third-party cookies for tracking ad campaigns.

First-party cookies are small pieces of text that a web browser stores in a file on a users’ computer. They track user activity on a website (it’s how ecommerce sites remember items in your shopping cart when you visit a new page or your name when you log in).

But now, Facebook has the option of using both first-party and third-party cookies for analytics tracking.

The Difference Between First-Party and Third-Party Cookies

The difference between a first-party cookie and a third-party cookie comes down to which domain the cookie comes from.

A first-party cookie comes from whichever domain you’re currently browsing. For example, if you are on ethoseo.com (surprise – you are!), the domain for a first-party cookie would be set to something like ad.ethoseo.com.

Below is a graphic showing how first-party cookies function.

First Party Versus Third Party Cookies Facebook

A third-party cookie comes from a domain different from the one you’re browsing. For example, if you click on an ad within your Facebook feed, and that directs you to an advertiser’s website, the third-party cookie (Facebook Atlas in this case) would be saved to your computer.

This happens because the website you’re visiting has installed a Facebook-provided snippet of code. When this code is fired, Facebook can track your actions across the site, provided you’re not blocking third-party cookies.

Below is a graphic showing how third-party cookies function.

First Party Versus Third Party Cookies Facebook (1)

Issues with Third-Party Cookies for Data-Driven Advertisers

Third-party cookies provide a wealth of data for advertisers, but their usefulness for data collection is limited by a number of factors:

  • Browsers tend to dislike third-party cookies, some more than others. Safari 11, for example, blocks third-party cookies by default, with a “prevent cross-site tracking” option. This means you won’t be able to gather data from many of your website’s visitors.
  • If a customer is browsing your website anonymously (i.e., using incognito mode on Chrome), their data won’t be stored at the end of the session, further skewing your analytics data.
  • Users have the option of disabling third-party cookies in their browser settings, preventing you from tracking activity and collecting data for your retargeting campaigns.
  • Since third-party cookies come from a domain different than your own, you have less control over them.

One big advantage to using third-party cookies is the ability to track visitor activity across multiple websites. Cross-website tracking can help you retarget customers after they leave your website.

Benefits of Using First-Party Cookies for Advertising on Facebook

Even though first-party cookies are optional (you can opt out in Events Manager, implementing them has several advantages for advertisers:

  • Since some browsers and anti-spyware apps block third-party cookies from collecting information, first-party cookies function as a workaround for analytics. So, even if a browser blocks Facebook’s third-party tracking, you can still collect data from visitors once they land on your website.
  • First-party cookies are generally stored for longer periods of time than third-party cookies, so you can track user activity longer.
  • People tend to keep first-party cookies enabled since it makes the user experience more enjoyable (i.e., they don’t have to set their language preference each time they visit a website).
  • You have more control over your own first-party cookies than you do with Facebook’s third-party cookies since they come from your own domain.

You can use first-party cookies with third-party cookies for improved overall accuracy in measuring and targeting users with your Facebook ads.

How to Implement Cookies for Facebook Tracking

If you want to use first or third-party cookies (or both) with Facebook, you’ll need to install a Facebook pixel code on your website. Pixel code is a snippet of JavaScript that enables the cookies to work.

If you don’t have access to the backend of your website, or if you don’t have the authority to add tracking, have your developer install the pixel for you.

To install the pixel yourself:

  • Go to Facebook Events Manager and click Pixels.
  • Click Set Up.
  • Choose Manually Install the Code Yourself, and copy the code from the text box.
  • Paste the code to the header of your website and save changes. (To find the location of the header, consult the user guide for your specific CMS or have your webmaster do the installation for you).

Once you’ve finished adding the code to your site, make sure it’s working properly by returning to Ads Manager and using the Send Test Traffic to Your Pixel option. It can take up to 20 minutes for Facebook to detect activity with the code, so be patient if you don’t see it working right away.

Once you have a working pixel on your site, then you’ll be able to track data using Facebook’s third-party cookies. Unless you opt out, Facebook will automatically enable your first-party cookies as well.

How to Opt Out of First-Party Cookies on Facebook (Or Opt In to Early Access)

If you decide that you only want to use third-party cookies for tracking user activity on Facebook, you’ll need to disable first-party cookies through your pixel settings in Events Manager.

Alternatively, Facebook has an option to opt in to early access if first-party cookies are available before the expected launch date of October 24.

For either option, you’ll need to go to settings and click Edit under Cookie Usage.

Once you click Edit, you’ll see an option to disable first-party cookie sharing, and another option for early access.

Pixel and Cookie Settings Opt In Early Access Facebook

Select your preference and save your changes.

Disclose Your Use of Cookies With Visitors

Whether you use first-party cookies or third-party cookies, Facebook requires advertisers to disclose how they use cookies, so you’ll need to make sure your disclosure is up to date.

Do you plan to use first-party cookies with your Facebook Ads? Why or why not? Let us know in the comments below!