Brad King

Having read my colleague James’ most recent blog, “Digital Marketing 101: How to write a blog post”, I felt inspired to contribute my second post to the Coast blog! The section that stuck out most in my mind was when James wrote about discovering your blog topic. He suggested that in our roles we may be asked to solve the same problems on a day-to-day basis, and this makes a great foundation for a blog post.

In my role as a Digital Account Manager, one topic that I have discussed with every client is web cookies. And it’s not surprising really, given how much the digital landscape is changing. The death of the 3rd party cookie is expected by 2023 and it’s already creating challenges that, as an agency, we have to solve for our clients every day.

In this blog, find out what’s driving this change, the challenges our clients have been facing, and discover some simple steps you can take to prepare for what’s coming.

What’s changing with cookies and web privacy?

In a nutshell, there are 3 major factors influencing the changes with cookies and web privacy:

  1. The introduction of GDPR policies
  2. A shift in consumer thinking
  3. Tech giants using privacy as an opportunity to gain market share


The introduction of GDPR has meant we have to protect consumer data. In the world of digital, this means we now have to ask users if they are happy to allow us tracking them.

To comply, every website has had to include a cookie banner that asks a user’s permission to gather their data. This of course means that not every user agrees so we when they opt out, we lose visibility on them.

Consumer thinking

Consumers are also more aware of web privacy and their right to it! People are now generally far more conscious that their data may be being used without them being consulted.

This is particularly common with generation Z. Take Snapchat for example, the platform that came from the idea that young people wanted privacy, they didn’t necessarily want their content owned by tech companies and available online for eternity. Snapchat’s model meant content expired, which resonated with younger generations.

Consumer data is extremely high value  

Your data is worth a lot, and the big tech companies know it and have been fighting over it for a long while. Apple has used privacy as an argument, with its latest software updates set to reduce the amount of data competitors can see on their devices.

With the IOS 14.5 update, Apple included a notification to users allowing them to decide whether to allow apps, such as Facebook, to use their data. This meant that large numbers now opt out and Facebook collects less data to report back to its advertisers. You can read more about this in our blog here.

This was then followed up with the IOS 15 update, which allowed Apple Mail users the ability to opt out of the open rates of their emails being tracked. This means no more geo location data or insight into the Apple device used to open the email. You can read more about this update here. 

What are some of the challenges our clients have faced?

Tracking less means a lower recorded ROI: An example case study

The introduction of the cookie banners which allows users to opt-out, has meant that where we had been used to seeing what all users do, we can now only see a proportion of the traffic. One client I work with already had challenges in quantifying ROI because they have multiple options for their customers to buy tickets for their travel business, including through their website, their app, getting tickets on arrival, and buying via an app of a large partner –  of which we can only track the first option.

The reduced number of trackable users had created a further challenge for quantifying the marketing spend, where we only see a purchase that happens on their website. However, although there are ways to potentially track via an app, there is no real solution for the alternatives of buying a ticket on arrival or via their partner.

Working with their website alone, we looked at the cookie banner which we estimated had an opt-in rate at around 55% using click data from Google Ads. This meant we were only able to see just over half of the revenue we generated. Ultimately, this meant that a 2.0 ROAS, was arguably a ROAS closer to 4.0 but we couldn’t prove it.

The banner itself was small, placed towards the bottom of a page and allowed users to continue to browse the website without making a choice, hence why so few opted-in and chose to browse untracked instead. We made several recommendations and tested them which included moving the banner to a prominent position in the centre of the page, prevent users from navigating the website without making a choice and causing a little friction to the opt-out process.

What I mean by this is either opt-in or giving the user a choice to open a setting menu rather than one click opt-out. This then gives options to allow for accepting different cookie types, such as necessary cookies, performance cookies, functional cookies, or targeting cookies which are GDPR compliant.

As a result, lots more opted-in, but we continued to test different layouts and colours until we had our winner. This process raised their opt-in rate from an estimated 55% to an impressive 80%! With this, we had more data available to allow for a higher “trackable” ROI for the marketing activity we run – so a double win!

Planning for 2022 and setting KPIs

Another client, a major sugar brand, were planning for 2022 and wanted to set KPIs for traffic numbers etc. Their traffic levels and sales are heavily influenced by the baking community, however, the baking trends for 2020 & 2021 showed huge spikes during lockdown as families turned to baking to occupy their time at home.

This inconsistent trend data made it very hard to plan for 2022, so we had to look at 2019 for a “normal year” in order to set KPIs. However, with 2019 we were comparing a full set of data before GDPR compliance, meaning some users chose to opt-out.

Even the same number of users in GA in 2022 would in fact mean an uplift on real traffic from 2019.  So, understanding this was key, and when we planned for 2022, we used the seasonality data from 2019 but applied an uplift that took the drop in trackable traffic into consideration with our estimates.

What about when it’s not that simple?

This was a good solution for a digital team in this manufacturing business as they fully grasped the concept. However, in the case of a charity client who needed to report their results to their trust, it wasn’t going to work. Explaining that the same amount of “trackable traffic” in GA means an increase in real traffic was not easily understood, so we needed a new solution which came in the form of Google Consent Mode.

Google Consent Mode is a new feature that Google offers, allowing webmasters to gather some data on the users that opt-out. We can’t see data that requires looking at the user as individuals, such as customer journeys, but it does allow us to get the full picture for aggregated metrics, such as overall sessions or revenue. This approach allowed us to communicate (without confusion from the trust) key metrics and the charity’s digital performance.

So what does the future look like?

Google Chrome currently commands 65% of the web browser market, and with $134 billion (or 83%) of Google’s total revenue in 2019 coming from ad campaigns that require tracking users across the web, Google will likely lead the way for the future.

95% of Mozilla’s revenue is generated by search engines partnerships rather than their own advertising, so they simply dropped 3rd party cookies without consideration. Safari & Firefox have also already stopped supporting third party cookies. In January 2020, Google made an announcement that it would end 3rd party cookies by 2022, expecting to find a solution before the deadline but it’s not been that straight forward. They thought they had found the solution using a similar approach to what the pharmaceutical industry uses to keep patient data confidential while performing medical research – this is called Federated Learning of Cohorts, or FLOC.

The idea is that users are tracked locally in the browser rather than individual data passed to a third party. They are then grouped together based on interests and advertisers can target the groups instead. Privacy experts have not agreed this is an acceptable solution and this approach is being investigated by regulators to see if it violates anti-trust laws.

There have been other companies that have had ideas, such as the web browser, Gener8, who successfully got funding after appearing on the BBC programme Dragon’s Den. The Gener8 browser works like an ad blocker with extensions available for both the Firefox and Chrome browsers. You can browse in “Privacy mode” or you can choose “Reward mode”, where users get paid as they are shown targeted ads from Gener8 based on the interests they selected when they signed up.

 What should businesses do now?

With no conclusive answer in immediate sight, the long term solution may be some way off, but there are still several steps you can take in the meantime.

Google Analytics

The current version of Google Analytics – Google Universal – will be phased out and replaced by GA4, so be sure to implement the latest version if you haven’t already. This is quite a big change in terms of new metrics and different ways of looking at data, but you can run both versions side by side so its more about gathering data in preparation for the eventual switch.

Google Consent Mode

I touched on this earlier, this is for increasing the data you will see at an aggregated level and its quite easy to install. It may require a bit of dev work depending on your cookie banner set up but it should still be relatively quick and it’s definitely worth it.

First Party Data.

All this privacy relates to third party tracking and does not prevent companies growing their data, so there has never been a better time to take ownership. Collect data on your customers by building email subscriber lists or memberships. This is a great way to build customer loyalty too!

And lastly… watch this space!

Not only has this been a hot topic for the last 18 months, but it will remain so for at least next 12 months too – so we’ll be sure to update our readers when there is more news.

If you’d like to talk to one of our experts about any of the ideas covered in this blog, please get in touch today.


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