How are Google’s cookie changes going to affect your business?

By Daniel Swepson, Wednesday May 12, 2021

Back in the hazy, isolated days of 2020, Google announced that they’d be blocking third-party cookies in their Chrome browser. Both Firefox and Safari had taken similar action in the past, but Chrome enjoys almost 70% of the browser market.

Which means Google calls the shots.

Because Google loves infuriatingly cryptic product communications almost as much as they love selling your data, we don’t know when the update is due – except to say it’s coming in the next few months.

But what are they saying it’s for —and what is it actually about?

The official line is that this will offer users more privacy. Third-party cookies are used by countless services to build up horrifyingly accurate profiles which can then be targeted by advertisers. Since the advent of GDPR, you’ll have seen cookie notifications almost everywhere you go online, asking you if you’d like the standard cookie, which will result in generic advertising, or a rigorous colonoscopy of a cookie that will show you personalised ads for products you didn’t know you wanted.

Google doesn’t want those tracking cookies in play any more. Hooray, right? Sort of.

Google hasn’t magically grown averse to billions in ad revenue; they just want more control of the market. In place of third-party cookies, Chrome will use Google’s new ‘Privacy Sandbox‘. It’s a machine learning application that will build a more general, anonymised profile of your online behaviours, and group you into marketing demographics based on data from large quantities of similar users.

The idea is that individuals will have more privacy. But that will come at the cost of handing more power to Google, who haven’t always wielded it responsibly.

There are benefits to this, such as not falling foul of GDPR, but there are repercussions too. The first being that, like most Google algorithms, this will be a black box. Zero transparency over the criteria attached to you, and no idea how to fix it if things go south. We’ve already seen organisations use targeted data to illegally discriminate based on gender and race, and having less visibility over what actually constitutes your profile could make that easier.

It also limits smaller companies’ ability to build their own profile data, and compete with the bigger players. So those big players will soon become the only game in town.

It’s a mixed bag. Theoretically, individuals will have more privacy, but yet more power will be handed to the big G. And you won’t see fewer ads, just potentially more irrelevant ones. Not that it seems to hurt

That’s all pretty interesting. But how does it impact my business?

Third-party cookies have helped marketers appeal to specific demographics for years, typically by letting them buy data and put ads in front of their desired audience.

But for 2021 and beyond, it’s time to switch focus to first-party data. That’s right, instead of intelligence bought from someone who neither knows nor cares about your business, you have an opportunity to generate your own.

Using inbound marketing, you create an online experience that is genuinely compelling to your audience. Whether it’s stunning video content, perfectly timed email campaigns, or simply a site that’s a joy to use, you attract customers with genuine interest. A well-curated inbound strategy turns every lead into a high-value prospect, and separates you from the frothing mass of spammy competitors.

First-party data through an inbound marketing strategy means you don’t have to buy intelligence, you can generate your own.

In short, you’re pulling genuine interest in, rather than hoping to be heard while everyone’s screaming at the top of their voices.

And once your inbound strategy has brought customers to your door, clever tools like HubSpot let you build your own market intelligence first hand. You get to understand the content and products that browsers are actually interested in, and create dynamic marketing activity that responds in real time.

Yes, HubSpot uses cookies, but they use first-party cookies hosted on your domain. And they’re just lovely as far as Google is concerned. In fact, it’s the same kind of intelligence they use themselves, across all Google products.

The death of third-party cookies is intrinsically linked to the decline of push marketing. People don’t want to be identified in the wild and targeted by brands. People want to identify you and make an informed, independent choice.

Inbound marketing gives them that control, and it gives you their attention. With the third-party cookie ban happening ‘by 2022’ at the latest, it’s probably a good time to start having conversations about your inbound strategy, and which kind of business you want to be.