Google’s cookie tracking changes – the digital giant is planning to make third party cookies obsolete in its Chrome browser by 2022 – has significant impact for marketers but all is not lost.
We explain what this means for marketers.
However, if you’re a marketer that relies on data for online advertising, pop-up ads or use an audience-targeting strategy, you’re going to need to keep an eye on these changes and look at alternative strategies that use first party cookies.
Before we dive into the details, let’s remind ourselves of the basics.
What are cookies?
Cookies are used to identify users online and provide a personalised browsing experience. Although cookie tracking is not the only method of user tracking, it is by far the most popular.
There are two types of cookies:
- First party cookies
- Third party cookies
First party cookies
First party cookies are placed by the domain you are visiting. These are the cookie tracking options you agree to when you sign into a website or set up an account with a company. A first party cookie is saved to your device.
If first-party cookies were disabled, a merchant would not be able to identify a customer upon returning. A website could not track users’ activities as they move from page to page. It would inhibit purchasing multiple products in the same session, because each time another item was added, the cart would treat it as a new order.
Third party cookies
Third party tracking cookies are placed by domains other than the one you are visiting. These use information about your device, web browser, geographical location, operating system etc to identify your digital fingerprint. They include cross-site tracking cookies, tracking pixels, social trackers and content trackers.
The phasing out of cookie tracking on Google Chrome is only specific to third party cookies. First-party cookies that track basic data about your own website’s visitors are unaffected.
Cookies are flawed anyway
Cookies are device-specific, so when someone goes from their work computer to home or switches from desktop to mobile, or even switches between browsers on the same device, the re-targeting trail goes cold.
Why is this cookie tracking change so important to marketers?
Google’s Chrome browser had stood as one of the few browsers which no longer automatically block third party cookies by default. Mozilla’s Firefox had it set as automatic from 2013, Microsoft announced changes to its Internet Explorer around the same time, for Do-Not-Track settings and updated Edge in 2020 to allow users to block both first and third party cookies in the settings. Apple updated Safari last year to do the same.
Privacy & security
While the death of the third party cookie is pretty major, it’s been coming for a while. The GDPR ruling has already implemented a lot of the data protection options that Google Chrome is doubling down on. Back in 2019, the European Court of Justice ruled that, in the EU at least, consent has to be “actively given” – i.e. you can’t ask users to “opt out”, instead they must choose to accept.
This means a pre-checked consent box that tells you a cookie has already been stored is no longer valid under EU law and the organisation could be subject to massive fines for breaching data protection regulations.
Google’s Privacy Sandbox
Google Chrome proposes to store individual user-level information in the browser, letting outside AdTech companies do an API call to the Privacy Sandbox in order to receive personalisation and measurement data without user-level information.
Conversions will be tracked within Chrome itself, not through the use of third-party cookies. To track conversions, advertisers will call an API that will send the conversion value from the browser. Individual user data would not be passed back to the advertiser to retain user anonymity.
There are some key things to know about Privacy Sandbox:
- It’s an option solution and Google is working with publishers and has also asked for feedback and input from other web browsers and advertising technology companies on how it should be developed.
- It is being positioned as a new web standard, rather than a new privacy feature.
- It is likely to still allow ads to be relevant for users, but only through anonymous and aggregated data and more user data will stay on the device, rather than being passed to AdTech companies.
Google also acknowledges that this may take time to implement the cookie tracking changes and it won’t be an overnight solution.
Here are our top tips on how to deal with third party cookie tracking changes
Tip 1: Understand the changes
The phasing out of cookies only impacts the Chrome web browser on desktop and mobile devices.
It won’t affect other areas of digital advertising such as re-targeting and tracking on iOS and Android. Advertisers will still be able to re-target and track users across native mobile apps on iOS and Android using mobile identifiers — IDFA (Identifier for Advertising for iOS) and AAID (Google Advertising ID for Android).
First-party cookie tracking, such as those used by Google Analytics, Piwik PRO and other web marketing tools using first-party cookie identifiers, will still work on the primary domain.
Uploading offline data and using it in Facebook’s Custom Audiences from email customer lists and Google Ads Customer Match won’t be impacted.
AdTech companies will need to use Google’s new Privacy Sandbox API to retrieve clicks and conversion data. However, this data will be anonymised to make it harder to directly attribute a specific click or conversion with an identified user.
Tip 2: Expand your first-party data strategy
Increase your use of first-party cookies and data to grow your own audiences. By collecting information directly from your customers with their consent, you can build up significant behavioural data patterns which will help inform future digital marketing campaigns and ad spend.
Since first party data is collected on your website, apps or independent systems from consumers interacting directly with your brand, information can flow in real time from the moment it is produced.
Benefits of first party data
- It is accurate
- It is complete
- Obtained with consent
- Not shared with other parties
Tip 3: Embrace contextual marketing
Contextual Marketing is coming back into fashion as a consequence of the cookie changes and this could be a good thing as it’s been reported that 67% of consumers are more likely to engage with contextual ads on trusted publishers.
For the consumer, contextual ads are much more acceptable because they don’t give you the feeling that you’re being followed around online.
Jon Kagan, VP of search at Cogniscient Media says: “The next best option to cookies based behavioral targeting is anything keyword or keyword contextual-based advertising. Years ago everyone discounted it and we moved further and further away from keyword targeting, but now we’re going to have to go straight back to it,” he added.
Google’s AdSense program, for example, is a straightforward version of contextual marketing, in which ads are displayed based on the terms that the user searches for.
Contextual advertising allows you to circulate PPC ads on websites that rank for similar keywords as your ad. This way, if you’re selling sports apparel, your PPC ad could show up on sports-oriented websites.
Many ad publishers have already been following this pattern since Google’s original announcement in 2019.
Vox Media launched Forte, a new ad-targeting data platform designed to help advertisers reach their monthly audience of 125 million users efficiently and without using dodgy data practices to target them.
Ryan Pauley, Vox Media’s chief revenue officer, said the company predicted that marketers would move their dollars to platforms that have scaled, direct-to-consumer connections rather than those which relied on third-party data.
It uses data it collects from consumers on Vox Media properties about their behaviour to help advertisers better understand whether they are likely to buy something or take action on a message and is also designed to make sure that advertisers target consumers with the right message at the right time.
It optimises which ads are shown to consumers in real-time based on what content they’re reading or engaging with – i.e. contextual advertising.
Tip 4: Look at alternatives to re-targeting
We’re all familiar with the old adage that it costs fives times as much to gain a new customer as it does to retain an existing one.
The demise of cookie based re-targeting will see a renewed focus towards customer loyalty and retention driving activities rather than acquisition, relying on existing customers to drive revenue.
This doesn’t mean to say that re-targeting as part of an acquisition strategy is dead.
There are alternatives to cookie based targeting. We mention some of these further on, Universal IDs, Device Fingerprinting and DigiTrust are emerging technologies presenting other ways of re-targeting users. It is too early to call which of these may win the race however in time, we’ll all find our preferred methods.
Tip 5. People-based advertising
People-based targeting relies on a unique identifier that is related to the user, not the device, and was pioneered by Facebook. This creates a customer-centric, cohesive marketing system that revolves around customers and their real-time behavioural data.
According to BounceX (who provides a platform that enables this to work), a successful People-Based Marketing strategy boils down to these three key elements:
- Identification: The goal is to use existing first-party data to identify your customers and connect them to their various devices. If the customer journey is not properly tracked, you’re going to risk making assumptions about customer behaviour, leading to poorly thought out marketing campaigns.
- Data: Every business holds a wealth of data on its existing customers. From their email engagement purchase behaviours and what devices they’re accessing your website from. This should be the focus of your targeted marketing. Use historical data as well, such as how many times they may have visited your website before purchasing.
- Automation: Once the above two categories have been identified and populated with information, an omnichannel approach can be used to deliver a cohesive marketing strategy irrespective of device.
According to Marketing Land, the big catch here is customer identification and data. In the walled gardens of Google, Amazon, and Facebook, the customer remains logged in within these ecosystems across devices.
Tip Six: Consider Publisher-led walled gardens
According to eMarketer, almost 70% of all US. digital ad spend goes to Google, Facebook and Amazon. They collect massive amounts of data on their customer behaviour, which they do not often share outside their own ecosystems, which are now known as walled gardens.
In some ways, a walled garden provides an alternative to the cookie-less future as it allows customer targeting in real-time, across devices and channels.
Google and Facebook know what online users search for and click on with some purchasing data thrown in, but Amazon is the leader when it comes to knowing what people are buying, who they are buying it from and how often.
However, they’re not the only option. Other publishers are in a strong position to create their own versions of a walled garden as they do have the authenticated audience data which they collect each time a person logs on to view their content.
For advertisers with large customer databases, the opportunity to match their own data to the unique rich data sets owned by publishers is an attractive alternative in a cookie-less world.
Unilever’s VP of Global Media, Luis Di Como, said: “Publishers could be doing more for cross-platform measurement to help the advertising ecosystem.” The British multinational consumer goods company is already building its own network of trusted publishers to buy ads from as part of its campaign against advertising fraud.
Tip Seven: Universal IDs
These are relatively new, but gaining traction. Universal IDs eliminate the need for third-party software to sync user identity information.
They allow ad tech agencies to target adverts more directly to the right users and can be created from first-party cookies in offline sources such as customer management software databases, email lists or existing client bases.
LiveRamp was the first player on the field back in 2016 creating IdentityLink, a first-party data-driven universal ID. IdentityLink has the ability to utilise user information across a variety of sources, including third-party cookies, first-party CRM’s, and other sources of offline information.
Unified ID, from TradeDesk’, one of the world’s largest digital syncing processors, uses aggregated cookie information. However, if browsers ever completely block the use of any cookies, Unified IDs will not work.
DigiTrust ID is an independent solution which offers a universal ID service designed for the advertising world. DigitTrust also relies on a simplified cookie-syncing technology that puts an expiration date on its useful lifespan.
Universal IDs do not need to rely on third-party syncing solutions to aggregate identity information. Instead, they can pull data from any source online or off to provide a definitive ID match.
Emma Newman, chief revenue officer EMEA at PubMatic, said: “A unified ID solution heralds a positive future for marketing. Firstly, if the industry gets it right, it offers a real alternative to the walled gardens. Secondly, it fosters an omnichannel approach.
Planning can become audience driven rather than having to be channel led, true attribution is possible and more effective campaigns can be measured and delivered. Finally, the consumer benefits by making it easier for users to take control of how their data is used across the wider ad tech ecosystem.”
Beacon is an all-in-one click fraud protection platform. With click fraud detection and mitigation across search and social, Beacon feeds other parts of the Martech stack with better quality data, to enable improved analytics, decision-making and results.
We’ve been champions of transparency for marketing since our foundation. Back in 2019 we introduced updates to the Beacon platform to comply with GDPR and also with the proposed cookie tracking changes. At Beacon, we fully support these moves, and have taken steps to ensure that our Beacon platform works fully within these requirements.
The changes to cookie usage and the reinforcement of Same Site information is a good step towards protecting an individual’s privacy and allowing those individuals to be informed about how their data is used, as required by GDPR.
See what Beacon can do for you or the brands you represent by watching a 4 minute demo video. Or calculate how much you might be losing on your paid media campaigns to click fraud with our click fraud Calculator.
NOTE: Updated March 2022.