Measuring paid search performance in a cookie-less world

The appeal of digital marketing compared to more traditional ways of advertising is the ability to accurately measure the impact and return of your investment online. 

This key aspect has played a large role in the rapid adoption of online advertising for many brands across the world, and has helped shift marketing investment from TV and print to a number of digital channels and mediums. Cookie tracking, which has lived on individuals’ browsers and devices, has played a significant role in this shift. However, an increased privacy concern is triggering changes within the industry, making it more challenging to measure performance. 

In this article, Croud’s Paid Media and Technology Expert, Benoît Le Gendre, looks to explore some of those changes and offers insights on how advertisers can continue measuring paid search performance accurately today. 

How are privacy changes impacting the industry? 

If you are close to the industry, you will have already heard of three key factors that are affecting advertisers’ abilities to measure the performance of their digital marketing activities:

  1. Browsers are now restricting the use of third-party cookies, and mobile operating systems (OS) such iOS are limiting tracking on devices. 
  2. The rise in user privacy concerns has pushed advertisers to implement solutions that allow users to grant consent on the information they are willing to share online.
  3. The increased regulations on the use of personal data along with the formal requirement of consent from users (such as the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) since 2018) has led to a loss of cookies.

Cookie and device identifiers are going to degrade over time 

Measuring paid search performance through cookies will no longer be possible in the coming months. This means that the industry is going to increasingly rely on aggregated and anonymised measurement solutions. The volume of conversions that you will be able to fully track is going to decrease, impacting the results of your marketing activities online.

What can businesses and advertisers do?

Invest in a durable measurement solution today

You can maximise observable conversions and signals via a number of solutions such as site-wide tagging, conversion modelling and consent signals. 

Site-wide tagging will enable a more accurate conversion measurement with first-party cookies. You can implement tags using the global site tag or Google manager for a more comprehensive tool to manage your conversion tags. This will allow you to manage all tags within the same interface. 

Even by using the solutions above, there will be a number of conversions that will not be measurable by the tags. For example, if a conversion on a Safari browser happens more than 24 hours after the click, that conversion won’t be tracked. However, conversion modelling can help fill this gap by using different signals to allow for better reporting on conversions. It can also help inform your decisions for bidding, optimisation and attribution. 

Build a leading privacy-safe first data strategy

According to a Deloitte study published in April 2020, 60% of users are willing to share more data in exchange for personalised benefits and discounts. Therefore in order to build a privacy-safe data strategy, there are a couple elements that you should consider to help build consumer trust:

  • Determine the best way to obtain consent through either a consent management platform or an in-house solution. Consent management is a must, and you may be at risk for a breach of regulation if you don’t allow users to give their valid consent. 
  • Adjust your Campaign Manager or Google Analytics tags behaviour to allow for consent awareness via either the Interactive Advertising Bureau Transparency and Consent Framework version 2.0 (IAB TCF V2.0) or Google Consent Mode. 

By adjusting your tag behaviour, you allow the systems to improve the measurement accuracy of your digital activities by modelling lost conversions.

Look beyond online conversions

Your online activities will usually be more than just tracking online purchases or actions. Data such as sales margin, call center sales, in-store sales or any other valuable data point that you have about your customers and your activity, don’t directly rely on cookies. By bringing this offline conversion data into Search Ads 360 (SA360), you will be able to better inform your media team’s decisions by surfacing this directly into the user interface of your advertising platforms. 

This can be achieved by using Campaign Manager conversion application programming interfaces (APIs) that will consolidate and deduplicate data across the different channels. The conversion API allows users to upload encrypted data using user ID, device ID or Google Click ID. 

Surfacing first-party data is increasingly necessary for businesses with a long sales cycle, like insurance and financial companies where revenue is often generated offline. By integrating offline data, advertisers are able to switch their focus from driving measurable action online to maximising revenue generation.

These conversion touchpoints can be used for bidding and refined decision making when it comes to maximising the impact of digital marketing activities. 

Activation and summary

The industry is constantly evolving, and every advertiser should adapt as soon as possible. In order to continue measuring paid search performance accurately, advertisers should invest in multiple technologies that maximise the number of observable conversions and data points (like call tracking or offline revenue integration). Data modelling is a key technology that publishers are currently investing in, and advertisers can quickly leverage this by simply adjusting tag behaviour.

If you would like to learn more about paid search or are interested in how Croud can help you future proof your measurement capabilities, get in touch with our PPC team! 

by Benoit Le Gendre
26 April 2021



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