An Update on Google’s Cookie Policy 2021

March 19, 2021

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Google recently announced its intention to stop advertisement sales based on cross-site tracking by 2022. This marks a sea change for Internet advertising, yet a continuation of the trend of browsers locking down on user privacy. In 2020 Google accounted for over half of global digital ad sales, meaning this upcoming change will likely result in the end of cross-site ad tracking overall — especially combined with the fact that other major browsers, namely Safari, Firefox, Microsoft Edge, and Chrome itself have blocked websites from using third-party cookies for cross-site tracking. Instead of selling data from third-party cookies in order to target ads, Google plans to move to Federated Learning of Cohorts (FLoC), an AI-based technology that will allow Google to target ads based on groups of users categorized by interest, rather than by individual data. This method protects user privacy both by anonymizing users and by keeping data processing within Chrome rather than selling it. This change will clearly transform the ad buying landscape, but what does it mean, if anything, for website optimization?

Do Google’s New Cookie Changes Affect Website Optimization?

If you are using SiteSpect, then no. But, on the whole this change spells yet another step in the industry’s turn away from client-side cookies. It’s going to get messy for marketers using optimization tools that depend primarily on client-side cookies to deliver experiences and collect data. These tools are already facing huge problems with data accuracy and experience targeting. With this additional change from Google, it’s going to mean more code being added to servers as temporary workarounds that have to be updated whenever Google makes any small change.

What we’re learning is that we can’t fully predict the ways that Google and other companies will continue to evolve away from third-party and client-side cookies. As mentioned above, most optimization tools do offer workarounds, but the sustainability of a strategy based on continued patching to keep up with changes made by Google and others needs to be questioned. That, on top of the inherent weaknesses in data quality and performance for using JavaScript tags, makes for a tough go for marketers.

SiteSpect, on the other hand, does not depend on third-party client-side cookies at all and requires no workarounds. Instead, any cookies deployed by SiteSpect are served as first-party cookies set at the server side. Plus, website optimization typically focuses on creating experiences within the client’s own website rather than targeting external ads.

Additionally, SiteSpect does not collect individual data at all. Instead, we aggregate data to create user segments — conceptually similar to Google’s plan to use FLoC — and so it does not violate any government regulated privacy standards.

Google’s announcement reinforces the trend toward tighter data privacy policies. If any of your marketing tools don’t comply out of the box, you’re going to run into trouble. The best thing you can do to ensure the stability of your program and the return on your investments is to move away from using client-side cookies altogether.

How Will the MarTech Landscape Change?

The biggest impact of this change will be seen by data brokers, not by individual brands bidding on ad space. Google claims that FLoC works at least 95% as well in terms of conversions per dollar spent as third-party cookie based targeting. So, as a business publishing ads on Google, you may see a slight change in conversion rate, but this is probably minimal and hopefully insignificant.

The bigger question for advertisers revolves around uniformity across the web. The third-party cookie had been universally used across browsers and devices. However, this already no longer applies due to both browser privacy changes (again, Firefox, Safari, Chrome, and others) and major policy changes like GDPR and CCPA.

What is clear is that brands that still depend on third-party and client-side cookies to provide personalized and optimized experiences are going to continue to hit roadblocks over the coming months and years.

What Can SiteSpect Users Expect?

SiteSpect users won’t experience any change in capabilities or experience based on Google’s change in ad targeting, just like they didn’t need to make changes or deploy workarounds for any of the other browser privacy updates. This is for a few reasons. First and most importantly, SiteSpect does not rely on third-party or client-side cookies for any type of targeting. Instead, SiteSpect sets first-party cookies at the server side. Just like browser policy changes and legal policy changes like GDPR don’t change anything for SiteSpect, this change from Google will not either. SiteSpect already complies with the highest privacy standards by not collecting or storing individual or personal data. Second, SiteSpect data is not used for external ad targeting. So, the way that Google sells ad placement does not have anything to do with the data SiteSpect collects.

Going forward, we can all expect the digital ad space to change in ways that we may not yet be able to predict. There may be changes in how advertisers target users across devices and browsers, or in how advertisers optimize and target ads in general. For SiteSpect customers, the bottom line is that you can continue to optimize and personalize your sites, including for users on Chrome and who reach your site through Google, with no interruption.

To learn more about SiteSpect, visit our website.

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Kevin Plankey is the Director of Demand Generation for SiteSpect and is responsible for marketing operations to include strategy and implementation of all demand generation efforts: social, email, website, organic/paid media, and event planning & promotion.

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