Be Prepared for The Changes Ahead & Future-Proof Your Conversion Tracking in 2024

Given the evolving landscape of digital privacy and the impending cookieless future, businesses are having to change over to advanced conversion tracking methods. Advanced conversion tracking ensures user privacy, without losing the essential data needed for an effective digital marketing strategy.

This blog will delve into some advanced conversion tracking methods which will future-proof your conversion tracking in a cookieless world. But first, let’s go back to basics.

What’s a Cookie?

A cookie is a small piece of data that a website stores on a user’s computer or device. It’s typically used to remember information about the user or their preferences, acting to enhance browsing experience or provide personalised content.

Cookies are sent from a website and stored on the user’s browser, and they are sent back to the website with each visit. 

Third Party Cookies

Third-party cookies are created by domains other than the one the user is visiting. These cookies are commonly used for tracking user behaviour across multiple websites to track users’ interests and serve targeted ads.

Third party cookies are often associated with privacy concerns. This is because they allow advertisers, and other third parties, to collect and share a users’ data and browsing habits without their explicit consent. 

First Party Cookies

First-party cookies are created by the website when a user is visiting. These cookies are used to enhance user experience by remembering information such as login credentials, language preferences and items in a basket. 

First vs Third Party Cookies

Both first party and third party cookies raise different privacy considerations.

Users generally have more control over first-party cookies, as they are managed through browser settings and can be cleared manually. First party cookies are also generally considered less intrusive, as they are tied directly to the website being visited.

On the other hand, third-party cookies are often managed by third-party services and may require additional steps for users to control or block them. 

The Deprecation of Third-Party Cookies

There have been various delays and pivots since the original 2020 deprecation window. An update posted by Google on 23rd April 2024 has confirmed Google are now delaying the depreciation of third-party cookies until 2025 and will not be rolling this out as planned in Q4 of 2024.

The latest delay stems from Google’s new privacy initiative, namely, the Google Privacy Sandbox, which has been developed by Google as an alternative to third-party cookies. When third-party cookies go away, it will become difficult for marketers to continue interest-based targeting methods online. The Privacy Sandbox intends to provide an avenue for these marketing use cases, while preserving user privacy.

The deprecation of third-party cookies for Google users follows similar announcements and implementations from Apple Safari, Microsoft Bing and Mozilla Firefox. Intelligent Tracking Protection (ITP) for iOS browsers and Enhanced Tracking Protection (ETP) by Firefox all block third-party cookies on these browsers. 

Google rolled out the deprecation of third-party cookies to 1% of Chrome users globally on the 4th of January 2024, impacting approximately 30 millions users. The remainder of this roll-out is now planned for 2025.

GDPR ruling mandates that websites can no longer depend on implicit opt-in methods, such as displaying a cookie banner while users continue browsing. Instead, websites are required to obtain explicit opt-in consent before placing any analytics or web tracking cookies on the user’s browser.

Be Prepared for The Changes Ahead & Future-Proof Your Conversion Tracking in 2024

What Does This Mean for Marketers?

You might be wondering, ‘how does this affect us?’ Well, our ability to track our marketing efforts is already poor with the use of ad blockers, browsers already blocking third-parties, lack of user consent and privacy regulations, and it’s going to continue to get more challenging.

Accurate attribution, measuring the true impact of marketing campaigns and reporting return-on-investment will continue to get tougher as cookies are eventually phased out.

Focusing on PPC, and Google Ads specifically, we see the biggest impact on data. This is due to the reliance on third-party cookies and the importance of having accurate data to drive better performance. 

To support our marketing clients, we are working to implement:

  • Server Side Tagging
  • Google Ads Conversion Tracking
  • Enhanced Conversions
  • Google Consent Mode (V2)
  • Using Google Ads Customer Match 

Server Side Tagging

Traditional conversion tracking establishes direct communication between the user’s web browser and third party tracking platforms, such as Google Analytics.

Whereas, server side tagging collects the data on the website’s own server, and sends the data to third party platforms, such as Google Analytics, from there.

Implementing Server Side Tagging prevents any data loss and ensures more complete data. In addition, because the loading process is no longer happening on the user’s browser, it speeds up page load times, leading to a better user experience.

This a key solution, as it collects data in a first party context, with the server communicating  directly with Google Ads. 

Google Ads Conversion Tracking

Google Ads Conversion Tracking is a tracking solution native to Google Ads. This is the most accurate way to track conversions occuring after a Google ad click.

Once there is enough data, Google Ads Conversion Tracking should be set to your Primary method, so your campaigns are being optimised with this more accurate data. However, best practice suggests you should still use Google Analytics 4 conversions as a secondary action, acting as a backup and providing observation data.

Enhanced Conversions

Enhanced conversions collect data that would otherwise be lost. 

When submitting a form or completing a purchase, user-provided data can be collected. Google then uses this data, such as the email provided, to match the conversion to an ad click made by a logged in Google account.

By using this first-party hashed data*, conversions can be accurately attributed to ads, even when the journey from the ad to the conversion could not be directly observed – such as when ads were viewed on one device, but clicked on another device.

*Google uses hashing to encrypt data and protect the user’s privacy.

Google Consent Mode

Google’s Consent Mode is a tool that bridges the gap between your users privacy choices and your need for data as an advertiser. Consent mode does this by adjusting the behaviour of Google tags based on the user’s consent choice.

When a user visits your website, if consent is denied, cookies cannot be stored. This means that we can’t store useful data, such as whether the user came from an organic search result or a Google ad click.

However, when using Consent Mode, a ‘ping’ can be sent to Google to indicate a conversion has happened. Google can then use behavioural modelling to attribute conversions to the correct source, such as an observed click on your ad. 

If you are collecting data for audience building and using remarketing audiences, Google Consent Mode V2 is mandatory from March 2024 for ads in the European Economic Area (EEA), this also includes the UK.

After March 2024, no data about new EEA users will be captured by Google Ads and Google Analytics (GA4) without implementing Consent Mode V2.

Google Consent Mode V2 includes the following additions:

ad_user_data – does the user consent to their personal data being used for advertising purposes?
ad_personalization – does the user consent to their data being used for remarketing?

If you use a Cookie Management Platform, this should have various settings you can toggle and implementation guides for Google Tag Manager.

Using Customer Match Audiences

Google Ads campaigns that are using automated bidding strategies and optimised targeting can benefit from Customer Match Audiences. 

Advertisers can upload a list of consented first-party data into Google Ads. Google uses hashing to encrypt the data and protect the user’s privacy.

This data can then be used to target ads at specific users and those like them. Customer Match Audiences could be an alternative to the traditional remarketing and similar audiences of the past. 

Atelier is a digital agency based in Hampshire, specialising in online advertising. We are able to offer advice about Google Ads and Microsoft Ads that is specifically tailored to your business needs.

If you need help to improve your conversion tracking and prepare for the changes ahead, you can contact our team.