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What will Google’s changes to cookies mean for marketers?

Mike Harrison 01-Oct-2021 10:02:56
How will Google's cookie policy change affect marketers?

Google’s proposed changes suggest there may be no more third-party cookies in the cookie jar, which may have implications for marketers and how they target their customers.

For years, digital savvy businesses have been using cookies to help them track website visitors, collect data, and target ads to the right audiences. But news coming from Google HQ suggests this tried and tested cookie recipe is about to change!

What is a third-party cookie? 

  • It’s a cookie generated on one website which then follows the user across all the websites they visit
  • The data is anonymous
  • It collects a profile on the sorts of websites a user visits and their likes and trends etc
  • The data can be used in retargeting ad campaigns to target users with a particular profile

An example:

“Sunday morning. You’re enjoying researching a particular product on your favourite online retailer. You then pop over to read the news on another website. Then as if by magic, up will pop an ad from the retailer for the very product you have just been browsing. Sound familiar? This ad is likely to have been triggered by third-party cookie data."

So what is a first party cookie? 

  • It’s a code which is generated on a user’s computer when a user visits your website (and your website only).
  • Often used for user experience such as remembering passwords, basic data on the visitor and their preferences.
  • First party cookies are used to see what a user did while visiting your website, how often they visit it and gain basic analytics to leverage their behaviour.
    (i.e. the sort of things marketing automation tools like HubSpot track to:
  1.  help deliver to users the best possible experience through personalisation and
  2. to gain critical information to help move leads down the marketing funnel)

An example:

“The way Amazon always remembers your login information, the language you speak, the items in your cart, and other key things that make your user experience so smooth.”

What is the change?

Google is following the example of Firefox and Safari and is stopping third-party cookies in its own Chrome browsers. i.e. they will no longer work.


Google’s own explanation published in March this year stated:

“It’s difficult to conceive of the internet we know today — with information on every topic, in every language, at the fingertips of billions of people — without advertising as its economic foundation. But as our industry has strived to deliver relevant ads to consumers across the web, it has created a proliferation 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 Centre. If digital advertising doesn't evolve to address the growing concerns people have about their privacy and how their personal identity is being used, we risk the future of the free and open web.”

What will this mean for Google Ads?

Google say it is introducing a similar tracking capability within its own suite of products through the application of AI and machine learning.

“We will continue to support first-party relationships on our ad platforms for partners, in which they have direct connections with their own customers. And we'll deepen our support for solutions that build on these direct relationships between consumers and the brands and publishers they engage with.”

What will this mean for Marketers currently running Google Ads?

It means you don’t need to panic. Google isn’t hanging you out to dry! If you are running retargeting campaigns, they will stop working at some point in 2022. However, you will still be able to do something similar with Google Ads, but that tracking will be via Googles own tools. Google’s plan is to target ads against people’s general interests using an AI system called Federated Learning of Cohorts (FLoC). Think of this interest-based targeting working in a similar way to how Netflix’s algorithm works out what you might like to watch.

With less than a year to go there are still a lot of big questions that need answering and Google’s proposals are currently being scrutinised by the UK’s data protection regulator. But for marketers trying to navigate these changes, the key takeaway is that the online advertising market is still alive and kicking and still one worth including in any marketing strategy

Read more: How do you blend humans with machines for successful marketing?

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