Google’s latest update on cookie deprecation
Most marketers stopped planning for third-party cookie deprecation as Google notoriously extended its timeline again and again. But the first shoe has dropped in Google’s plan to finally deprecate third-party cookies. Third-party cookie deprecation is happening, and Google has no plans to push back its timeline.
Let’s take a step back
As a reminder, Privacy Sandbox was announced in 2019 and is Google’s initiative to develop a set of open standards to enhance web privacy. Stated simply, this is Google’s proposed solution to the third-party cookie. Google has proposed a number of solutions over the last several years from FLoC (Federated Learning of Cohorts) to Topics API, but Privacy Sandbox is here to stay.
Third-party cookie replacement solutions have also been proposed by other entities, the most notable being The Trade Desk’s Unified ID 2.0. This proposed solution focuses on maintaining both user privacy and personalized advertising, and continues to gain industry support. Most recently, Walmart Connect announced it is testing the integration of Unified ID 2.0 in partnership with The Trade Desk.
What’s happening now?
If we return to the present day, Google announced in September 2023 updated relevance and measurement APIs for its Privacy Sandbox, which will allow marketers to broadly assess its readiness when third-party cookies are removed in 2024. This is significant because it signals Google is moving forward with its own solution to replace the current open standard for tracking and measurement across the web: the third-party pixel. This announcement is also significant as now that Google is testing in a live environment, it can determine its readiness to scale this solution across all of Chrome. Given the significance this change will have on advertising at large, it should come as no surprise that Google wants to make sure it gets it right as well as provide an environment for users to understand the impact on their tracking.
What happens after this? The next major tent pole in Google’s deprecation plan will occur in Q1 2024, which is right around the corner. At this stage of its rollout plan, Google plans to test a cookieless experience for 1% of Chrome users. Users will be selected by Google, and they will not know if they are part of the test or control group. Essentially, Google will “hold out” 1% of its Chrome traffic, treating it like cookies have already been removed. It’s unlikely that brands will be able to isolate users who are part of this test in their own performance data. Marketers may see some anomalies but it is unlikely.
Despite its track record for moving its timelines out, given the robust testing Google has done to date within Privacy Sandbox, it’s unlikely these dates will move. This means that for marketers, our new normal will include measuring and deploying media without the reliance of third-party cookies in 2024.
What should marketers know?
Regardless of how smooth the transition to a cookieless future goes, this is a major rewrite of how the internet and tracking works. There are bound to be challenges as both the industry and individual brands transition, but the time to take action is now.
As marketers begin 2024 planning, it will be paramount for brands to define a plan to move forward in a cookieless world and redefine how to measure success. Here are some things to keep in mind:
- Look at what your traffic looks like without cookies: Begin using developer tools to view your website as if third-party cookies have already been removed. Once rolled out, this change will not only affect marketing pixels but it will also impact third-party cookies used for on-site functionality like user logins or partner web services.
- Leverage conversion APIs and your first-party data where you can: While not a long-term solve, conversion APIs have been created as a way for brands to use first-party data to fill in the data gaps platforms are experiencing in the wake of privacy changes like iOS 14. By implementing conversion APIs and using first-party data, brands can harvest needed data for optimizations and targeting once cookies are removed.
- Adjust your media strategy: To fuel long-term success, brands must carefully evaluate their media strategies to prepare for this new age of advertising. Use this time to identify where your brand is heavily reliant on third-party data and where you have already started to leverage first-party data. Begin to transition away from third-party datasets, develop partner relationships to garner second-party data, and gather more impactful first-party datasets like from users who may not purchase but complete a desired on-site action. That said, it’s important to ensure that your brand isn’t overly reliant on first-party data as they will limit the scale of your media efforts. First-party data are great to use for retargeting efforts or building lookalike audiences but because these data are reflective of your current customer base, they can’t be relied upon to fuel long-term growth if you are looking to reach new users. It will be important to ensure top-of-funnel media efforts don’t narrow in too far due to overreliance on first-party datasets. And to fuel long-term success, marketers must start identifying new ways to reach broader audiences effectively.