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The search dilemma: looking beyond Google’s third-party cookie death

April 17, 2021 No Comments

30-second summary:

  • In 2020, majority of the 181.7 billion U.S. dollar revenues came from advertising through Google Sites or its network sites
  • Even though they will be removing the third-party cookie from 2022, the search giant still has a wealth of first-party data from its 270+ products, services, and platforms
  • The Trade Desk’s 20 percent stock price drop is proof of Google’s monopoly and why it shouldn’t enjoy it anymore
  • Google expert, Susan Dolan draws from her rich experience and details the current search scape, insights and predicts future key themes that will arise out of the 3p cookie death

Imagine search as a jungle gym, you automatically imagine Google as the kingpin player on this ground. This has been a reality for decades now and we all know the downside of autonomy which is why the industry now acknowledges a need for regulation. Google announced that it would remove the third-party cookie from 2022. But a lot can happen in a year, 2020 is proof of that! Does this mean that cookies will completely bite the dust? Think again. I dive deep into years of my experience with the web to share some thoughts, observations, and insights on what this really means.

For once, Google is a laggard

Given the monopoly that Google has enjoyed and the list of lawsuits (like the anti-trust one and more) this move is a regulatory step to create a “net-vironment” that feels less like a net and is driven towards transparency and search scape equality.

But Firefox and Safari had already beaten Google to the punch in 2019 and 2020 respectively. Safari had launched the Safari Intelligent Tracking Prevention (ITP) update on March 23, 2020. Firefox had launched its Enhanced Tracking Protection feature in September 2019 to empower and protect users from third-party tracking cookies and crypto miners.

Google’s solution to respect user privacy

Google recently announced that it won’t be using identifiers. Google is developing a ‘Privacy Sandbox’ to ensure that publishers, advertisers, and consumers find a fair middle ground in terms of data control, access, and tracking. The idea is to protect anonymity while still delivering results for advertisers and publishers. The Privacy Sandbox will don the FLoC API that can help with interest-based advertising. Google will not be using fingerprints, PII graphs based on people’s email addresses that other browsers use. Google will move towards a Facebook-like “Lookalike audience” model that will group users for profiling.

Did that raise eyebrows? There’s more.

Don’t be fooled – They still have a lavish spread of first-party data

Google is already rich with clusters of historical, individual unique data that they’ve stored, analyzed, predicted, and mastered over the years and across their platforms and services. These statistics give you a clear sense of the gravity of the situation:

  • Google has 270+ products and services (Source)
  • Among the leading search engines, the worldwide market share of Google in January 2021 was almost 86 percent (Source)
  • In 2020, majority of the 181.7 billion U.S. dollar revenues came from advertising through Google Sites or Google Network Sites (Source)
  • There are 246 million unique Google users in the US (Source)
  • Google Photos has over one billion active users (Source)
  • YouTube has over 1.9 billion active users each month (Source)
  • According to Google statistics, Gmail has more than 1.5 billion active users (Source)
  • A less-known fact, there are more than two million accounts on Google Ads (Source)
  • There are more than 2.9 million companies that use one or more of Google’s marketing services (Source)
  • As of Jan 2021, Google’s branch out into the Android system has won it a whopping 72 percent of the global smartphone operating system market (Source)
  • Google sees 3.5 billion searches per day and 1.2 trillion searches per year worldwide (Source)

Google has an almost-never ending spectrum of products, services, and platforms –

Here’s the complete, exhaustive list of Google’s gigantic umbrella.

Google's 270+ products, services, and platforms

Source: Matrics360

Google already has access to your:

  • Location
  • Search history
  • Credit/debit card details shared on Google Pay
  • Data from businesses (more than 2.9 million!) that use Google services
  • Your device microphone
  • Mobile keyboard (G-board)
  • Apps you download from the Google Playstore and grant access to
  • Device camera, and that’s not even the tip of the iceberg

Google’s decision to eliminate the third-party cookie dropped The Trade Desk’s stock by 20 percent

Nobody should have monopoly and this incident serves as noteworthy proof. Google’s decision to drop 3p cookies shocked The Trade Desk’s stock prices causing a 20 percent slump in their stock value. The Trade Desk is the largest demand-side platform (DSP) and Google’s decision kills the demand for The Trade Desk’s proprietary Unified ID 1.0 (UID 1.0) – a unique asset that chopped out the need for cookie-syncing process and delivered match rate accuracy up to 99 percent.

Google’s statement on not using PII also jeopardizes the fate of The Trade Desk’s Unified ID 2.0. which already has more than 50 million users.

Here’s what Dave Pickles, The Trade Desk’s Co-Founder and Chief Technology Officer had to say,

“Unified ID 2.0 is a broad industry collaboration that includes publishers, advertisers and all players in the ad tech ecosystem.”

“UID provides an opportunity to have conversations with consumers and provide them with the sort of transparency we as an industry have been trying to provide for a really long time.”

Adweek’s March town hall saw advertisers and publishers haunted by the mystery that surrounds Google as Google denied to participate in the event. The industry is growing precarious that Google will use this as a new way to establish market dominance that feeds its own interests.

We love cookies (only when they’re on a plate)

Cookies are annoying because they leave crumbs everywhere… on the internet! Did you know, this is how people feel about being tracked on the web:

  • 72 percent of people feel that almost everything they do online is being tracked by advertisers, technology firms or other companies
  • 81 percent say that the potential risks of data collection outweigh the benefits for them

These stats were originally sourced from Pew Research Center, but the irony, I found these stats on one of Google’s blogs.

On a hunt to escape these cookies or to understand the world’s largest “cookie jar” I checked out YouTube which seemed like a good place to start since it has over 1.9 billion monthly active users. You could visit this link to see how ads are personalized for you – the list is long!

My YouTube curiosity further landed me on this page to see how my cookies are shared (you can opt out of these). Even my least used account had 129 websites on this list, imagine how many sites are accessing your data right now.

Back in 2011 when I was the first to crack the Page rank algorithm, I could already sense the power Google held and where this giant was headed – the playground just wasn’t big enough.

Key themes that will emerge

Bottom line is, the cookie death is opening up conversations for advertising transparency and a web-verse that is user-first, and privacy compliant. Here’s what I foresee happening in search and the digital sphere:

  • Ethical consumer targeting
  • Adtech companies collaborating to find ways that respect their audience’s privacy
  • A more private, personalized web
  • More conversations around how much and what data collection is ethical
  • More user-led choices
  • Rise in the usage of alternative browsers
  • Incentivizing users to voluntarily share their data
  • Better use of technology for good

What do you think about the current climate on the internet? Join the conversation with me on @GoogleExpertUK.

Susan Dolan is a Search Engine Optimization Consultant first to crack the Google PageRank algorithm as confirmed by Eric Schmidt’s office in 2014. Susan is also the CEO of The Peoples Hub which has been built to help people and to love the planet.

The post The search dilemma: looking beyond Google’s third-party cookie death appeared first on Search Engine Watch.

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Google Display Network Best Practices In A First-Party Cookie World

March 28, 2021 No Comments

With first-party data becoming more relevant and third-party cookies becoming a thing of the past, this leaves marketers questioning, how can I best prepare?

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What’s left when the cookie goes away?

November 4, 2020 No Comments

30-second summary:

  • Ever since Google made the announcement in January that Chrome would phase out the technology in two years, marketers, publishers, agencies, and data owners have been scrambling to prepare for this sea change.
  • Many marketing tech companies are built on the faceless calculations of cookie-based tracking, targeting, and attribution.
  • Michael Hussey, President of StatSocial, discusses how the demise of the cookie presents opportunities for consumers and data-dependent organizations.

COVID-19 is still dominating business headlines, but inside the digital marketing industry, the biggest story remains the coming demise of the third-party tracking cookie. Ever since Google made the announcement in January that Chrome would phase out the technology in two years, marketers, publishers, agencies, and data owners have been scrambling to prepare for this sea change.

It was always imperfect, but the cookie developed into a currency that allowed various marketing stakeholders to make sense of online and offline behavior and do business based on it. For example, being able to prove that a digital ad campaign led to a lift in brand awareness, new sales, store visits, and the others were made possible by syncing cookies across different data providers (for example, did the household who saw a Yoplait yogurt ad actually purchase more yogurt?). In turn, this gave confidence to marketers to invest in campaigns that were proven to provide sales and brand lift.

Many marketing tech companies are built on the faceless calculations of cookie-based tracking, targeting, and attribution. But as the general public came to understand how their data is being traded and used, their concerns sufficiently inspired regulators to come up with ordinances like GDPR and CCPA. Google’s decision to eliminate the cookie will make its own dealings with regulators easier, but it also forced a lot of companies who benefited from the ecosystem to rethink their own data practices from the ground up.

And so the demise of the cookie presents us with an opportunity – both for consumers and data-dependent organizations. What arises to replace the cookie in the coming years should lead to a more accurate, honest, and valuable digital ecosystem. Here’s why:

What’s changing for the consumer?

From a consumer perspective, the primary problem with cookies is a lack of transparency about their origins. Without the ability to know the source of the data, permanently opting out of cookie tracking was generally futile. The most promising new identity solutions rely on PII-based structures that make managing consumer consent much easier, allowing for more accountability throughout the value exchange.

To solve this, CCPA is now ushering in a radical change. Instead of anonymous identity graphs, which are impossible to manage and maintain for consumer opt-outs, the future of online identity will be tied to some form of personally identifiable information. Google is already operating this way, as they know your name and Gmail address, and so they can tie all communications, analytics, and advertising back to actual people. Consumers have given them that information in exchange for their free services.

And now the broader digital ecosystem is moving in the same direction. Publishers, marketers, data companies, and agencies will legally require identity solutions to provide their services while protecting consumers who both want to participate, and those who want a permanent opt-out ability. This is analogous to opting out of marketing emails by way of the CAN-SPAM Act, a regulation that has been largely effective at cutting down unwanted emails. Expect the same in all other forms of digital marketing going forward.

A better future for marketing technology companies

And while the new rules and requirements to protect consumer data will be more stringent and costly for marketers, media, and data companies, the new system will lead to better results for marketing technology as a whole.

Better data, analytics, insights, attribution models, and higher-quality target audiences are being ushered in. In fact, this is why Google waited so long to make this move because their identity solution (underpinned by billions of people with a Gmail address) was always a competitive advantage they shared with a few other market leaders (e.g. Facebook).

As real identity solutions become the new standard and easier to adopt, there are new opportunities to level the playing field for brands and those outside the walled gardens. There will be costly investments required, but this is ultimately a win-win for consumers and the marketing technology ecosystem. Right now there’s a lot of space for new ideas and innovation, and we should all embrace it.

Michael Hussey is President of StatSocial, an earned audience intelligence platform.

The post What’s left when the cookie goes away? appeared first on Search Engine Watch.

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Hitchhiker’s guide to the end of the third-party cookie as we know it

March 25, 2020 No Comments

Google’s planned cross-site tracking changes for Chrome are far from earth-shattering, and with a few safety checks, you should be good to go. Let’s take a look at what Google has planned and what folks in the ad tech and martech world need to do:

How Google Chrome’s privacy update affects ad tech

As of this month, Google has implemented a new secure-by-default model for cookies, enabled by a new cookie classification system.

This system will stop sending third-party cookies in cross-site requests unless the cookies are secure and flagged through SameSite, which is meant to prevent the browser from sending the cookie along with cross-site requests.

While SameSite is not a particularly new concept, this will be the first time a secure cookie flag will be a requirement for those using Chrome — not just a best practice, as it has been up until now.

Google implemented these new requirements with Chrome 80 on February 4 as the first step in a larger multi-year plan to phase out support for third-party cookies, leaving the ad tech and martech industry with just a few weeks left to make the necessary tweaks to ensure their cookies continue to function properly.

The Google Chrome update means a little change, but a lot of hype for ad tech 

Given similar changes that have already been made by browsers like Safari, this new update from Google is not something that should send advertisers into a panic.

If anything, these updates are part of the ongoing trend in creating more stringent policies regarding data and privacy.

While Google represents the most immediate change, Mozilla and Microsoft both have similar updates planned in the future. But while this may soon become the new norm, advertisers need to prepare now in order to avoid data loss and chaos later.

When it comes to privacy updates, fortune favors the prepared 

So, what steps should anyone in the ad tech industry take to make sure they aren’t caught unaware?

First, any organization that hasn’t already moved to HTTPS must do so before the changes go into effect, or risk having their cookies discarded by Chrome.

Second, any tech vendors that use tracking cookies will have to set SameSite cookie attributes with one of three values: “strict,” “lax,” or “none.”

A setting of “strict” means that a cookie will not work on any website other than the domain in which it was placed. A setting of “lax” allows cookies to be shared across domains owned by the same publisher, and a setting of “none” allows full third-party cookie sharing, providing other security requirements are met.

Today, “SameSite=None” is the default within Google Chrome, but as of February, developers have to manually enable “SameSite=None” in order for cookies to continue working.

If they do not, cookies will automatically default to “SameSite=lax,” and will cease working across all websites.

What’s the future of cookie-based tracking?

Given Google’s expressed intent to “make third-party cookies obsolete,” it’s clear that the industry needs to be prepared for a world without the ability to track users with third-party cookies.

As I’ve said before in the context of Apple’s ITP, the best way to future-proof your partnerships program is to take advantage of server-to-server tracking — in other words, APIs.

I believe APIs are the future of online tracking, and not just because they provide a way to circumvent browser policies.

When an advertiser can communicate directly with a tech platform without relying on a browser as an intermediary, it means better attribution and less sharing of user data — and that’s a win for everyone.

Matt Moore is a Product Marketing Manager at Impact, and he’s been in the affiliate and partnerships space for the last six years. He’s always on the lookout for a good story to tell or a good dog GIF to share.

The post Hitchhiker’s guide to the end of the third-party cookie as we know it appeared first on Search Engine Watch.

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9 Ways to Prepare for a Future Without Cookie Tracking

October 30, 2013 No Comments

It was over a year ago that I first wrote about do not track legislation, and luckily for most organizations the browser-provided imperative is loosely supported or regulated today, with very few sites adhering to interpretation and compliance of the preference.

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