Updates to How Google Ads Measures Conversions

On April 15th, Google announced it would set a first-party cookie through the global site tag and Google Tag Manager beginning in May. What does this mean, and why is it important to advertisers? 

First, let’s talk about why Google made this announcement. As individuals are demanding more privacy, we are moving towards an internet world that is free of third-party cookies, which have been the standard of conversion tracking for advertisers.

So what are first-party and third-party cookies?

A first-party cookie is created and stored directly by the website that you are visiting. These cookies allow you to do fancy things like staying signed into Amazon every time you visit, but they also help advertisers keep better track of their visitors for the purpose of collecting data around conversions, among other things.

Third-party cookies are those created by domains other than the one the user is visiting at the time and are primarily used for tracking and online advertising purposes. 

Shifting to first-party cookies will allow advertisers to still collect data needed for tracking individual conversions. So, in a nutshell, this first-party cookie has been put in place to help advertisers still make sense of their data while lessening the reliance on third-party cookies and better protecting individuals’ privacy.

Google Ads began to set a first-party cookie with a new identifier through the global site tag and  Google Tag Manager in May 2021. 

With this cookie, you will be able to accurately attribute conversions, including times when a user interacts with multiple ads before converting. If you’re set up with the global site tag or Google Tag Manager, there should be no additional steps you need to take. 

If you’re tracking through Google Analytics imports, it’s probably still a good idea to implement the sitewide tag to take advantage of this new first-party cookie implementation. This will allow you to start collecting that first-party data. 

The timing of this is obviously a reaction to Google’s other news drop, initially announced in early 2020, informing the public that Chrome would no longer be collecting third-party cookies by 2022. This is not something new to the way browsers track—Safari phased out third-party cookies several years ago—but this is new to Google. 

Google stated that “72% of people feel that almost all of what they do online is being tracked by advertisers, technology firms or other companies, and 81% say that the potential risks they face because of data collection outweigh the benefits.” 

So as platforms like Google move to further respect the privacy of users, adding the first-party cookie is a way to protect their advertisers as well. It’s a tradeoff that most people see to be fair and a move in the right direction.

Because Chrome is still collecting third-party cookies at this time, we haven’t seen much impact from the first-party cookie implementation. We believe that its importance will begin to expand in the future as third-party cookies are phased out. Advertisers’ reliance on first-party cookies will only increase from here. Google said that first-party cookies will be “vital” to tracking conversion data, so it seems like they are getting ahead of the game with these changes. 

The bottom line: make sure your account is set up through the global site tag or Google Tag Manager today so that no disruption with your data occurs in the future.

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