Hey Google, what happens to paid search post cookies?

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In this opinion piece, Zenith’s Director of Research, Alberto Vicente (pictured), examines what will happen to paid search in a post-cookie world, viewing search through a brand marketing lens .

While the long-awaited shutdown of third-party cookies from Google Chrome will now see marketers and the online advertising industry given a reprieve until 2024, why do we continue to focus on the impact that will this have on programmatic and social buying, while hardly anyone is talking about search?

Perhaps it looks like search will be largely unaffected by the cookie deprecation. But in fact, paid search will face a very different challenge.

The Fall of Attribution Reign and the Rebirth of Brand Marketing

In 2024, 30 years will have passed since the first digital marketing advertisement – when, for the first time in history, you were able to track an individual after they saw your advertisement and attribute the results to your advertising investment. We could then optimize audience, improve performance and ensure that a brand’s marketing activity generates the highest return possible. Thus was born performance marketing.

It was by no means a perfect science. The attribution system, in particular the original attribution of the last interaction, ignores any lasting effects of marketing and boosts the channels closest to the point of conversion (like search). However, that hasn’t stopped us from using attribution to establish new industry KPIs and targets. In some cases, assigned ROAS has transcended CFO chambers, and ROAS has become ROI.

For paid search, it wasn’t so bad. Being the intent-based channel, attribution has always worked in its favor. It has become the performance channel. It was always justified to spend more on the channel based on this attributed performance, and it was only ever challenged by the marketing planner who saw the big picture.

Over the years, attribution has improved to accommodate longer funnels – as a tool for allocating marketing budgets across different activities. However, the system relies on our ability to identify users. Without cookies, the attribution system breaks down and presents two scenarios:

  • Companies capable of integrating customer data will be able to partially reconstruct these attribution systems, but will be limited to a siled view of the marketing world. For example, by providing sales data to Google, we may continue to attribute certain conversions to past clicks in Google’s walled garden.
  • Others may revert to a simpler attribution system, ignoring some of the data points. But it will happen in a developed industry that has already challenged attribution systems.

In short, when cookies are gone, we will likely see an increase in conversions attributed to paid search. While this may look good for the channel, it will at the same time reduce trust in the attribution system in which paid search has grown.

We can expect a reassessment of how we measure the value of marketing activity:

  • The assigned ROAS will again become a tool to understand each activity within the channel, rather than a cross-channel target.
  • Incrementality testing and MMM will be more prominent in digital marketing and planning.
  • With less confidence in attribution, one can expect less emphasis on performance. With less focus on performance, the traditional function of channels in the customer journey will be redefined.

Research has always been treated as performance marketing and as a fully attributable and predictable activity. As we begin to move away from this fantasy, it will be necessary to begin using the tools that our colleagues in investment marketing use to understand the value of our business, including revising the way we use traditional investment measurement tools. performance.

Here are some ways to do it:

1. Make sure your attribution systems are working at their best. You shouldn’t rely on them as a source of truth, but they’re still the best real-time model you can get for your business performance.

a) Implement improved conversions and use data-driven attribution to ensure a better understanding of the value of your business. The Enhanced Conversion Tag passes back-hashed customer data and combines it with Google login data, allowing conversions to be attributed to first interactions without relying on cookies.

b) Implement GA4 to improve paths and model attribution.

2. Focus on incrementality to determine activity value.

a) Design incrementality tests for your different strategies.

b) Set goals per strategy and adjust them based on incremental value.

3. Where possible, incorporate granular digital activities into your MMM analysis.

Seeing research through the lens of brand marketing can be difficult at first, but can only be good for the industry. This will not only help us meet the attribution challenge, but also present an opportunity to rediscover the real value of the business – sparking a new way of understanding research in the marketing mix.

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