Cookiepocalypse – The Impact of Google Losing Third-Party Cookies 

Why Is Google Losing Third-Party Cookies? 

2021 was a roller coaster for advertising. At King + Columbus, it certainly kept our team on our toes, but we enjoyed the challenge! 

From the start of 2021, the California Consumer Privacy Act put major limitations on Facebook Advertising; this change made businesses’ ability to track and target their consumers difficult. Additionally, the release of Apple’s iOS 14.5 software update presented unique challenges; this change prohibited certain types of data collection and sharing unless users chose to opt into tracking. As more people downloaded the update, more people opted OUT of tracking. The result was a severe limit on ad personalization and performance reporting. 

As they say, everything happens in threes! Next, Google officially announced that it won’t use third-party cookies in Google Chrome in 2023. Google Chrome made up more than 56% of the web browser market in late 2019. Because Google Chrome accounts for more than half of all global web traffic, the impact will be monumental. Google stated that their decision was “subject to our engagement with the United Kingdom’s Competition and Markets Authority (CMA).” In other words, they are caving to regulatory pressure. 

The Context 

Google has found itself between a hard chocolate chip and tough cookie dough. If they cut off third-party tracking, it harms other advertising companies and could potentially increase their already dominant presence in the ad space. If they don’t, they will most likely come under fire for not protecting user privacy. No matter which way Google chooses, they most likely will be attacked by regulators, privacy advocates, advertisers, publishers, and anyone else that uses the internet. 

To help mitigate its dilemma, Google started privacysandbox.com, whose goal is to “aim to create web technologies that both protect people’s privacy online and give companies and developers the tools to build thriving digital businesses to keep the web open and accessible to everyone.” Google claims that they are following suit with other browsers by eliminating third-party cookies. However, they worry about the immediate impact. 

Excited because we absolutely need a more private web, and know third-party cookies aren’t the long-term answer. Worried because today many publishers 

rely on cookie-based advertising to support their content efforts, and cookie blocking was already spawning privacy-invasive workarounds that were even worse for user privacy. 

Privacy Sandbox helps mitigate these issues and is developing technology to replace and improve web tracking and conversions. Google also stated, 

As our industry has strived to deliver relevant ads to consumers across the web, it has created proliferations of individual user data across thousands of companies, typically gathered through third-party cookies. This has led to an erosion of trust: In fact, 72% of people feel that almost all of what they do online is being tracked by advertisers, technology firms, or other companies, and 81% say that the potential risks they face because of data collection outweigh the benefits, according to a study by Pew Research Center. That’s why last year Chrome announced its intent to remove support for third-party cookies; it’s also why we’ve been working with the broader industry on the Privacy Sandbox to build innovations that protect anonymity while still delivering results for advertisers and publishers. 

In other words, Google is willing to usurp the technology to lessen damage to its advertising platform and its users’ campaign performance. 

What Does This Mean For Your Business? 

The phasing out of third-party cookies is a lot to take in, but what does it mean for your business? Keep in mind that cookies are just one of many tracking technologies used by advertisers, and as mentioned, other browsers, like Safari and Firefox, already removed third-party tracking. Google does not intend to build an alternative to track individuals as they browse online but wants to replace the functionality of cookies with the technology created through Privacy Sandbox. This point leads us to FLoC. 

Google’s Federated Learning of Cohorts (FLoC) 

Google sees the opportunity for advertising technology to lean away from third-party tracking and toward privacy-first tracking. Google explains that FLoC advertising technology may be the answer to eliminating cookies while allowing interest-based targeting and consumer privacy by tracking a user’s browsing habits and then placing them into various audience groups, or cohorts, based on their habits. Advertisers can then advertise to cohorts versus individual users. While Google has not shared what these cohorts are, we know that it will be a group of people with similar interests that businesses can target their ad campaigns toward. Google also claims that FLoCs are almost as good at producing results as cookie-based ad campaigns. 

FLoC can provide an effective replacement signal for third-party cookies. Our tests of FLoC to reach in-market and affinity Google Audiences show that 

advertisers can expect to see at least 95% of the conversions per dollar spent when compared to cookie-based advertising. 

Skeptics hold a strong argument against FLoCs: if large and small companies are bidding on the same cohorts, this move could likely push small businesses out of business and harm websites that rely on advertising revenue to survive. There’s no denying that this gives Google Chrome a lot of power over a substantial amount of advertising processes through its tracking and grouping of consumers into cohorts. When third-party cookies are removed in 2023, businesses that have collected and leveraged first-party data may be more capable of targeting ads than those that are solely dependent on Google FLoCs. 

What You Can Do 

1. Collect First-Party Data 

Now is the perfect time to amplify data collection efforts. One way to do so is by optimizing on-site experiences which make consumers want to share their identity with your brand. You can use enticing lead magnet tools, like pop-ups, that offer free and limited-time incentives. You can also offer free content and resources on your site as an incentive for consumers to sign up for your newsletter. Most importantly, don’t forget that looks can kill! If your site is not professional, intuitive, user-friendly, and visually appealing, consumers will be skeptical about sharing their information with you. They say data is worth more than gold, and mining your own data is certainly the case. Once you successfully convert users to share their information, there’s less of a need to employ Google’s advertising for customers to return to your site. 

2. Aim for High-Level Personalization 

Dedicated and returning consumers are the greatest. And, if you personalize product and content recommendations based on what they browse on your site, you give them a more personalized experience. You can understand how buyers navigate your site by looking at behavioral flow charts in your Google Analytics; this not only shows data on individuals, but also shows how customers flow through the site, what pages they spend the most time on, and what pages they drop off on. Understanding how buyers navigate your site allows you to enhance your pages, implement new features that improve the user experience, and increase overall sales. Similarly, you can use your opt-in database to customize your email and SMS campaigns. 

3. Implement a Referral Program 

Once cookies are gone, retargeting consumers that did not convert on your website is one of the biggest features that will be hit. With that, it is more critical than ever to create more customer-based marketing strategies. Referral programs are a great way for users to share your business with their network for rewards. This keeps social media a hot commodity as the best platform for sharing. Leverage your dedicated customers to bring in new customers. By using your new referral pipelines, you can flesh out customer profiles. 

4. Set Up a Subscription Service 

As consumers, we love subscription services! And as business owners, we love them as a means of growing online revenue and first-party data. Subscriptions tell us what customers like and how often they use a product or service. You can also create numerous quizzes, questions, and other inquiry forms to improve the customer experience, all while you gather data. This is an excellent way to build customer profiles. 

5. Create Engaging Content to Stay on Top of SERPs 

Targeting users directly may be difficult, but one thing that remains the same is the importance of SEO. Online visibility through keywords is still the most direct form of marketing. One of the most important components of SEO is increasing visibility, which allows consumers to find your website when they search for something. Visibility is directly correlated with your ranking. Google still wants to be the top dog when cookies are all over, and if they feel your site best answers what customers are searching for, you will be rewarded for it. 

One way to increase your SEO is by creating engaging content that is filled with keywords that you want to rank for. The higher you rank for the keywords, the higher you show on Google’s SERP page. This is why your SEO efforts must be extremely strategic and effective. It’s important to note that this strategy takes time to show results, which makes it imperative that you put the work in now. 

6. Set Up Tagging 

Investing in a strong tagging structure helps make the most of data that consumers share with you; it also allows you to accurately measure your campaign performance. You must set up tracking for user behavior and another for conversions. 

One of the best ways to make sure your site infrastructure is implanting tagging to its greatest ability is through Google Tag Manager. Here, you can set up tags for user behavior. Once these privacy-first changes go into effect, you can keep your customized tagging of consumer behavior while also modifying the user’s consent preferences. 

For tagging conversion tracking, you should set first-party cookies in the same domain as your site. Tags for conversions should be placed sitewide on every page of your website; this allows tags to efficiently measure and enhance your digital campaigns. You can do this by using Google’s global site tag (for Google Ads, Display & Video 360, Search Ads 360, Campaign Manager 360, and Google Analytics) or with Google Tag Manager (for all Google and non-Google tags). 

Final Thoughts 

Staying on top of what Google is doing in response to phasing out third-party cookies is imperative for your online presence and the future of your advertising efforts. Now, it’s 

time to make a game plan in anticipation of 2023. If you are a current client of King + Columbus for web, SEO, and/or Google ads, we’re already hashing this out for you! However, if you are concerned about the future of your website, visibility in SERPs, or how you’ll bid and target within Google Ads, our team would love to talk with you! Receive a free consultation with our seasoned pros and we’ll come up with a sustainable strategy that is customized for you. 

Want to learn more about Google’s recent decision to phase out third-party cookies? Read our blog on four things you should know about Google’s cookie phasing out.