Apocalypse Cookie 2024: Survive & Thrive with Privacy Embracing Tracking
Let’s face it, conversion tracking in 2023 is a total mess. 2024’s Cookie Apocalypse will see one of the greatest changes to the digital marketing landscape ever experienced with all major browsers beginning to block 3rd party cookies which are crucial to traditional digital marketing efforts. Cookie-based tracking methods are no longer reliable and it’s only going to get worse. Invest in privacy-embracing, 3rd party cookie-less tracking solutions now, before the Cookie Apocalypse arrives.
We’re Losing Visibility As Marketers
Your tracked conversion data in Analytics and Ads is now only partial and solely indicative of what is actually occurring on your site. Anyone who’s not moving beyond the basic efforts to track conversions right now is having a hard time optimising correctly for the best ROI from their marketing activities.
Businesses need to embrace the move to stronger user privacy while investing in advanced 3rd party cookie-less conversion tracking technology for continued strong marketing performance.
In the longer term, the direction of the industry is moving towards less and less data being available to marketers to help guide their decisions. The Cookie Apocalypse begins in early 2024. Read on to understand the benefits of modern conversion tracking, why it’s so important and how it gives your business a competitive edge in an increasingly privacy-conscious environment.
Accurate Conversion Tracking Matters
As privacy measures and technology advancements reshape the marketing landscape, accurate conversion tracking remains crucial for optimising ad campaigns and maximising ROI. Conversion data is the life blood of your marketing campaigns.
It provides valuable insights into customer behaviours, identifies effective marketing channels, and guides budget allocation. As we lose visibility from privacy and other changes, the strength of your signal to Ad platforms declines and campaign performance suffers.
Whether your tracked conversions are purchases in your online shop or lead generation, accurate conversion tracking allows Ad platforms to understand what your best customers look like and find more users with similar characteristics to them to then show your Ads to.
Embrace privacy-friendly conversion tracking solutions to maintain a clear signal to ad platforms and fuel successful marketing campaigns.
Why Is Tracking Conversions So Difficult Now?
Stricter privacy regulations and privacy technology advancements from tech giants are obscuring the effectiveness of your marketing efforts. Tracking restrictions are creating gaps in conversion data, hindering the understanding of customer journeys and impeding profitable advertising.
While conversions are still occurring from marketing campaigns of course, accurately attributing them to specific campaigns is becoming increasingly difficult.
This is what you’re up against.
GDPR cookie consent in the EU and UK, the California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA) and other state laws in the US make gathering user consent to tracking for either Ads or Analytics essential. We’re all very familiar with the consent banners we’re all greeted with on arrival to a website these days. A lack of user consent leads to gaps in your conversion data across both Analytics and Ads.
Browser Tracking Limitations & 3rd Party Cookie Blocking
The wonderfully useful technology of browser-based cookies has been much maligned by various parties and is now generally considered an invasive technology by the public. As a result, major browsers are moving to block all 3rd party cookies in 2024.
Your basic conversion tracking measures such as the Meta Pixel or Google Ads click IDs rely on inserting a 3rd party cookie on the user’s computer when they click an Ad.
Currently browsers like Safari / Brave / Firefox and even Chrome, if set to do so, will block all 3rd party cookies. This will happen automatically in 2024, effectively making your campaigns blind as to how users behave after clicking Ads.
Cookies can expire leading to lost data from a user that’s gathered that cookie by clicking on one of your Ads. Google Ads cookies expire after 90 days so any interactions after that can’t be attributed back to Google Ads.
This is especially problematic for B2B / SASS businesses with long user journeys and following long sales cycles. By the time someone becomes a client, it can be difficult to understand what their journey was to converting with you.
If you’re only looking at just what each Ad platform is reporting you’ll find it very challenging to attribute conversions properly these days. Each Ad platform will try to claim as many conversions as it can and therefore they’re biassed in their conversion reporting. Both Google and Meta want you to believe their platform is responsible for every conversion you’re seeing, to justify your spend with them.
Ad blockers operate in the browser and are more popular than ever. When active, they block browser tracking by preventing tracking codes from loading.
Different Analytics & CMS platforms report data differently. Nearly everyone is coping with the move to GA4 from Universal Analytics since July 2023 which created a huge shift in the data models used by billions.
A business moving from a Shopify store to a WordPress ecommerce solution is also going to see differences in how their data is reported.
Users may take actions that disrupt conversion tracking in the middle of their journey with you. If a user deletes their cookies from their browser after clicking on your Ads and then later converts on your site, they will no longer be attributed back to the marketing channel that brought them there in the first place.
There are large number of factors that can disrupt your visibility across your user’s journey across your digital assets these days. However, there are modern approaches and solutions which every business needs to consider adopting to stay competitive in 2024’s post cookie world. Let’s look at these below.
Respond With A Focus On First-Party Data
The traditional approach of relying on the excellent data capture methods of 3rd parties such as Google & Meta will become less valuable in a more privacy conscious world. Using solely their 3rd party data to target your audiences will be come a less effective strategy over time.
First-party data is customer data collected firsthand by a business from its customer base rather than the 3rd party data you use when targeting audiences using Meta or Google’s gathered audience data.
The time to act to gain a competitive advantage with your 1st party data gathering methods versus competitor’s was 2021 but it’s not too late now and 100% essential to address. As we’ve been saying for a long time now, 1st party data is king in the land of privacy and will only continue to grow in importance.
The best place to capture and centrally manage your 1st party data is in your Customer Data Platform (CDP) or Customer Relationship Management platform (CRM). Best in class Enterprise level CRM options include Salesforce and HubSpot. Act now to gather as much privacy safe data on your audiences to help safe guard future marketing efforts.
First-Party Data Benefits
As UX advocates, we’re big fans of researching your audiences to understand what they truly want, rather than making assumptions. Gathering first party data can help guide a wide variety of digital projects but it’s becoming ever more crucial for marketers. Just some of it’s benefits are below.
First-party data is owned by your business alone, no one else can access these unique insights into your audience. It offers many benefits, including your client’s full history of interactions with your business. Data gathered can include demographics, website activity, Ad engagement, email engagement, sales interactions, feedback, and purchase history, along with returns information.
Better Targeted Ads
With first-party data, businesses can deliver better targeted Ads across all advertising platforms. For example, you could pull a specific list of customers who have purchased a particular product and upload the list to Meta or Google to target them with ads for complementary products.
Improved Conversion Tracking
Each Ad platform allows businesses to upload lists of customers that bought in store or anywhere else not trackable through digital channels. Regularly uploading your first party customer data to Ad platforms can help you to understand which in store purchases came from people who had actually interacted with your digital Ads before arriving in store.
Implementing a first-party data strategy allows you to provide a personalised experience for each customer. By analysing where each customer is in their journey with your business, you can deliver the right messages at the right time.
First-party data gives businesses a competitive advantage. Where traditionally anyone could access the same data through third-party sources, only your business has your gathered insights into your customers’ preferences and behaviours.
Embrace Privacy By Investing In Cookie-less Conversion Tracking
Ultimately users want more privacy. Make them happy while protecting your business interests by investing in modern privacy safe cookie-less conversion tracking technology.
What does cookie-less mean? It can be quite confusing as it doesn’t strictly mean there are zero cookies used. Instead these technologies use 1st party cookies (your own cookies) rather than 3rd party cookies, e.g. Meta or Google’s cookies.
A great example is Google Analytics 4 (GA4) which is technically cookie-less. However that means GA4 doesn’t utilise any 3rd party cookies.
It would take too long to create an exhaustive list of the technologies available which you could and should be taking advantage of to combat the loss of 3rd party cookies in 2024. Below are the key technologies to be aware of and to consider implementing.
Investment will be required. For many businesses, the idea of paying for tracking and analytics is new which may be a hurdle to adoption but it’s need will become much clearer in 2024.
The era and use of browser-based tracking and cookies is effectively ending. Server-side tracking is the future of conversion tracking and something every business should consider for 2024.
When you implement server-side tracking for Google Analytics, you shift the operation of Google Analytics away from users’ web browsers and relocate it to your web server. Likewise, when you configure server-side tracking for Google Ads, you cease triggering Google Ads tags in users’ web browsers and start firing them directly from your web server.
Advantages Of Server-side Tracking
- Enhanced Precision in Conversion Tracking: Server-side tracking offers the capability to implement API-based conversion tracking, ensuring significantly more precise conversion tracking compared to conventional browser-based methods. Better conversion tracking means better marketing results.
- Seamless Integration of Third-party Data: With server-side tracking, you gain the ability to seamlessly integrate third-party data within the context of first-party data. This enhances the depth and breadth of your data collection while remaining privacy compliant.
- Bridging Data Gaps in Conversion Paths: By employing server-side tracking, you can effectively fill in the gaps in your conversion paths that often arise from client-side tracking, ensuring a more comprehensive view of user interactions.
- Increased Data Control: Server-side tracking provides greater control over the data you transmit to third-party vendors such as Google and Meta, enhancing data management capabilities. You can send only the data you need to.
- Improved Website Performance: Server-side tracking eliminates the need to trigger marketing and analytics tags from users’ web browsers, contributing to improved website page speed. This is beneficial for both your User Experience (UX) and ultimately can help your SEO as UX is a confirmed ranking factor.
Downsides Of Server-side Tracking
Not all platforms are compatible with server-side tracking yet. Server-side Google Tag Manager (GTM) can be used to configure Google Analytics, Google Ads, Facebook, Snowplow, Floodlight, TikTok, Mailchimp, Klaviyo and Active Campaign. Other widely used platforms such as Bing or Pinterest do not yet support server-side tracking.
Barriers to adoption include:
- Learning Curve & Technical Knowledge: While the server-side GTM (sGTM) interface may appear similar to the web version, understanding the fundamental concepts and mechanisms of server tracking will require marketing tracking expertise and likely a developer’s time and effort.
- Cost: Implementing server-side tagging comes with a price tag. Although using the sGTM interface itself is free, it necessitates the use of cloud servers, which are not free. The cost is primarily determined by the amount of web traffic. Smaller businesses may find they need a monthly expenditure of circa €30 for conversion tracking to be adequate.
3rd Party Attribution Tools
The advertising landscape is becoming increasingly complex. Marketing channels and the number of user touch points on their journey with you to becoming a customer are increasing. Consumer behaviour is evolving and becoming more privacy conscious. If you want to get serious about properly attributing digital advertising to understand what really works for you, then you need a third party attribution tool.
Relying on solely the Ad platforms themselves is a mistake because as previously mentioned they suffer from a heavy bias towards crediting themselves for every conversion they can. An independent 3rd party attribution tool has no such self interest in attributing conversions to one platform or another and delivers a balanced view.
To truly understand which marketing channels are delivering the best ROI for your marketing budget, you need attribution you can trust and a single source of truth providing a data driven overview. This is where a reliable 3rd party attribution platform will make your life much easier, both in terms of reporting across all marketing channels to truly see how they work together.
These tools don’t come cheap though, so be prepared to dig down the back of the couch for some spare change. The investment should be well worth it in the long term.
Meta & Google Innovations
As mentioned, Ad platforms like Google and Meta are struggling to keep up with privacy changes but they’ve each got their own responses and proposed solutions to a cookie-less future. If server-side tracking and 3rd party attribution tools are not within budget currently then implementing these Ad platform technologies are what you should be investing in at the minimum.
Meta Conversion API
The Meta Conversions API is a feature offered by Facebook that allows advertisers to send events and conversions directly from your server as opposed to in browser. Effectively their version of server-side tracking but obviously tracking solely conversions coming from their Ads platform.
- Accurate measurement: It improves the accuracy of conversion tracking by allowing advertisers to supplement existing conversion tags (the Meta pixel) with privacy safe hashed first-party customer data from websites.
- Flexible tracking: It allows advertisers to track web, app, and physical store events to enhance your overall customer data.
- Improved privacy: It respects user choices while still capturing some campaign insights. Even when a user doesn’t consent to ads or analytics cookies, you’ll still be able to attribute a conversion some of the time to help understand that a Paid Social campaign is actually working.
- Recover conversions: The Meta Conversions API improves data accuracy by enabling conversion modelling to recover conversions lost to user consent choices. When consent choices fully block tracking, machine learning is used to model the number of conversions you can’t track.
The Meta Conversions API can help advertisers improve the accuracy of their conversion tracking and gain more insights into their campaigns. It also allows advertisers to respect user privacy and recover conversions that would otherwise be lost due to browser restrictions.
On average businesses that implement the Conversions API see a 13% lower cost per result and 19% increase in conversions. So that should tell you all you need to know about it’s importance.
Google Consent Mode & Enhanced Conversions For Google Ads
Google Consent Mode and Enhanced Conversions are two privacy safe features offered by Google Ads that can help improve the accuracy of your conversion tracking and unlock more powerful bidding options. Google claims that up to 70% of otherwise lost data required to manage campaigns can be recovered using it.
Google Consent Mode
- Increase user trust: Users want privacy and transparency, Google Consent Mode enables this. Happier users are more likely to engage with your content and ultimately become clients.
- Preserve online measurement: Consent Mode helps advertisers respect user choice while still capturing some campaign insights, even when a user doesn’t consent to ads cookies or analytics cookies.
- Recover and model conversions: Conversion modelling through Consent Mode helps marketers preserve online measurement by analysing observable data and historical trends, quantifying the relationship between consented and non consented users. Effectively Google uses machine learning to estimate the number of conversions occurring from users that don’t consent to tracking.
- Maintain accurate measurement: Enhanced conversions improve the accuracy of conversion tracking by supplementing existing conversion tags with hashed first-party customer data from websites
- Model conversions effectively: Enhanced conversions use Google’s powerful machine learning to analyse the observable data and historical trends from consented users. It can then extrapolate
- Improve performance: Enhanced conversions can help advertisers recover conversions that would otherwise be lost due to browser restrictions, and increase the amount of observable first-party data your Google tag can collect
Both Google Consent Mode and Enhanced Conversions can help advertisers improve the accuracy of their conversion tracking and gain more insights into their campaigns. Consent Mode is particularly useful for respecting user choice and recovering conversions lost due to user consent choices, while Enhanced Conversions can help maintain accurate measurement and improve campaign performance.
Accurate conversion tracking is the cornerstone of successful marketing campaigns. It enables businesses to understand their best customers, identify effective marketing channels, allocate budgets wisely and make data-driven decisions. Without reliable conversion tracking, optimising marketing strategies becomes increasingly difficult.
The analytics and ads landscape is undergoing a seismic shift. 2024 will bring real conversion tracking challenges. A proactive approach is needed for businesses to maintain their marketing performance and competitive edge.
The Cookie Apocalypse in 2024 is a call to action for businesses to adapt to the new era of privacy-conscious marketing. First-party data capture is key to success in a privacy-conscious world. Embracing privacy and investing in modern conversion tracking technologies is essential to future-proofing marketing efforts.