There has been a lot of buzz around Google blocking third-party cookies and FLOC and a number of things that the typical small business owner isn’t totally tuned into. This post isn’t intended to get into the weeds, but to give you the headlines, and the options to read up on the details. So I will get right to it.
What are Third-Party Cookies?
At the most basic level, third-party cookies are a method of tracking users on their entire journey around the web by tracking them from site to site. For advertisers, they are very effective at helping us cater messages and ad programs to specific audiences and interest types. For the user, this is a big part of that “creepy” part of the internet where it seems the internet always knows what you have been looking at or interested in. There has been growing distrust with this tactic in recent years and even laws to prevent it in some areas. Some browsers like duckduckgo.com have grown in popularity due to their vow not to collect them and give more privacy.
Google Has Pushed Back the End Date
Though at one time announcing they would stop using third-party cookies in 2022, they recently announced they would push this date back to 2023. What does this mean to you? You have a little more time to adjust and prepare. Many small business owners may not even realize if or how they are using third-party cookies. I will touch on that a little bit below, but Google has pushed back the date because they are trying to find an alternative method to serve advertisers in as similar a way as possible, while still respecting user privacy. Basically, they want to switch over from tracking users individually to tracking them as part of audience groups that would still protect their privacy. For advertisers, the hope is that they refine this to the point that it is relatively seamless, and it may be eventually, but for now it is somewhat up in the air. The most recent attempt to do this is called FLoC, but it is not certain that this will be the final version as some other parties, including WordPress, have already said they would do things to block collecting this data.
Audience Targeting Effectiveness
Whatever your beliefs about data privacy, the fact remains that audience targeting with online advertising is a very effective way to refine your ad spend and be more profitable. Though search targeting is advertising based on what search terms a user has typed in, there is even nuance there. This doesn’t only apply to display advertising. Being able to target or adjust bids to groups based on their interests, demographics, and place in a buying funnel, can greatly improve your conversion rates. If you are running ad campaigns, you should be doing this purely because it is smart marketing. If you pay someone to manage your campaigns, they are most likely doing this for you and making adjustments to your spending based on the effectiveness of these audiences. If this comes to an end, it could have a considerable impact on your digital marketing effectiveness. Most likely, if the minds at Google do find a workaround, there will definitely be some adjustments you will need to understand and make when the change switches over. More on that when that time comes. Just know that if you are advertising through Google or even other networks, this drama will likely have an impact on your wallet in some way as a small business owner.
Hedge Your Bets
In the meantime, it would be a good idea to get cleaned up and more organized about collecting your first-party data. Your customer lists, your email lists, your prospect lists of data that was given to you first hand. You will likely be able to target these people through advertising platforms like Google. If Google does not come through with methods to reach audiences in a more privacy-focused way, you will at least have your own audiences to focus on. Retargeting your own visitors should always be on the table.
The moral of the story is if you aren’t using audience targeting and observation in your Google Ads campaigns, you should be. However, you should also be paying attention to this story as it progresses, knowing that you will need to pivot with however this shakes out. I have confidence that the minds at Google will find a way to do this effectively. There is too much money on the line for them not to. For them and for their marketers. Audience targeting is likely here to stay, but how we determine who is in that audience will be changing considerably in the next few years. For now, you have time to still take advantage of the system as it is, at least until 2023 on Google.