PPC/Paid Search in a Post Cookie World – Are You Ready?

In a world where cookies are becoming increasingly obsolete, paid search strategies must adapt to remain effective. By leveraging advanced search analytics, first party customer data, and conversion tracking, marketers can refine their approaches to optimize performance in a cookie-less environment. So much has changed over the last 3-4 years, get yourself ready today.

We use internet cookies every day, and yet most of us don’t give them a second thought, other than when we have to accept a cookie policy on a website before we can access the content.

The chances are that you understand that they are used to track your behaviour online, even if you’re not one of the 28% of adults who claim to have a comprehensive understanding of internet cookies. This tracking allows advertisers to ensure that we see relevant ads on social networks and search engines.

However, with both Apple and Google getting rid of third-party cookies, developers and thought leaders alike are talking about a post cookie future, how will this affect ppc/paid search? Let’s take a look.

WHAT IS A POST COOKIE/COOKIELESS WORLD?

Essentially, the major players in the tech industry are sunsetting cookies, which means they’re ceasing to support them. Some have already done so, while others are set to do it in the coming months. 

Without cookies, marketers will need to find new ways to obtain and store user data so that they can continue to provide the most relevant services possible. After all, 60% of internet users are open to sharing their personal data in exchange for rewards, discounts and premium services. 

The challenge is that marketers will need to obtain this data without using cookies. Cookies have always been an imperfect solution, and now that people are increasingly browsing via multiple devices, it’s about time we found a better option.

HOW COOKIES HAVE EVOLVED OVER THE LAST 10 YEARS

2011: The Cookie Law (Directive 2009/136/EC) goes into effect, making it illegal to place third-party cookies on people’s devices without consent.

2015: IndexedDB 1.0 becomes a W3C Recommendation, paving the way for it to replace cookies. 

2015: Apple allows third-party ad blockers to be used on Safari.

2017: Apple disables browser cookies from third parties.

2018: News of the Cambridge Analytica scandal breaks after the company gathered data on 50 million Facebook users without their knowledge or consent.

2018: Europe’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) comes into play, influencing additional data protection laws worldwide, including the California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA).

2019: Mozilla allows users to disable cookies from third parties.

2019: Google announces its Privacy Sandbox to help people find alternatives to cookies.

2020: Safari starts automatically blocking third-party cookies.

2020: Google announces its intention to phase out third-party cookies.

2022: As many as 75% of marketing and customer experience leaders from around the world relied on third-party cookies. 

2024: Google will finish disabling third-party cookies for all of its users. 

WHY COOKIES ARE SUNSETTING

Cookies used to be a fundamental part of the web, allowing website operators to store data on their users so that they could provide more personalised services through channels such as; Google Ads, Meta, TikTok, and more. For example, they could save shopping baskets so that when customers returned, their items were still ready for checkout.

The challenge is that in recent years, cookies have been superseded by new technologies such as IndexedDB, as cookies are prone to errors and don’t track users across devices. 

On top of this, cookies weren’t always used responsibly. They could be used to track people as they browsed the web and to gather personal information about them, such as their sexuality or political beliefs. 

This data could then be sold to third parties or used by advertisers to reach people with hyper-targeted content. Given the nature of this data, it raises all sorts of ethical concerns, and clashes with permission and data protection laws.

It’s no wonder that people are concerned. In fact, one Deloitte survey found that 65% of respondents were profoundly concerned about the excessive use of cookies and its potential impact on their personal data.

WHAT COMPANIES NEED TO DO ABOUT IT

The first thing to do is to get your developers/partners to test your site with cookies disabled. This will enable them to identify what works and what doesn’t and to create workarounds that don’t rely on cookies.

After that, it becomes a case of ensuring that you can still track and retarget your customers once cookies are no longer in use. There are several strategies that can help you with this, including using cookieless web analytics tools and turning to the historical data your business has been able to gather.

However, the general best practice is to use customer relationship management (CRM) systems, which allow your business to collect first-party data on your customers. 

This allows you to sidestep issues around consent because you’ll only be able to gather data if your customers choose to share it with you. Don’t expect them to give you their data for free, though. You’ll need to make it worth their while, whether that’s by providing special offers or a more personalised service.

SUMMARY AND CHECKLIST

If you’re struggling to understand paid search analytics and the cookieless future that’s coming, you can always hire someone to provide paid search services.

Alternatively, a good place to start is to work your way through this checklist:  

  • Test your site with cookies disabled and fix any problems that you identify.
  • Switch to using a CRM and start gathering opt-in data from your customers.
  • Consider hiring a paid search specialist to help you to develop your strategy further.
  • Continue reading up on cookies, their deprecation and the best practices for cookieless tracking.

CLOSING STATEMENT

The tips that we’ve shared above should provide you with a decent insight into what cookies are, why they’re sunsetting, and what you need to do about it. 

Now, it’s time for you to work through that checklist and check back often to see whether there are new best practices or better solutions for cookieless tracking in 2024 and beyond as the bar really does keep getting moved and deadlines pushed back.

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