Will digital marketing collapse when Google removes cookies from Chrome?
Google’s plan to remove cookies from its Chrome browser has led some digital marketing pundits to make dire predictions about the collapse of targeted advertising in a ‘cookie-less world’.
This, of course, is nonsense.
Yes, cookie-based data collection is coming under increasing pressure from various quarters at the moment, including from Apple, who have positioned themselves as the champion of the individual’s right to privacy. And now Google itself has joined the anti-cookie party, somewhere to the right of Apple, but not nearly as far right as Facebook.
There’s no doubt that Google’s Privacy Sandbox initiative will have an impact on current methods of tracking and targeting. But before assess the implications of the changes coming up, let’s take a step back to see how we got here in the first place.
You get good cookies and bad cookies
Like cops, there are good cookies and bad cookies. And the good cookies, AKA first-party cookies, are not going anywhere, as they are not affected by either Apple’s or Google’s changes.
So not all cookies are evil servants of Big Brother. But what actually are they?
Cookies, in the digital marketing world, are pieces of code that are placed on your web browser or your browsing device to store information about how you use a website and what you’re interested in.
Cookies contain unique identifiers for every user, and are vital to digital marketers because they allow them to collect information about visitors and then serve more relevant ads. Cookies also help marketers see which advertising campaigns have been successful and which ones are underperforming.
Cookies were introduced in 1994 and have been used consistently ever since.… Up until Apple announced its new iOS14.5 update, that is, which allows iPhone and iPad users to prevent third-party cookies from tracking users’ activities on their devices.
Google’s upcoming changes to Chrome will on the face of it, be a further retreat of Big Tech’s ability to collect information about users. And have left some advertisers feeling the entire digital marketing industry is about to enter limbo.
So why is Google going to remove cookies from Chrome?
While Chrome has allowed users to block third-party tracking cookies for some time, Google is going take this much further when it Privacy Sandbox initiative is introduced, a move that has now been pushed back to late 2022.
The reason for this move put out by the Google PR machine is that the company believes cookies have become too intrusive and users don’t benefit from having them. Indeed, Google has accepted that cookies can actually lead to a poor user experience by bombarding users with irrelevant ads.
Cookies have also become a major target for fraud in the advertising world – and their removal will make for increased transparency within digital marketing. Cookies are also notoriously easy to bypass – especially on mobile phones where there are a number of ways to prevent tracking from happening on the device. So it’s not surprising that cookies have been under constant criticism for several years and this most recent update is simply an answer to those criticisms.
However, the ulterior motive may well be to compete more effectively with Facebook, which has been far more effective so far in collecting data about every single one of its roughly 2,85 billion monthly active users.
What does this all mean for advertisers?
On the face of it, the implications for the digital ad industry are fairly serious.
Without third-party cookies, ad spend will become less accountable. Cookies are also relied upon by publishers for third-party verification of their traffic. This is particularly important since digital marketing makes up such a large percentage of advertising spend – and without cookies, there won’t be a clear way to confirm how many people are actually viewing the ads online.
It’s not all bad news, however. And Google itself is busy with a workaround. According to Google Product Manager Chetna Bindra, the company plans on using the browser to group together internet users who have similar browsing patterns. This will allow businesses to serve relevant ads to these clusters of like-minded people – rather like Facebook’s ‘lookalike audiences’ – by removing the need to track users individually.
“This approach effectively hides individuals ‘in the crowd’ and uses on-device processing to keep a person’s web history private on the browser,” Bindra wrote in a recent blog post (June, 2021).
In the meantime, focus on your own cookies
Even so, with the new updates in place, advertisers will need to rely far more on their first-party cookies – which are already widely used across industries in order to track consumers’ interactions with brands.
Something has brought these visitors to your site in the first place, and although the vast majority will not buy something from you or ‘convert’ by filling in a form on their first visit, they are statistically much more likely to do that in a later visit – which can prompted by accurate retargeting ads.
So the challenge, more than ever, will become to attract new visitors to your site in the first place, and investing in classic top-of the-funnel activity like effective search marketing will be more important than ever.
Yes, targeting is going to become more challenging. But it’s not as if the entire internet is about to be plunged into untraceable darkness!
Power User Tip: Only use first-party cookies in AdWords
Make sure you are only making use of first-party cookies to measure the effectiveness of your Google AdWords campaigns.
First-party cookies are far more reliable than third-party cookies. Because the cookies are controlled by you, it is much easier to make sure that they are not being blocked or deleted by your visitors. This means that for many AdWords campaigns, using first-party cookies is likely to produce a better result. You use first-party cookies in AdWords campaigns by following these steps:
Sign into your AdWords account.
- Click the Tools menu and then click Cookies in Google Analytics.
- Check the box next to “Tell me if this cookie is from a first-party domain.”
- If you have multiple accounts, select the one you want to change settings for.
- Click Save Changes.