As Google gradually moves towards phasing out data tracking cookies, it’s also looking to develop new, more privacy-friendly solutions that will enable advertisers to keep running effective online ad campaigns, despite the reduction in direct response data.
Google’s main initiative on this front is its Privacy Sandbox suite of tools, which it’s developing to track different aspects of user behavior, without using specific identifiers. And recently, Google ran an experiment to see how its latest Sandbox-based Interest tracking tools (IBA) match up to cookie tracking, in relation to response insights.
And the results are at least somewhat promising.
First off, Google makes a specific note that the experiment is not an apples-to-apples comparison, and that it’s used several new tracking elements matched up against traditional cookie tracking to come close to the data insights currently available.
“These signals included contextual information, the Topics API from the Privacy Sandbox and first-party identifiers such as Publisher Provided IDs. Our research did not compare the performance of third-party cookies to the Topics API alone, but rather a broader suite of signals available in a privacy-first world.”
So, it’s going to be more effort, based on this research at least, to get comparative tracking with this new system.
If it is, indeed, comparative.
So what were the results?
“The experiment showed that when using interest-based audience (IBA) solutions with privacy-preserving signals on the display network, Google Display Ads advertiser spending on IBA - as a proxy for scale reached - decreased by 2-7% compared to third-party-cookie-based results. For conversions per dollar, as a proxy for return on investment, the decrease was 1-3%. Finally, we also observed that click-through rates remained within 90% of the status quo. And we observed similar performance for Display & Video 360.”
So kind of similar - though a 10% potential variance is significant. It’s also a contained experiment, using a range of data signals for comparison, so again, it’s not a precise or direct comparison at this stage.
But the findings likely provides some hope for advertisers concerned about the demise of cookie tracking, and what that could mean for their results.
Apple’s ATT update, another privacy-protection initiative, has had a major impact on many platforms, with ad spend declining due to poorer results. The platforms are working to improve their targeting alternatives to counter this, and those solutions are getting better all the time, but the roll-out of ATT has many marketers spooked, as Google contemplates this next big shift.
The positive is that Google’s working to build alternative solutions that’ll enable advertisers to generate good results, as opposed to just dumping the change on them, and experiments like these underline the potential, at least, in this respect.
Google further notes that campaigns utilizing AI-powered optimization, which is still in line with enhanced privacy, have also been driving better performance.
“For example, campaigns using optimized targeting or Maximize conversions bid strategies were less impacted by the removal of third-party cookies, indicating that machine learning can play a significant role in driving results.”
That’s similar to Meta’s Advantage+ automated ad tools, which are also now generating good results, and as AI systems improve, this will increasingly become a more viable pathway.
And maybe, eventually, that avenue will be trusted enough to replace cookie tracking outright, without losing performance.
There’s a way to go – Google’s not phasing out cookies till at least next year – but these experiments provide some hope for the post-cookie world.