SEO – Tracking in 2024: Where we are and how to prep

SEO - Tracking in 2024: Where we are and how to prep


Remember how painful iOS 14 was for performance marketers? An even more seismic change is looming, and way too many marketers are still unprepared.

Yes, I’m talking about the impending death of third-party cookies. If you’re reading this article, this is probably the 1,000th time you’ve heard it mentioned.

And that might be part of the problem: “the death of cookies” could now be one of those familiar phrases you skim over without understanding the depth of its ramifications.

If you’re a little unclear on what kind of havoc “the death of cookies” is going to wreak in your campaigns, stay with me for a few minutes as I tackle:

  • What’s changing from a technical perspective.
  • What’s changing from a marketing perspective.
  • 4 real steps you need to take ASAP to start planning.

What’s changing from a technical perspective

First, let’s be clear: we’re talking about the death of third-party cookies, not first-party cookies. You own first-party cookies and the data they collect, which won’t be impacted by the Chrome update.

Third-party cookies, which pass data from your website to external parties (like ad platforms) to your site to paint a picture of the user and user behavior, are what’s disappearing.

If this sounds familiar, it’s because that’s exactly what happened with iOS 14.

In that update, Apple’s “App Tracking Transparency” introduction prevented companies from tracking user behavior across third-party apps. Advertising platforms (particularly Facebook) suddenly couldn’t help advertisers understand what users were doing after engaging with their ads.

Cookies, whether first-party or third-party, are snippets of code saved by the browser or app to the user’s device. They contain user and session identifiers, ad click IDs, timestamps and functions (e.g., whether you’re logged into an app). 

In short, they are (or were until recently) the most common way to identify and track users, and they’re about to disappear from Chrome (which is following Firefox and Safari in doing so).

If you’re using pixels, UTM parameters outside of a first-party environment, GTAG (ask your analytics team), or other tracking based on – and stored in – browsers, you’re in for a world of transition.

What’s changing from a marketing perspective

It might be easier to list what isn’t changing, but here’s a quick list of the biggest hits:

  • Attribution is changing. Lots of advertisers still rely on click-to-action, last-click attribution, and that data is about to get torpedoed. That could actually have a huge silver lining if it forces advertisers en masse to adopt more holistic measurement strategies that consider the entire user journey.
  • Tracking performance is changing. If you’re in love with the ability to see performance at the ad and/or keyword level, maintaining some level of visibility will require some updates to most currently adopted tracking set-ups. 
  • Targeting is changing. Utilizing pixels for retargeting efforts, and accuracy of in-platform audiences are likely going to shift. We’re going to face steep challenges in understanding how to identify valuable users and to create ads that are relevant to them.
  • Data collection is changing. The more first-party data we can collect and own, the more control we’ll have over understanding and engaging our users. If you don’t have a plan for collecting and ingesting more first-party data, you’re going to be at a huge disadvantage. 

Dig deeper: 7 paid media reporting tips when tracking is messy

Given all of that, you can hopefully now realize that the time to start planning was about a year ago – and if you’re behind the curve, you’d better keep reading.

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4 real preparation steps to take ASAP

I break this down for my clients into four buckets:

  • CRM cleanliness
  • Data collection
  • Platform tracking solutions
  • Server-side hosting

1. Focus on CRM cleanliness

At the very least, you should be able to reference your CRM data to understand your users’ point of entry and identify your most valuable users.

Make sure you have a plan to assess your data cleanliness, your reports, and your dashboards and you can get things in good enough shape to trust what your first-party data is telling you. Work to

2. Tune up your data collection

First-party data will become even more important as data from third-party sources erodes.

Make sure your ad campaigns, organic campaigns, owned properties, etc., are fully maximized to collect first-party data and have a plan to use it in your campaigns (email, SMS, retargeting, lookalikes, etc.). 

3. Implement platform solutions

Get extremely comfortable with Google’s Enhanced Conversions, Meta and LinkedIn’s conversions APIs, and whatever monikers you’ll see other platforms use. They help ensure that ad algorithms can track valuable actions both online and offline, which is essential for future-proofing your tracking efforts.

(Bonus points if you combine platform solutions with first-party data to teach the platform algorithms to find your best users via offline conversion tracking.)

4. Go server-side

Analytics and data stored in servers you control (as opposed to browsers that can change their rules at any time) are one big hedge against cookie erosion.

Implement initiatives like server-side GTM and start researching CDP (customer data platform) options like Segment and Tealium to take at least partial ownership of your data and analytics.

Winning strategies for a data-driven, privacy-first future

If you need a little good news after reading all of that, I have a couple of tidbits for you. 

  • Cookie-based tracking had big inherent flaws. This shift is an opportunity for the industry to reevaluate tracking, measurement and attribution methodologies. 
  • It’s very unlikely that the marketing industry will face anything as transformative in the near future. You might carry some battle scars from this transition, but if you can get through it with your job and brand intact, you’ll be a better marketer for it. 
  • Lastly, we’re all in the same boat, figuring this out together.

Dig deeper: 3 ways search marketers can prepare for the big cookie crumble


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