As Google moves toward phasing out data-tracking cookies, it’s also looking to develop new, more privacy-friendly solutions that allow advertisers to continue to run effective online advertising campaigns despite the reduction in direct response data.
Google’s most important initiative on this front is its “Privacy Sandbox” suite of tools, which it is developing to track various aspects of user behavior without using specific identifiers. And recently, Google ran an experiment to see how its latest sandbox-based “interest” tracking (IBA) tools matched cookie tracking in terms of response insights.
And the results are at least somewhat promising.
First, Google explicitly states that the experiment is not an apples-to-apples comparison and that it used several new tracking elements that have been cross-checked with traditional cookie tracking to closely match the data insights currently available .
“These signals included contextual information, the topic API from the privacy sandbox, and first-party identifiers such as publisher-supplied IDs. Our research has not compared the performance of third-party cookies against the Topics API alone, but rather against a broader range of signals available in a world where privacy is paramount.”
So it will take more effort, at least based on this research, to get comparative tracking with this new system.
If it is actually a comparison.
What were the results?
“The experiment showed that when using interest-based audience (IBA) solutions with Display Network privacy signals, Google Display ads advertisers’ spend on IBA – as an indicator of scale achieved – compared to third-party advertisers decreased by 2-7%. Party cookie-based results. In terms of conversions per dollar, as an indicator of return on investment, the drop was 1-3%. Finally, we also found that click-through rates stayed within 90% of the status quo. And we’ve seen similar performance for Display & Video 360.”
Something like that – although a potential deviation of 10% is significant. It’s also a completed experiment using a range of data signals for comparison, so again it’s not a precise or direct comparison at this stage.
But there’s probably some hope for advertisers concerned about the demise of cookie tracking and what it might mean for their results.
The Apple ATT update, another privacy initiative, had a major impact on many platforms as ad spend fell due to poorer results. Platforms are working to improve their targeting alternatives to counteract this, and these solutions are getting better all the time, but the launch of ATT has spooked many marketers as Google ponders this next big shift.
On the plus side, Google is working to come up with alternative solutions that allow advertisers to get good results rather than just letting them make the change, and experiments like this at least underscore the potential in that regard.
Google further notes that campaigns using AI-powered optimization, while still complying with enhanced data protection, also resulted in better performance.
“Campaigns with optimized targeting or ‘maximize conversions’ bid strategies, for example, were less affected by third-party cookie removal, suggesting that machine learning may play an important role in driving results.”
This is similar to what Meta’s Advantage+ automated advertising tools are doing well now as well, and as AI systems improve, this is increasingly becoming a viable way to go.
And maybe this way will eventually have enough trust to completely replace cookie tracking without losing performance.
There’s still a long way to go – Google won’t phase out cookies until at least next year – but these experiments offer some hope for the post-cookie world.