How Will the Death of Cookies Impact Measurement?​

How Will the Death of Cookies Impact Measurement?​

With the removal of third-party cookies on the slate for the end of 2024 there is very little doubt that the shape of advertising targeting and marketing measurement is about to undergo a seismic change.

But what does the death of cookies mean specifically for marketing measurement in particular – and how do you set yourself up for measurement in a cookieless world?

Here we consider:

What does the removal of cookies mean?

Before we dig into the implications of how to set yourself up for successful measurement without cookies, it is important to make some high-level distinctions between the type of cookies that are used for marketing purposes:

  • First-party cookies – these are cookies that are essentially created by the website that a user is browsing. They collect information on users – for example, usernames, passwords, language preferences etc – that can then be used to personalise and improve the user experience. For example, pre-populating commonly used fields on a website. This type of cookie is not going away as part of the changes
  • Third-party cookies – are an entirely different proposition entirely. This type of cookie is created by domains that are not the website you are visiting. And they are used extensively right now for ad personalisation, retargeting activity and for cross-site user tracking – and marketing effectiveness measurement.

It is this latter type of cookie that is going away.

Google is phasing them out for a number of reasons including increasing concerns around user privacy. But they are a little late to the party with other industry players like Mozilla (Firefox) and Apple (Safari) having blocked them in their browsers previously.

The current timeline for their removal of third-party cookies from Chrome sits at the end of 2024. And the decision matters – with Google holding an estimated 64% of the browser market.

How will marketing effectiveness measurement be impacted?

Google’s decision has created widespread concern in the industry and the fall-out from the decision continues to play out publicly as they continue to try to shape alternatives to cookies.

But leaving that aside for now, how is marketing measurement likely to be affected?

There will be a move away from behavioural targeting

It is clear that the changes are going to expedite a move away from the type of behavioural based targeting that has been the bread and butter of the industry for literally decades.

Third-party cookies have supplied a wealth of data that has been used – wisely and very often not so wisely, too – to deliver highly targeted advertising on a, more or less, individual basis.

But as third-party cookies die, and access to that type of data goes with them, the focus looks like it will be increasingly on targeting cohorts. At least that is certainly the approach that Google is taking.

Certain types of advertising will be more affected than others

The impact of cookie removal is going to have varying levels of impact depending on the actual media approach you are taking.

For example, Display (Programmatic) is going to be heavily impacted across audience development, targeting and reporting.

With view-through metrics no longer being available as well as a loss of attribution visibility across domains.

Retargeting is also going to be heavily affected due to its reliance on the data collected from third-party cookies.

While channels like contextual targeting, which are more or less unaffected by the changes, are likely to be increasingly attractive to advertisers.

A/B testing will be hugely impacted

It may have been the backbone of improvements to digital campaigns for years but A/B testing is unfortunately directly impacted by the changes.

In a world with third-party cookies, it is possible to identify a user as they visit a website, potentially serve them variations on content and collect and analyse data on the success or otherwise of their interaction with the content.

However, in the absence of third-party cookies a website visitor is viewed as a new user each time they hit the site which removes the ability to correctly measure the conversion impact of the changes in content being viewed.

Unless, of course, you are using first-party cookies on your own website.

Google is suggesting replacement solutions

It is worth pointing out at this stage that Google won’t stop tracking altogether.

As part of the drive to remove third-party cookies, Google are also proposing replacement solutions for marketing measurement without cookies.

Their FLoC proposals for targeted advertising have already been dropped due to industry concerns – and ironically the realisation that they had the potential for even lower levels of privacy than cookies.

But solutions like Google Topics, the Fledge API and their new reporting API all have implications for marketers who are trying to establish the future of ad targeting and measurement post third-party cookies.

Remember, this is also all happening in tandem alongside rulings which point to the illegality of GA in an EU context – and also as Google is trying to address the issue by forcing existing Google Universal Analytics users on to GA4 with no portability between the products. Remember also that there are alternatives to GA4.

Pressure on marketers to find alternative measurement solutions

And it is, perhaps, the point above that is acting as one of the biggest drivers for marketers to research their options when it comes to finding an analytics and attribution solution which is fit for purpose in a landscape that is devoid of the type of data that third-party cookies currently provide.

Top measurement tips for surviving the death of third-party cookies

So, how do you set yourself up for measurement in a cookieless world?

Here are our key suggestions.

Keep tabs on Google’s proposals

First up it will pay to keep an eye on developments at Google’s Privacy Sandbox initiative.

There are a number of suggestions for the future of digital advertising that potentially address the needs for targeting and tracking in a post cookie world.

Reaction to date on these is mixed with concerns around the depth of targeting capability and the relative lack of measurement functionality being two of the headlines.

But the solutions are in testing stages and it will be important to monitor developments here.

Maximise the value in first party data and tracking

As third-party cookies wane, and access to the vast audiences and targeting capability they offer declines, the value in first-party data is only going to increase.

As a result, marketers should look to fully optimise the value of their existing (and prospective) first party data. And to be able to effectively leverage and use that data that also means ensuring you have the right type of consents, and GDPR compliance, in place to ensure you can leverage the data fully.

Explore measurement options that don’t rely on third-party cookies

While the focus of the debate is around the removal of third-party cookies themselves it is worth noting that cookies do a particularly poor job of marketing attribution anyway – with our work with clients showing that 80% of data is being incorrectly attributed by solutions that rely on cookies.

So, it can really pay dividend to take a step back and take a fresh view on how you are approaching measurement and attribution.

And if we are moving away from using cookies for tracking you need to be looking at predictive technology which delivers cookieless attribution – like our Corvidae, which uses AI and Machine Learning to do a much better job of stitching together the true picture behind complex journeys and across different data silos.

How Corvidae can help

We realised around eight years ago that there were issues around the data being generated by third-party cookies.

Which is why we decided to develop Corvidae, which effectively:

  • uses AI and Machine Learning to replace cookies and effectively rebuild your data from the ground up.
  • re-attributes the data which has been incorrectly attributed by third-party cookies
  • stitches together multiple cross-channel, cross-device touchpoints to understand what’s is and isn’t working in your media mix

To learn more, visit our website. Or download a copy of our Buyers Guide to Attribution which makes the process of choosing the right attribution solution post cookie removal less daunting.

Buyer’s Guide to Attribution