Welcome to a turning point in browsing and PPC ads. It's January 2024, and the Google Chrome browser has now deprecated "third-party cookies". If tracking your users is important to you, this article explains what the Google Cookies Deprecation means for you.
Cookie deprecation signifies the phasing out of third-party tracking cookies. No doubt this news shakes the very foundations of online ads. After all, you're used to targeted ads following you everywhere. But if you're here, you're a small business or website owner, and web analytics is important to you, the situation isn’t as critical as it seems.
Google's Chrome browser, a titan in the market, is spearheading this change. Because of that, the news has echoed loudly throughout the internet. But will the Google Cookies Deprecation affect YOUR analytics experience? As marketers, we've gone beyond the emotional language and found -- the answer is not quite "yes".
Having been in this industry for nearly a decade, we've seen many shifts in how websites collect data. Here’s a different look at how this transition affects not only marketers and website owners but also you, the user, in your day-to-day virtual interactions.
With Google's decision to phase out third-party cookies, the entire world of pay-per-click ads faces a seismic shift.
Marketers like ourselves use tools like Google Analytics (along with many others) to track users' browsing behaviors. But some people worry about being watched – which we understand totally. Google claims this new initiative is a "step towards enhancing online privacy".
It's supposed to signal an end to the longstanding practice of tracking users' browsing behaviors to serve tailored ads.
Or does it?
We understand the anxiety and uncertainty this brings to advertisers and publishers alike, so let's start with a simple fact. Google will not stop spying on its users. Google Analytics is not dead – not even close.
Why would Google stop spying on you? Google is a big data-miner themselves. And personal user data is their #1 cash cow. Data is the backbone of their top profit center: ads.
In 2022, Google Ads generated over $224 billion in revenue. That’s a vast majority of Google’s revenue, and not by a small margin.
What’s more, Google has just been revealed to pay Apple over 36% of Google Ads revenue generated through Safari. That alone is $18 to $26 billion in revenue (numbers depend on the source). Don’t think Apple isn’t privacy-conscious either: they, too, are making money on your data.
The Google Ads dashboard gives you thousands of insights into user behavior on your ads, and, provided you drop a tracking code on your website, how users behave when they click from the ads to your website.
If it’s not already self-evident from the above numbers, Google’s Chrome move has not changed the Ads data one bit – PLUS, they still have a checkbox asking consent to share your website’s activity “for the purposes of improving Google products”.
Because of this, advertisers like us have the data they need to understand consumer behavior, fine-tune their targeting strategies, and measure campaign performance.
With Google’s announcement about cookies supposedly crumbling, the industry is facing a reckoning… that is, if they’ve been living under a rock.
The ability to serve extremely targeted ads has long depended on the insights gained from third-party cookies. Now that Google Chrome blocks this type of cookie by default, many advertisers fear a decrease in ad relevance and effectiveness.
But wait – there’s more. Did you know, Google Chrome has had its own cookieless tracking techniques for years? That’s right!
Block cookies or browse incognito, it doesn’t matter. Chrome still watches your behavior for advertising purposes, and Google has the patents to prove it. They use a machine learning algorithm to feed your browsing patterns back to various Google products – including Google Ads.
“You are being watched. The government has a secret system, a machine that spies on you every hour of every day.” – Person of Interest intro
Google’s “cookie deprecation” therefore has another hidden layer. There are many tracking cookies known and unknown, hidden and not hidden, found inside web apps and web platforms of all kinds.
It’s a good look for Google to be the hero and appeal to privacy advocates. But they are not phasing out tracking anytime soon. Why not? As you’ve already read, data makes them way too much money to possibly stop.
The Google Ads landscape as a whole will probably be stable, at least for those who have all their tracking codes in order – and that’s sometimes not an easy nor obvious task, in our experience. However, for those dependent on other apps, we anticipate some turbulence as businesses adapt to the new norms. There may be shifts in advertising spending, and the entire digital market is being forced to face the music: Use Google-friendly tools or you’re kaput.
So, what does all this mean? We believe the Google Cookies Deprecation means that Google wants to wean off competing trackers, and simply use their own tools to still watch users.
I’ll explain in a moment. It's a time of transformation, but also to pull the veil off what STILL works in website tracking.
Thankfully, privacy-friendly tracking technologies are a thing.
For countless businesses and marketers, Google Analytics is the way to track user interactions and website performance. Many are understandably concerned about the potential impact on this critical tool.
Here’s a question to ponder: does Google Analytics utilize first-party or third-party cookies? First-party cookies are set by the host domain (the site you're visiting) and are generally considered to be less invasive in terms of privacy. In the case of Google Analytics, it primarily uses first-party cookies to track user behavior, which means it should remain unaffected by the third-party cookie deprecation.
As a website owner, Google's deprecation of third-party cookies might feel overwhelming. Until it’s not! With all the information you now have, here are some ways to make sure you will be immune to this shift. And yes – you STILL get to keep your user experience data.
Start by conducting a thorough audit of your website to understand how and where third-party cookies are being used.
If your website uses analytics tools other than Google Analytics, now is the time to explore server-side tracking options.
Server-side tracking is less susceptible to browser restrictions on cookies – because it literally operates on your website’s server. It allows you to maintain quality analytics data while respecting your users' privacy.
Begin by doubling down on first-party cookies like Google Tag Manager and Google Analytics, which remain unaffected by the deprecation. The best part? Google Tag Manager lets you deploy a wide variety of advertising tools, not just Google’s tools.
In addition, add other analytics tools to broaden the scope of data. Certain Clicky Analytics, Matomo Analytics and Microsoft Clarity broaden the available data, giving you insights that Google Analytics may not, so you can make more accurate decisions about your marketing.
Overall, despite Google’s warnings about third-party cookies, tracking is not going away anytime soon. It’s not about violating people’s personal lives, though. It’s about using your audience’s behavior to improve your website. As I always say: “It’s not what you got; it’s what you do that makes you a Hero.”
So here are our suggested action items for the Google cookies “deprecation”:
Ultimately, improving your website in this way builds trust with your audience—a vital currency in the digital era.
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