Google’s Third-Party Cookie Phase-Out

Feb 6, 2024It Depends - An SEO Podcast, PPC, SEO

It Depends – Episode 10

In the latest episode of “It Depends – An SEO Podcast”, we explore impending demise of third-party cookies. We highlight Google’s plans to phase out third-party cookies by Q3 2024, alongside Apple’s similar initiatives, triggering apprehension in all aspects of digital marketing. How will this impact paid advertising? How will this impact SEO? How will this impact analytics and tracking?

From the broader perspective of digital marketing, we explore the reasons behind Google’s decision, touching upon privacy concerns and regulatory frameworks like GDPR. We also speculate on the potential impacts of this shift, from targeted advertising to SEO strategies, offering insights into the uncertain yet evolving future of online marketing.

Dive deeper into this insightful discussion as we navigate the death of third party cookies.

Transcript

Jay:
Hey Lindsay.

Lindsie:
How’s it going, Jay?

Jay:
It is going all right. Um, it is February now and everyone’s new year’s resolutions have probably died. So I think it’s safe to talk about cookies, right?

Lindsie:
Safe to talk about cookies, the chaos that is happening in the digital marketing advertising world right now. So let’s just jump right in. We are gonna talk about third party cookies specifically. So what we have heard, what Google has announced is that they are now restricting third party cookies only like 1% of people today. are being impacted just because of testing and all that. But by Q3 of 2024, we are gonna see it just rolled out entirely 100% of Google Chrome users. This is not just Google, Apple’s doing the same thing. Essentially, we are seeing an entire phase out of the third party cookie. And people are terrified and we’re not quite sure what it means. So today, I’m hopeful that we can talk about basics of cookies, like what are they other than the yummy ones we can eat, and why Google is doing this, what it means, impacts, what we’re going to see, and then what we should be doing next. So that’s kind of my plan on our cookie conversation today.

Jay:
All right, and I know we’ve got like 30 years at this point of people making cookie jokes but i’m just here to say let’s keep them going cookies are delicious and Whatever people could have picked a different name for these things

Lindsie:
Yeah.

Jay:
But let’s talk about cookies. Where do we need to start?

Lindsie:
Let’s start with the basics. So what is a cookie J in the realm of digital world that we’re talking about it in?

Jay:
Yeah, it’s probably a thing that a lot of people just take for granted at this point, but they’re essentially little files that live in the storage of your browser on whatever device you’re using that store information about your activity, who you are, what you’re doing with a website, that sort of thing. So like you go shopping on a, a e-commerce site, you log in. You add things to your shopping cart. Cookies make all of that happen. They’re, they’re storing all of that information about your visit to the site. So that’s, that’s like the basics of it. They get used for a lot more stuff. And the, the more essential ones are called first party cookies that are just between you and the website that you’re using. What we’re talking about is third party cookies, which a particular company or website installs them on your browser, essentially installs kind of a funky word, but places them on your browser and they follow your activity throughout the internet. So those usually get used for tracking and advertising and that sort of thing where it’s, it’s like, you know, you go look at a product on a website and then as you’re browsing other websites, you see ads that show you the product you just looked at third party cookies are largely making that possible.

Lindsie:
Right, and I think that’s where the concern comes into play, right? So advertisers use this data to really target their advertisements and all of that to make it more effective, have a greater return, all those different pieces, and now if we don’t have that, there’s concern now. And again, first party cookies, no changes there, right? This is just the third party conversation.

Jay:
Yeah, at least, at least for today. Uh, there’s been for a couple of years now talk of like a cookie-less internet, but we’re, we’re not ready for that yet. Like most sites just would flat out not function. Uh, but that day will probably come.

Lindsie:
but we’re not talking about that day today, we’re talking about the

Jay:
Right.

Lindsie:
right now. Let’s not get into doomsday talk here. So I think it’s important that we talk about why this is happening, why are these decisions being made? I know there’s privacy and regulatory pieces of this. So walk us through like why these changes are happening.

Jay:
Yeah, there’s, I think, uh, probably three main factors. One is just, it’s like where the market is going. So people have installed ad blockers in Chrome and other browsers for years. And Google has tried to fight against that. You know, they’ll stop ads from showing, but they also stop a lot of those third-party cookies. You know, people

Lindsie:
Mm-hmm.

Jay:
that are a little savvier go into their settings and disable third-party cookies. Uh, Apple users like opt out of certain types of ad tracking, just all of this stuff has been growing and it’s, it’s a mix of like, there’s some people that are very concerned about privacy. And then the average internet user is like, if you make it easy for me, I would rather have more privacy. So, you know,

Lindsie:
Thanks for watching!

Jay:
there’s some amount of market demand. There’s, there’s definitely regulation, uh, GDPR in The EU is like one of the biggest things, which has been around since, it’s been 2016 at this point. It’s been around a few years, but it just kind of keeps evolving in terms of, of the reach and impact. So

Lindsie:
Mm-hmm.

Jay:
a lot of this third party cookie conversation, you know, you have these things that track personal information about you in a lot of cases that follow you across the internet that deals with a lot of privacy concerns that get impacted by the, the EU laws. And this regulation is just going to like keep growing in reach. So

Lindsie:
Right.

Jay:
Google’s kind of reacting to it slash getting ahead of what’s to come. Uh, and then the, the last part is Google might be looking at this as a way to protect some of their own market in the advertising world. So like Apple is kind of like fired the first shot in this area where they’ve been. Against selling user data for advertising forever and continue to do so and they’ve talked about like we value your privacy And that’s why we don’t do that, but now they’re launching their own ad platform so

Lindsie:
Surprise!

Jay:
You know they’ve got this whole ecosystem that only they have access to this certain information about their users And they’re gonna be able to just kind of create like their own little mini monopoly in the Apple world So Google

Lindsie:
Mm-hmm.

Jay:
has the potential to do the same thing because most Chrome users log into their Google account, which means you share all of your browsing information plus tons of other personal information with Google, just by the nature of being logged in and cookies, at least third party cookies don’t really need to play a major role in that. So Google could potentially shut out a lot of advertisers, at least from having some advantages where. You know, Google can have more ownership of like the, the personalization realm of advertising.

Lindsie:
So at first view, it feels very protective of Google, right? Like they’re doing the right thing. They’re not gonna track, not them, but in general, there’s not gonna be the ability to track people and know all of the intricacies of their life. But really it’s just a matter of who holds that data. And Google is saying, we’re gonna hold it now and not allow the third party people to have access.

Jay:
Yeah. I mean, it’s, it’s business like, you know,

Lindsie:
Yeah.

Jay:
Google was not forced to globally get rid of third-party cookies in Chrome. So if they’re going to do it, there’s got to be some kind of financial incentive in the, in it for them.

Lindsie:
They’re just in it for the good, Jay. That’s what Google is here for. Okay. So, all right. So we know what cookies are, kind of why this is happening. What are the impacts here on digital marketing as a whole? Like is this the end of online advertising or is this just a end of third party advertising? Everything’s gonna have to go through Google and or Apple. What’s next?

Jay:
Yeah, I mean, online advertising is dead now. It was actually really great. I went to a couple of news sites to just get the latest info on this story and doing research. I was able to just read the article with no interruptions, no popups, no interstitials, no, it was fantastic. No. So yeah, like people have been freaking out that personalized advertising is going to die as a result of this. And certainly some advertising is going to get more generic. You know, you won’t be able to have as easy or universal of access to ads that can target you as an individual based on like your behavior and interests and whatever, you know, we can argue if that’s a good or bad thing for advertising, but it’s a thing, uh, but like the, the ad tech world has already been working on this issue for years. So there’s. Advertising networks and technology today that targets you based on, you know, Google can do things based on your Chrome profile and your, your Gmail address and things like that.

Lindsie:
Mm-hmm.

Jay:
Uh, there’s advertisers that they use like your device or wifi ID. That’s how a lot of advertisers get around Apple’s restrictions for like, ask this app not to track,

Lindsie:
Mm-hmm.

Jay:
you know, that doesn’t give the advertiser access to like an ID specific to your Apple account. But they can still know like your, your phone’s IDs and things like that. You can still find you, um, and IP addresses, which can be a little more generic, you know, might be like to a household or something like that.

Lindsie:
Mm-hmm.

Jay:
But those, that advertising already exists and it’s not going anywhere as a result of this, if anything, more ad tech companies are going to adopt these more like intrusive methods of tracking people.

Lindsie:
more intrusive, that’s what we’re going for. That’s

Jay:
Yeah.

Lindsie:
great.

Jay:
I mean, um, you know, a cookie lives in a browser and it can capture a lot of information about you, but it’s essentially, um, you have to be using that browser in order for it to do anything useful, but

Lindsie:
Mm-hmm.

Jay:
if we have your like IDs from your phone, you know, we know what’s going on all the time, whenever you’re using your phone and you know, we can, we can get into all sorts of just stuff that people would probably be a lot less comfortable with the

Lindsie:
Mm-hmm.

Jay:
as we get out of the cookies and think of how else can we track individuals for advertising purposes so

Lindsie:
Mm-hmm.

Jay:
yeah that whatever that’s where we are

Lindsie:
That’s where we are. Now we’ve talked a lot about advertising and obviously this is a big impact on advertising. But what about SEO? Is this something that organic search marketers need to worry about? Is this gonna impact us in any sort of way?

Jay:
There’s definitely stuff with tracking, like analytics and tracking has been a growing issue and maybe an issue that just like changes to GA4 have illuminated some of the issues that have been there all along, but you know, the, the more people opt out of tracking or the more people like in GA4, you can combine like third party cookie data with your analytics reports. which when people are opted out of that, it creates a bunch of holes in your reporting. The more these things are intertwined and people that are trying to set up web analytics don’t really know how the things work, it can lead to a lot more issues where just like our reporting is less accurate than it could be. You know, there’s certainly people that are using analytics tools outside of Google Analytics to track things and those might rely on third party cookie data. There’ll be a bunch of those things that are going to be an issue. Attribution gets a lot trickier as you know, we can’t always track people coming from different sources and things like that as easily. So that kind of affects everybody and it’s been

Lindsie:
everyone.

Jay:
a growing issue, but it’s probably going to get more complicated as, as we get into this like third party, cookie list world.

Lindsie:
Mm-hmm. Yeah. Yeah, reporting has become just such a mess since GA4, and this just further complicates that mess that already exists. But like you said, it’s not just SEO here. This is like all of it. So all of your traffic and your data collection, but nothing specific to organic search is gonna be impacted. You’re not gonna drop a bunch of organic traffic because of this. That’s not gonna happen. This is more about targeting people. and how that’s going to impact reporting and things like that.

Jay:
Yeah. And, and quick caveat that like there’s obviously use cases where individual user data is important for analytics or info on a small cohort of users, but don’t take this as like Google analytics or web analytics are going to be totally useless. You know, it’s always been better to look at bigger trends and bigger sets of data. And that’s going to still be important. there will just be some of these more edge case things where tracking will get more complicated, but it’s not like, you know, in Q3 suddenly you’re gonna open up Google Analytics and there’ll be zero data in there or something like that.

Lindsie:
or it’ll be entirely unreliable. Just moderately unreliable.

Jay:
Nothing

Lindsie:
Okay,

Jay:
new.

Lindsie:
nothing new really. So how is this gonna impact the digital advertising strategies? What is, how is first party data and data collection going to fill the holes here that we’re seeing?

Jay:
So we’ve already seen a bit of a rise of companies that like aggregate and sell audience profiles for ad targeting. Um, I’m there’s a name for that. I’m blanking on, I apologize, but if Facebook does this today and you know, they’re probably the biggest name where they have an advertising API that you can tie into and it takes, uh, Facebook user data and lets you target ads based on that. So you’re essentially renting audiences from these, these big ad companies. And then large advertisers, large companies that have a budget and the know-how they’ll be able to build like big data warehouses with all of their user profiles and audiences for targeting. So, you know, you can still use first party cookies and other methods to collect data about users and store that. I mean, you know, local laws. might impact some of that, but either way, like that’s still a thing that people can do and will be able to do. And if you’re able to do that, you’ll potentially have an even bigger advantage than just like your budget would normally give you for being able to target the exact users you want. So those, I’m guessing will be the biggest changes is just the rich get richer.

Lindsie:
Okay, so let’s talk about other alternatives. So like Google’s privacy sandbox and those different pieces, talk me through those.

Jay:
Yeah, there’s, I don’t, I don’t know. I’ve never heard anyone say FLOC or flock or whatever. I think people say flock, but either way, um, this idea that we’re not going to. Track and target you as an individual, but we’ll like monitor your browsing behavior and just lump you into groups of people where your identity is obscured. That’s kind of how a lot of advertisers experience ad buying today. You know, if you’re trying to target users on Google ads, like outside of retargeting where you’re, you’re going after people that went to your website and did a thing, you know, if you’re trying to get in front of new users, you’re buying based on these buckets of like interests and behaviors and things like that, you know, folks that are into gardening and like to cook at home and, you know, drive SUVs. Like that is a lot of people. And there’s no one individual in there that, that you can know anything about. And you just show ads to them based on, on that criteria. So from the like end user experience of buying and placing ads, that won’t be a big change. Um, and that’ll certainly be a growing use case, kind of, kind of tying in with what we said about ads becoming a little bit less targeted, more generic. Um, this will be how we still get them to be. somewhat targeted. And, you know, that’s probably a good thing. You know, tech companies in theory should be storing less personal information if they’re following this model. In theory, I mean, you know, Google still has like your name, address, birthday, everything, but they’re at least selling that to fewer people. And, you know, there’ll be less instances of like ad technology. being able to be used to like pinpoint where an exact like where an individual lives or anything like that, anything that could be kind of nefarious.

Lindsie:
And I think that’s the overall, if we talk about a lot of the privacy concerns, it’s not that there is collection of data about types of people, but the idea that a company can know your name and your email and your address and your phone number and who you voted for in the last election and what kind of car you drive and all of these different pieces and then advertise to those is kind of the scary part. So having at least some… Ambiguity to the information, I think, is where a lot of that, you know, that line is towed of, well, it’s okay if we have the data, but we’re just not going to say, like, it’s Jay and he lives here and this is all the information about that individual human.

Jay:
Yeah. And, and it’s really for the, the like, I don’t know, probably 30% of worse advertisers where, um, this is, or like advertising tech companies where this is important because like, I can’t sign up for a Google ads account and then use their data to find out where Lindsay lives, but there are other ad companies. where you can buy user profile and get people’s addresses and phone numbers and all sorts of personal information from it. Um, so like, you know, if we make it harder for that stuff to happen, that’s, that’s probably a good thing.

Lindsie:
thing overall. Okay, well, let’s kind of wrap this up with some predictions, Jay. So looking into the future, and your crystal ball here, what where are we going next? What is web browsing and digital advertising going to evolve to next?

Jay:
So I think if I were to go with my, my default view, which is the pessimistic one, um, I think everything’s going to get a lot more complicated, uh, you know, going back to what I was talking about, advertisers don’t have third party cookies to rely on anymore. They’re going to use all of these different methods. A lot of them they’re using today already, but they’re going to expand the use. And it’s going to get more obscured. It’s going to get more complicated and it’s going to be hard to regulate. You know, if the laws that exist today, which in the U S there really aren’t any. Um, but in the countries that have privacy laws or states that have privacy laws, um, if those laws don’t currently cover, um, the different ways that we can track individuals for, for advertising purposes, then it tends to be hard to write new laws that cover these things. and then also write them in a way where there’s not like big spillover effects where it’s like, well, we stopped the ad tracking from being so intrusive, but now like you can’t be logged into your Apple ID on two devices or something like that, like your iPad and your phone, because, you know, the law broke that possibility or just these things happen. Tech is complicated

Lindsie:
and

Jay:
and lawmakers aren’t usually experts in this.

Lindsie:
Right.

Jay:
So, I’m guessing all of this is just going to get more complicated and the like shady underground is going to grow. And that’s just going to be how it goes because, um, if you’re a big ad tech company, I’m guessing you’re not going to say, well, third party cookies are gone. So we’re just going to close our doors and stop doing business.

Lindsie:
Okay, let’s look at the happier side. Like what is the most optimistic thing that could happen? Like where could we go where it’s like, this is the world where everybody is happy and safe.

Jay:
Well, this is not a law podcast, so I’m not going to pretend to be an expert on like GDPR or CCPA, but the optimistic view is these laws as they exist today are broad enough that as these, um, different ways of tracking people become more mainstream, the current laws will apply to those new methods and. You know, the, the goal of like, we’re trying to protect people’s privacy. We’re trying to give people realistic ways to opt out of tracking, uh,

Lindsie:
Mm-hmm.

Jay:
have their personal information be deleted and forgotten that like that can continue to exist and it’s just the way the law has to be applied, we’ll have to adapt to changing technology. So that will be a good test case for the way the laws are written today because

Lindsie:
Mm-hmm.

Jay:
like, The ad tech companies are going to go full steam ahead with like the alternatives to third-party cookies. So if the legal system, again, where, where it exists, if it can just like come in and protect people’s rights and, and make it so like you do have some actual ability to, to have privacy online, uh, that would be great. And. You know, I also think like. I think super targeted advertising has never been a great thing.

Lindsie:
Mm-hmm.

Jay:
You know, like retargeting can be powerful, but you know, the, the idea usually is we’re trying to reach new people. We’re trying to find more customers. We’re trying to grow interest in the thing we do. And if we’re trying to narrow down to just the like five individuals that most fit our personas and stuff, uh, we’re not going to do a good job of growing our reach. So I think forcing advertisers to. think more about awareness building and less about like stalking individuals is I think that’s a good thing for our industry. And, you know, we’ve always fallen back people have will fill out a survey that says like, you know, I prefer targeted advertising, but it’s, you know, like, I prefer it at what cost. And

Lindsie:
Right.

Jay:
it’s

Lindsie:
And to

Jay:
never.

Lindsie:
what degree.

Jay:
Yeah. Like I would rather have targeted advertising if it means that the company’s showing those ads know everything about me Or I would have less target advertising and the company’s showing that stuff don’t know much about me Like people would choose less targeted advertising if it was framed that way so

Lindsie:
Mm-hmm.

Jay:
Um, I think it could lead to you know, maybe a little I don’t want to say more trust for the ad industry but maybe at least like Take some heat off the ad industry if we

Lindsie:
Mm-hmm.

Jay:
move in a direction where it’s not so focused on like invading people’s privacy at all costs

Lindsie:
Right, right, okay. So what we’ve talked about today is the fact that this is happening. Third party cookies are being phased out. There’s no getting around it. That does not mean advertising or digital marketing is going away. It is just altering the way we gather data as well as probably the type of data we have access to. There’s arguments for good and for bad of that, but it is… the case that is happening. And we all need to be aware of it, especially, I think, in the agency space where there’s a lot of questions and there is going to need to be adjustments of strategies here. So it’s important to have these conversations. Just as a heads up, we’re going to have resources and notes from where we gathered all this information in the show notes of this podcast. But do you have any other parting thoughts, Jay, before we Call it a day on cookies.

Jay:
Yeah, I just say definitely check the show notes because we’re, we’re not trying to like give development advice and things like that, but some of these resources get into, you know, how to figure out what about your current, like ad technology, website functionality, stuff like that is, is potentially going to be impacted by this change. And if you haven’t gotten on that already, definitely do it fast because Chrome is still the number one browser. and that’s going to be a lot of users that will be impacted.

Lindsie:
Yep, and it’s happening now. So,

Jay:
Yes.

Lindsie:
do it now. All right, sounds good. Well, thanks Jay. Good conversation

Jay:
Thanks,

Lindsie:
as always.

Jay:
Lindsay.

Lindsie:
Bye.

Jay:
Take care.

 

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