Cookie Deletion: The Good News

Have you heard about this whole cookie deletion thing? It’s supposed to be the demise of online advertising. There’s been back and forth about how accurate the Jupiter Research (a Jupitermedia Corp. division) study is and how the response from Atlas Institute was initially flawed.

Has anyone considered the bright side? If people are deleting their cookies, our campaigns are actually performing better than we thought. Maybe I’m an optimist, but that seems like a little ray of sunshine to me.

To get someone else’s perspective on this, I chatted (via email) with the author of the Atlas report, Young-Bean Song, director of analytics and Atlas Institute.

Lerma: Is it reasonable for us to assign a variable to our conversion tracking to account for deleted cookies? In other words, because of the cookie deletion activity, can we assume our campaigns are performing at a much higher level?

Song: Higher? Yes. Much higher? Probably not. That’s because most conversions (click and view) are front-loaded when you look at the distribution of time between conversions and the click or last ad view. If you’ve ever looked at a time-to-convert analysis, you’d see this behavior every time. There will be some conversion data loss because of users who have clicked, then have deleted their cookies before coming back to the site and purchasing. But that’s going to be pretty minor.

Lerma: You mentioned in your findings most conversion activity occurs within 24 hours. If I read Table 2 correctly, 31 percent of people delete their cookies within a week. So, if we have a client with a seven-day standard buying cycle, can we assume we’re underreporting by roughly 31 percent?

Song: For the reasons above, it’s not a one-to-one impact. My guess is conversion rates are underestimated by about 10 percent. Those “zero” cookies are the real culprit. Users who have their browsers set to reject cookies outright will not register as conversions in any time frame. For now, that looks like about 8 percent of users.

Lerma: If we could arrive at some agreeable variable for every one of our clients, it would increase our return on investment (ROI) on campaigns. In addition, this may indicate a shift in the way we use ad serving. It may turn out that we use it as a highly intelligent directional tracking methodology rather than an absolute.

Song: Agreed. My gut tells me cookie deletion could be underestimating conversions by up to 15 percent (I’d put my money [on] around 10 percent). Not huge, but still worthy of attention. Certainly small enough to still have confidence in your reporting. But your intuition is spot on. At the end of the day, we might end up with a sampling method rather than a census. A sample method that measures the behavior of hundreds of millions of stable cookies is still going to provide more accountability than in any other medium.

Lerma: Thanks for taking this issue head-on.

Song: One final thought. My favorite real-world example of why it’s not time to hit the panic button is this: Think of companies like Google and Advertising.com that are completely reliant on third-party cookies’ ability to track conversions. If there really is a massive exodus of users rejecting cookies, would their market caps, revenue and profits be where they are? I doubt Sergey Brin and Scott Ferber are losing sleep over this.

Thanks to Young-Bean Song for his insight.

It’ll be really interesting to see how the industry decides on this issue. Again, if it means campaigns are really performing 10 to 15 percent better than we thought, isn’t that a good thing?

I’m sure you have an opinion about all this. Let me know what you think.

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