Memorial Day Weekend Reading: Google’s Cookie-less World

In March, Google confirmed that it is working to make third-party cookies obsolete by 2022 to create a more private Internet and to comply with the European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation. Cookies track users’ individual computers, helping websites remember individuals, logins, shopping carts, and more. Firefox and Safari have already phased out third-party cookies last year, however, Google Chrome is the most popular browser, accounting for about 67% of the global desktop internet browser market share.

Google notes that users have lost trust in the Internet, citing that “72% of people feel that almost all of what they do online is being tracked by advertisers, technology firms or other companies, and 81% say that the potential risks they face because of data collection outweigh the benefits.” In their blog post announcing the change, Google said, “If digital advertising doesn’t evolve to address the growing concerns people have about their privacy and how their personal identity is being used, we risk the future of the free and open web.”


To learn more about how this change will affect digital marketing, we spoke to our friend Anthony LoFrisco Jr. of AdEdge Digital Marketing.


Local Social Media: What are digital advertisers saying about the Google privacy update?

Anthony LoFrisco Jr.: There’s been a lot of talk about what the elimination of cookies means for digital advertising and a lot of fear that it’s the end of website advertising because marketers will no longer be able to target messages to specific users based on their browsing behaviors. This is only partially true. First of all, there will always be advertising on the web because, without it, many websites would not be able to exist in their current, free form. Nearly every form of electronic and print media contains ads and advertising will never go away from websites. As far as targeting, the elimination of third-party cookies will have some negative impact, in that it will prevent users from being individually targeted. But it will not eliminate targeting in aggregate.


LSM: What do you mean by “targeting in aggregate?”

AL: Marketers will still be able to target groups of consumers based on their behaviors, but no longer will they be able to shout out, “Hey John!” Google’s new FLoC technology (Federated Learning of Cohorts) is, according to Google, “a new way for businesses to reach people with relevant content and ads by clustering large groups of people with similar interests.” In other words, if you are a car dealer who wants to target SUV shoppers in your area, you still can. What you can’t do is target people individually in ways that use their IP address, emails, and other identifiers to single out an individual.


LSM: So will I no longer experience the phenomenon of Googling something on my phone and then immediately get an ad for it on my computer?

AL: No, you’ll still get ads shortly after searching for something because you’ll be in the group to be targeted for that “thing,” but you won’t get a call or email because marketers will no longer be able to identify you individually.

LSM: Will digital marketing lose its efficacy?

AL: Despite the hype and fear of a cookie-less world in Google, the impact will be a minor one. Even Google says 95% of the targeting available today will still be available through FLoC. What impact there is will be mostly felt on the outbound side of marketing involving tactics like banner advertising and YouTube. If marketers can’t reach out as specifically as they could in the past, it gives the consumer more privacy.


LSM: How should marketers adapt to these changes?

AL: With less outbound targeting, marketers are going to need to focus more on inbound marketing, which has become a more effective approach in the last several years anyway. Inbound tactics such as content development, social media marketing, and SEO/SEM will ultimately drive more engaged users to your site than outbound. With the elimination of cookies, the effectiveness of inbound marketing should continue to grow.


LSM: Do you see this affecting Facebook? The changes with Apple’s privacy policy have Facebook hinting that they may have to start charging users.

AL: I don’t know what Facebook is planning, but if they disallow cookies, marketers will still be able to advertise using data in an individual’s profile such as age, profession, hobbies, groups followed, and liked pages. The only thing you’ll no longer be able to do is retargeting because that’s the one Facebook tactic that involves cookies.


LSM: Do you think we’ll ever reach a point, as privacy laws increase, where digital ads and aggregate tracking are no more?

AL: I don’t think aggregate tracking is going away. Unless privacy laws change, marketers will hopefully get the message that consumers are growing sensitive to intrusive ads. By presenting tasteful, relevant ads served within a reasonable frequency, consumers will have less to complain about, and privacy laws should remain in check. Even with more restrictive privacy laws in place, that will still be plenty of opportunities to advertise on the net. Ads can be targeted based on website content, location, and hopefully, aggregated demographics that don’t involve browsing or search history. And paid search advertising, which is one of the most effective forms of digital advertising, will likely never go away.


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