Google announces the end to third-party cookies
This blog isn’t starting well, as we’ve already descended into jargon, which we hate doing. But bear with us as we explain why this matters to SMEs’ marketing – especially if you do any type of paid online advertising.
Let’s start from the beginning. Cookies, the non-biscuit variety, are a piece of code that collects data about an individual user. The idea being it saves data so marketers and businesses can better understand the who, what and how of online behaviour. There are two types of cookies:
- First party cookies – this is data about users on your own website, what pages they visit, how long they stay for, what content they read etc.
- Third-party cookies – these are primarily used for advertising, and are placed on a website by someone other than the owner of the site, to collect data about users. For example, you’ve been doing research about a holiday and when you go to read an article on another site, there is an advert for that holiday. That advert is specific to you because of your online behaviour via the power of a third-party cookie. These cookies also sometimes power features and functions on a website, so aren’t always advertising related.
In 2020, Google announced the end to third-party cookies in Chrome by 2022. We are now in 2022. Are third-party cookies still here? Yes…but not for much longer.
Are you using this type of marketing?
Third-party cookie advertising is big business. It’s highly targeted and often, when done well, are highly effective at generating enquiries and sales. We imagine many of you use this type of advertising in one way or another. At its most basic level is retargeting, a user has looked at your product or service online and you follow that user around to advertise that product/service to them – maybe with an offer or promotion to get that conversion.
For many businesses, it’s been a cheap and effective way of generating leads and sales until now.
But clearly things are changing and in a big way, so you need to be prepared!
Why are Google making this change?
Although the news is big and Google is the single largest browser in the world, they are not the first.
Apple, with their Safari browser, banned third-party cookies a number of years ago. The impact has been relatively minimal because of the smaller market share, but there has still been an impact with less reliable targeted paid advertising already happening.
This all fits with GDPR and many other privacy legislation and rules that have been emerging regularly over recent years. Protection of users’ privacy, greater regulation and transparency in how that data is used are unlikely to be topics you’ve not come up against in recent years.
Although some sceptics might give you a slightly different version of events as to why Google are making this change (more on that below).
How can I do paid advertising on Google in the future?
Google may well have been slower on the uptake than others because they themselves rely heavily on advertising revenue generated from these third-party cookies. So they’ve been working on a solution.
To quote Google:
“Some browsers have reacted to these concerns by blocking third-party cookies, but we believe this has unintended consequences that can negatively impact both users and the web ecosystem. By undermining the business model of many ad-supported websites, blunt approaches to cookies encourage the use of opaque techniques.”
Hence the reason for the delay from a 2022 deadline to 2024. When we started writing this blog the deadline was in fact 2023, but then just a few days ago, it was extended again. The situation is pretty fluid but is an important one to get your head around early.
The original plan has been ditched in favour of something called a Privacy Sandbox. In a nutshell, the proposal is that all user data and processing happens within Chrome instead. So for those you are using Google Ads, you probably won’t see a massive difference as everything will be moved to the Privacy Sandbox instead. Google has announced they need longer on the Sandbox, hence the further extension.
On the flip side, if you use a different provider or platform for your paid online advertising, they’ll have to either pay into the Privacy Sandbox (in which case, why wouldn’t a business do it directly or just via an agency, rather than an additional intermediary?) or they’ll be needing to develop their own technology.
It could well be argued that Google is further cementing their monopoly on advertising online. How much this really motivates these changes is up for debate and one we’ll happily take part in!
What that means for SME marketing
Whatever the whys and wherefores of Google killing off third-party cookies for online paid advertising, they are going.
Precisely what Google replaces them with is still slightly up in the air. But unlike the changes from Apple in Safari, an alternative is coming so targeted user advertising can still take place – just in a different guise.
Marketers are concerned about their ability to track the right data and are predicting the need to spend more in order to achieve the same results because it’s going to be less targeted.
Here is our current advice on what you should do with your own marketing in light of these forthcoming changes:
- Reflect on how much of your marketing could be affected by these changes – the budget and results you get from it – to evaluate the level of risk to your marketing strategy and business.
- First-party cookies are not going anywhere, so can you better utilise your own data about your own users to market to them?
- Explore other marketing channels which are targeted such as social media advertising and email marketing. These may have generated a lower return on investment (ROI) than your paid online advertising, but given the changes happening, these might actually now be going to offer you the best ROI available.
- Review your whole marketing strategy. Any plan that is reliant on one type of activity is always a risky approach, even if it seemingly works in the short-term. It means you could well have only been focusing on ‘Primary Marketing’ i.e. new lead generation, and missing out on the business results and potential from existing customers (Secondary Marketing) and referrals and recommendations (Tertiary Marketing). This is a good opportunity to make broader changes to your marketing and pick up on all the other things you’ve been missing out on!
- Keep up with the Privacy Sandbox. Google Ads is not going anywhere, so there isn’t a need to panic. It will be delivered differently so you’ll need to be prepared for what Google launches and get up to speed with it quickly.
- Talk to your agency, freelancer or whoever you work with, to understand their thinking, plans and proposals for what else you should and could be doing to mitigate the risks and prepare for the cookie-less future (third-party only, chocolate chip is still available!)
If you’d like to discuss what this means for your marketing with us, book yourself a complimentary 90-minute marketing review.