If you’ve been keeping up with the cookie drama, there’s been some big changes in 2024 already.
No, it’s not this guy we need to be thinking about…
It’s this guy…
In 2023, Google announced that on January 4, 2024, they would begin to block 3rd party cookies for 1% of Chrome users. Curious if you’re part of the 1%? Google released a blog article with more insight on who the 1% is and how they were selected.
1% is super small, right??
According to Statista, there are over 3.2 billion users in Chrome as of 2021. Stick with me, I’m going to do some back-of-the-envelope math real quick…
We see in the chart above that the number of Chrome users grew each year (5-20% each year) for the past 7 years. Let’s assume it grew by the lowest rate (5%) these past 3 years. We could be looking at 3.78 billion total Chrome users in 2024! Taking 1% of that total would boil this down to:
An estimated 37.8 million users will begin to have 3rd party cookies automatically blocked!
Many headlines are saying that 1% of Chrome users equates to about 30 million users, but using math, we can see that 1% of Chrome users could be larger.
So, we’re looking at 30 million-38 million users…
When you put it like that, 1% doesn’t seem so small anymore!!
We have been keeping our eye on this very closely for our clients to help explain the impacts and identify any issues.
What have we seen so far?
To be honest, we haven’t seen many impacts yet. We suspect that this is because it’ll be hard to spot with only 1% of users impacted, but we’re going to keep our eye on this because Google plans to implement the full roll-out later this year.
What exactly are we keeping our eye on?
While it’s going to be hard because the 1% may be difficult to spot and because web analytics platforms use first-party cookies, we believe there may be a few noticeable impacts. For example, we hypothesize that ad platforms’ pixel-based conversions will see fewer conversions compared to first-party web analytics this year. So far, we are starting to see this trend, but in general, it’s difficult to compare these numbers as they already use different attribution methodologies.
Ok, so this is not a drill, but what do we need to do as marketers to prepare?
Here are 3 things we recommend:
1. Conduct an audit of your 3rd party cookie reliance ASAP
Goal: Establish a concrete list of what you need to specifically alter. Google recommends a 3-step process on their developers' site for reference here. This includes understanding the phase-out, auditing, and testing your site.
- Helpful tips we found during our audits:
- Create a list of tools you use. You should start with tools and ads platforms you are using today, because many of them rely on cookies. Many of us have already had to do this for our privacy policies and cookie consent initiatives, so start there if you have it.
- Review your site developer tab to see which cookies are currently being set on your site. This will also allow you to detect if they are first or 3rd party. Hint: if you see a domain other than your own, it’s 3rd party.
- Ask your partners what 3rd party cookies they may be using. Oftentimes, audience targeting and measurement will be the greatest impacts seen.
2. Establish stop-gaps for any current 3rd party cookie usage
Goal: Immediately begin testing alternatives that are easy to implement
Some areas we’ve tested:
- New audience targeting: If you haven’t already done so, you can look into Google’s privacy sandbox, which was rolled out to all users by Q4 of 2023. With integration with Ads, it enables you to target like-groups within Google Ads, still providing a solution to help with specific targeting, but without the individual privacy revealed. Because this is ever-evolving, we recommend keeping up-to-date with Google releases on this topic as well.
- Contextual ads: Contextual targeting is often not reliant on 3rd party cookies. Get smart about which sites you buy on and what the message is for users on that site to increase conversion rates through this different kind of relevance.
- Develop reporting using first-party sources: We suspect that you may be relying on 3rd party reporting if you use pixels to send numbers somewhere else. While this is an easy solution, this will cause you issues going forward. We recommend establishing your first-party sources of truth and beginning to switch your reporting over to these truths.
3. Look for first-party alternatives
Goal: Look for the longer-term options that bring your marketing data sources into the new era. This could include:
- First-party data feeds to ads platforms - Most platforms have tools like Conversions API that you can use to send first-party data back to the platform. This will help the platform learn and continue to perform. Without sending first-party data, the platform can no longer use the algorithms to optimize, and your performance will take a hit.
- Server-Side GTM - Google Analytics is free, yes. But with a server-side setup, you can begin to send website data back to ad platforms in a reliable way. Also, server-side tagging allows you to create a custom domain/URL that will not be filtered by these various anti-tracking technologies. An additional benefit is you can scrub any PII data before it is sent to a vendor, allowing you to respect user privacy.
- Additional cost - Many of the tools above are not free anymore. If you want to link systems together, you will likely have to invest to do so. We recommend setting aside a small budget to handle this looming issue.
We have a lot of transitions in store this year. The good news is that we will still have the ability to market, relevantly communicate with users and optimize and report on our campaigns. True to our Gatesman values, we know we’ll thrive through this change like all the others… We may just have to invest in our first-party data, learn new techniques and get creative.