Are you REALLY sure GA is going to cut it post-cookies? 

The decision in January 2024 to finally begin the deprecation of third-party cookies in the Chrome browser is a watershed moment for marketers. 

It has been a long time coming, but how are marketers going to continue to operate in a cookie-less world? More specifically, how are marketers who are placing bets on Google Analytics as their post-cookie analytics and attribution solution going to fare when cookies finally go? 

Here we try and provide some answers as we consider:   

When cookies are going away – and why

Before we look specifically at GA, and whether or not it is going to hold up as an accurate measurement solution in a cookieless world, it is useful to provide some context on timelines and the driving forces behind the removal of third-party cookies. 

The timeline issue is becoming clearer despite navigating what have been fairly muddy waters since Google initially signalled its intention to remove third-party cookies from its Chrome browser in 2020. After many twists, turns and false starts Google began removing Cookies for 1% of users in January 2024 (through a new feature called Tracking Protection which impacts 30 million users globally) a process that will ramp up quickly from there – culminating in a full phase-out in late 2024. 

So, answer to question number 1 – cookies are going away right now

The answer to question number two, why are they going away, has a little bit more nuance to it. But some of the key reasons include: 

  • the drive towards ‘privacy-first’ digital marketing: there is little doubt that the heightened concerns of individuals and privacy campaigners around how personal information is collected, processed and used by marketers has been influential. To make matters worse, trust around how big players like Google use data is low – with research by Tableau indicating 63% of internet users indicating they believe most companies aren’t transparent around this issue.
  • the need for Google to play catch up – whichever way you cut it, Google are extremely late to the privacy-friendly party. Browsers like Safari (Apple) and Firefox (Mozilla) blocked third-party cookies a long time ago and left Google trailing in their wake. The pressure to follow suit was always going to come.
  • Legislative pressure – legislators and regulators are also playing an increasingly active role in the privacy field. For example regulation like GDPR has been credited by Reuters with leading to a decrease of 22% in third-party cookies being created on news sites and a 14% drop on advertising and marketing ones. 
  • Practical impediments like Ad Blockers – whilst Safari and Firefox were ahead of the game in terms of restricting cookies ‘in browser’, Ad Blockers are also increasingly being used (GWI suggests that 1/3 of internet users use them at some time). Further blunting the impact of third-party cookies and hampering behavioural targeting – and retargeting – and effective campaign attribution. 

These are developments which have marketers on notice. An incredible 97% of marketers indicated that they are concerned about the loss of cookies having a material impact on their ability to understand which marketing activities are effective – with concerns ranging from the impact on retargeting to losing visibility of user journeys. 

And, in an environment where 43% of marketers were already questioning the effectiveness of their marketing data – describing their data as ‘not very accurate’ –  it leaves many of them at a crossroads in analytics terms. 

Is GA the answer for effective measurement as cookies go away?

2024 is shaping up to be a watershed year for digital marketers. All of this has an element of a ‘cliff-edge’ feel to it – like the run-up to GDPR – as many brands and agencies alike hurtle towards the deadline without having firm plans in place for the transition. However, as cookies will disappear in late 2024, marketers need to make fairly quick plans for having an analytics and attribution solution that is fully fit for purpose in a post-cookie world.

With a market share of upwards of 70% in the web analytics market, Google Analytics is one of the options available. And is the incumbent solution in many marketing departments. In fact, our own research pointed to the fact that 84% of marketers were making the transition to GA4. This was despite widespread concerns about data quality, illegality and data portability issues during the transition from Universal GA to GA4 – which itself relies on cookies for tracking. And we are already on the record as saying that this is a fairly damning statistic on the state of web analytics in general. 

So how does GA, and GA4 in particular, shape up in terms of a solution to take marketers into a post cookie landscape? 

Here is our take on things. 

79%  of marketers INCORRECTLY believe that cookies provide accurate data

So, this is the headline stat. 

When we were digging into what marketers thought about the death of cookies it was hugely puzzling, and slightly concerning, for us to find out that 79% of marketers believe that cookies are a technology that provides accurate tracking

In a market where advertisers are increasingly distrustful of platform data – with 80% indicating they have concerns over AdTech bias – this flies very much in the face of the prevailing wind. Without going off at a tangent (and we will cover this in more detail in our next blog) it is the same sort of misplaced optimism that has 85% of marketers sleepwalking into the opt-in problem which is presented by Google’s TOPIC and FLEDGE APIs.

In our own experience, the truth is that GA generates data that is more than 80% wrong in terms of attribution. And the fact is, that this then feeds into flawed assessments of conversion impact and attributed revenue like the one shown below for leading UK retailer Tesco – where we were able to use our cookieless AI-driven attribution platform to effectively rebuild their broken marketing data. 

And provide a much clearer view of the actual revenue associated with the campaign 

So why is there such a big discrepancy between the GA data above and our own cookieless attribution? 

To illustrate this, we need to give some consideration to the limitations in the way cookie-based solutions like GA track user journeys. Which gives only a partial view of the customer journey and relevant touchpoints that contribute to conversion. In a world where users are increasingly on complex, multi-device customer journeys this can have a huge impact in measurement terms. 

Take the example below:

As you can see, with the cookie based tool (which is GA in this case) the journey is effectively broken as the user switches device. 

And this partial view of the journey that GA has, creates some pretty serious implications for us as marketers including: 

  • creating an unfair bias towards the impact of touchpoints very late in the customer journey close to conversion (largely because that is the part of the journey it is able to track).
  • a tendency to over-optimise towards the bottom end of the funnel which is a high cost and high CPA environment. Particularly on the advertising solutions offered by large AdTech platforms like Facebook and Google Ads.
  • an inability to accurately measure the impact of lower-cost, middle and higher funnel touchpoints that are valuable but disconnected from the conversion in a cookie-based view of the world.

In contrast, the cookieless solution, which in this case is our Corvidae platform, sees the whole customer journey regardless of the user switching user agents or devices. 

Privacy concerns around Google Analytics

We started this analysis identifying privacy as a key driver for cookies being discontinued. 

However, unfortunately for Google there are lingering concerns about the illegality of GA which has been declared illegal in a number of European countries with concerns that it contravenes privacy laws in the EU due to the need for law enforcement officials in the US to have access to the personal data of EU citizens. It is something that we have covered in quite a bit more depth on our blog.

But is a recurring theme for Google at a wider level – which is not only currently  fighting a battle with the UK Competition and Markets authority over its proposed Privacy Sandbox solutions for cookieless retargeting and targeting – but has been subject to probes by the Irish and French regulators amongst others. 

Something that marketers should bear in mind if they have privacy needs high on their checklist as they prepare for a cookieless world. 

Source: Marketing in a cookieless future, Corvidae

The role for cookieless attribution as an alternative to GA

So, where to for marketers who have concerns over the data quality and privacy related issues with GA? Particularly in a world that demands: 

  • solutions that are able to track in a cookieless world 
  • a privacy-first approach that has the needs of individuals front and centre

As cookies go away AI-driven, 100% cookieless attribution provides a powerful and effective attribution solution to help overcome the limitations inherent in cookie-based tools including :

  • the ability to rebuild your broken customer data and trust your attribution again
  • the capability to stitch together customer journeys for attribution that are three times as long as cookie based solutions
  • average campaign impact of 20:1 ROAS on Google Ad campaigns and 35:1 ROAS on Facebook campaigns 
  • a privacy first approach with full GDPR compliance ‘out-of-the-box’

 Need to learn more? Download a copy of our ebook – how will the removal of cookies impact marketing

How Will The Removal of Cookies Impact Marketing?