Goodbye 2020 and Hello Cookie Monster 2021

Cookies Google Analytics

Written by Joanne Kearney

Joanne has over 10 years’ experience working in digital analytics, executing and managing many large scale projects across the UK and Ireland. Joanne is also an experienced trainer, having developed many customised corporate training schemes and regularly speaks at digital and analytics events.
December 23, 2020


So this is Christmas, and what have we done? Another year over, and a new one (nearly) begun.

Nothing about this year has been normal. We’ve experienced a lot of ups and downs and even though restrictions are to continue into 2021, I think we’ll all be glad to leave 2020 behind and look forward to welcoming a New Year.

We’ve been working from home since the start of March, only going back to the office intermittently for 2 weeks and while it has been strange, I think we’ve all found our feet and settled into a new way of working that allows for a better work-life balance. There are still the ‘water cooler’ and spontaneous conversations that can’t be replicated when we aren’t seeing each other every working moment, but regular WIPs and calls help.

Human connection is hard to replicate through video calls and, much as I love the longer lie ins and commute reduced from 2 hours to 2 minutes, I also miss getting out of the house and having somewhere to go! Saying that, we are in a pandemic, and changes to life in the short-term are a small price to pay if we are able to keep ourselves, family and friends healthy.

We haven’t achieved all that we set out to achieve this year but we’ve made it through to see the end of 2020 and look forward to 2021! I ordered my 2021 diary months ago and I’m excited that I can finally start to use it from next week and relegate my 2020 diary to the memory box ☺


Cookie Monsters in 2021

Looking towards 2021, we’d like to focus on cookies, an area that we’ve noticed has become increasingly important throughout the last 18 months and through 2020, and that will continue to grow in importance in 2021.

Cookies were probably the single biggest issue that we helped clients with in 2020 and this will continue well into 2021. We’ve seen clients despair as their legal teams have drawn up guidelines for how cookies should be categorised and fired, leaving some clients experience a drop in traffic of up to 85%; typically the average that we see is a drop-off of around 30-40%.


Cookie Guidelines

Every client must provide a cookie notification message on the first page that the user lands on, and this must notify the user of the use of a cookie that tracks anonymous data. Most cookies fall into 4 categories: Strictly Necessary, Performance, Targeting, and Functionality. Strictly Necessary cookies are those cookies that allow core website functionality.

In most cases, Google Analytics cannot be argued as a ‘Strictly Necessary’ cookie; Google Analytics is normally classified as a Performance cookie. Therefore, when a user arrives on the website, if they do not choose to opt in to allow performance cookies, then the cookie can’t fire and the Google Analytics cookie can’t be dropped – in other words, the user and their journey can’t be tracked.

Most businesses formerly took the approach implied consent i.e. you accept cookies unless you choose not to be tracked; however, in October 2019, the EU Court of Justice ruled that a pre-checkbox consent box does not constitute valid consent for cookies.

See more here:

Websites owners must now ensure that:

  • your users must take a clear and positive action to consent to non-essential cookies;
  • your websites and apps must tell users clearly what cookies will be set and what they do – including any third party cookies;
  • pre-ticked boxes or any equivalents, such as sliders defaulted to ‘on’, cannot be used for non-essential cookies;
  • your users must have control over any non-essential cookies; and
  • non-essential cookies must not be set on landing pages before you gain the user’s consent.


How can we help fill the data void?

Simply but effectively, we’ve found that the design and display of the message and consent/decline buttons can help user experiences with cookie messages.

From using a green button to accept and continue and a colourless button to manage cookies, colour can do a good job at attracting and highlighting where the user’s line of sight is drawn to. We should add though, that while design can facilitate a user to make a choice, the option to not be tracked should never be hidden.

Remember that implied consent does not cut it anymore in most cases, so making sure that the message is unobtrusive yet persistent is important. You want the message to be discreet enough that it does not annoy the user, but persistent enough to make sure that the user makes a choice, one way or another, shortly after they arrive on the site and before they navigate through too many pages and have read what they need to without making a choice on cookies.

When deciding on a cookie solution, consider providers that can present you with analytics on cookie preference – allowing you to measure and test optimal cookie designs.


Other cookie issues

In addition to cookie consent options, Apple’s latest Safari ITP release now blocks all third-party cookies – something we’ve got to look forward to again in 2022, when we expect Google to roll out the same on Chrome. All of this brings back bad memories of October 2011 when Google started to hide organic search terms under ‘not provided’ in a bid to protect user privacy.

From a loss in confidence in attribution via third party cookie blocking, to losses in data due to more stringent cookie consent applications, all of this brings with it uncertainty.

But there is some hope in the form of first party data and predictive analytics.

2020 has shown us that there is more money going through online channels than ever before, and wider audiences available than ever before too. One of our biggest growing ad accounts was a client whose target audience is 55+. Mobile-friendly websites alongside Covid restrictions and increased screen time has meant that those who might have seen online as a necessary evil, have enjoyed the freedom, choice, accessibility and time-filling opportunity that purchasing online has brought them.

There are few audience groups who are not online and not purchasing, so while the data that we collect due to cookie preference may be limited, in some client accounts we are actually collecting more visitor data than we ever were before, due to online traffic and purchase increases.


Data Strategy

Data strategy has become more important than it ever was; the wins we’ve noticed this year didn’t necessarily  always come from returning customer nurturing and remarketing campaigns, but rather brand building and developing new customer acquisition strategies. This has definitely paid off, especially as we all adapt to a world where offline has lost its safe, steady predictability – we are starting to see online behaviours mirror this.

We are taking more informed chances, widening our perspectives, and are being faced with new experiences and choices that we didn’t have before. These things are positive for business as it presents us with more opportunity to grow in ways we haven’t thought of before.

If you want a starting point to this – a fresh new outlook and forced new approach to looking at data and customers differently – look to the new Google Analytics – GA4. Although parts of this tool are still in beta, you can dual tag your site and run GA4 alongside your current GA account. The Google Analytics that we know will depreciate at some stage (although not likely during 2021), and GA4 is the best starting point to build or pivot your 2021/2022 data strategy from.

The free availability of BigQuery (previously only available to paying customers) means robust raw user-level data from GA can be used to model gaps in data and to better predict, personalise and optimise the user journey. This, mixed with a re-think of how a user interacts with your site (GA4 is built around an event-driven model), and the introduction of machine learning powered insights to uncover new metrics like churn probability (alongside new data collection controls), make GA4 a good place to start your data analytics journey in 2021!



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