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  • Marc Primo Warren

Navigating SEO without the benefit of cookies

This is an article ‘Navigating SEO without the benefit of cookies’ by Marc Primo Warren

We all know that the SEO industry is busy preparing for the end of third-party cookie tracking. Most practitioners still fail to grasp how on-and off-page optimization strategies can still do much in analytics, even with the advent of such disruptions. The complicated truth, though, is that it will not be easy.

With international regulators such as the EU General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) and the California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA) imposing new laws restricting how marketers track data, most SEO practitioners still believe that users simply demand more control over the information they share online. Still, the majority of people are more worried about not knowing who gets hold of their data. But less change to none at all in online behavior was evident for those with nothing to hide.

The need for a cookieless future

Most of us favor transparency and sensible restrictions on what advertisers may track about us and how they can directly interact with us. However, it's always good to keep third-party cookie trackers at bay even if typical users don't give it much thought, despite how targeting has been more technical and specialized in recent years.

More have increasingly noticed how specific keywords we use daily seem to unleash a torrent of ads on our social media feeds. The situation makes the new restrictions helpful in keeping our data private. Still, SEO needs to keep up as the transition to a cookie-free future gains momentum and places more constraints on digital advertising.

Analytics tools and platforms will gradually phase out old measurement approaches, especially for those that depend on cookies, such as multi-touch attribution (MTA). Media mix modeling (MMM) and MTA have historically been the two main models employed by SEO marketers in tracking data. While MTA is reliable yet more dependent on cookies to track sessions and users, MMM is a primary strategy that often churns a user's long-term historical data.

Today, most cookies collected are opt-in only and do not assess cross-device data. Yet, marketers can still measure performance with what they can collect from available cookies. Most SEO practitioners can't deny that more SEO-specific platforms like Google Ads Data Hub (ADH) are unlikely to be introduced since their strategies don't use first-party data.

Compared to other platforms, the harsh reality of SEO becomes clear at this point. Its measurement won't result in how companies should invest more resources for such tasks – at least not entirely for SEO. However, marketers can use other people's efforts in media advertising, for instance, to obtain some helpful SEO measuring tools.

Various cookie-free strategies for SEO

Resorting to aggregated attribution methods steers marketers to high-frequency indicators such as organic search sessions. It analyzes how other media, such as television ads, affects the channel instead of using individual data. This analysis sheds light on how SEO can satisfy the demand produced by a television ad, an offline campaign, or a display campaign.

In reviewing analytics via modified media mix models (MMM), markets can modify results previously reported to drive organic clicks to the site. The problem is that you might not be dealing with accurate data anymore, considering the organization has already changed the results. Such a metric does not fare well for a search engine marketing (SEM) campaign for paid ads and can get companies into attribution disputes.

What marketers can make use of with MMMs is how they can disregard all of the media-driven sales and extract the SEO signals by comparing SEO clicks to the core revenues. To better appreciate media interaction, marketers may compare SEO clicks with paid advertising impressions in a model, which is a more specific strategy than a consolidated attribution method.

More SEO tactics to consider

The issue for most companies is how they should still prepare to cut a slice in their marketing budgets to monitor the ROI of SEO and balance it compared to other marketing strategies. Undeniably, a considerable sum is flowing into media strategies and campaigns today, which encourages more tech advancements in media mix modeling and attribution for such platforms. However, more companies need to develop more sophisticated metrics to assess the viability of SEO data tracking for organic campaigns that align with current paid ads practices.

While using such tools as Semrush may no longer help marketers with third-party charts and analytics, they can still examine competition insights without running the risk of collinearity – the results of skewed insights from sliced and diced data sets. It's pretty easy to assume that existing MMM tactics already have sufficient insights available to SEO marketers, including owned and earned observations.

Another factor to consider is the possibility that companies may not have the necessary resources or funding for MMM-style complicated modeling. In these situations, Google Analytics 4 and Adobe Campaign are viable platforms that may provide everything they need to operate on a fundamental level, with the addition of some essential SEO testing.

Onward the practice of SEO

While most marketers take SEO campaigns as organic options to market brands behind paid ads, display, and social campaigns, there is still no denying how invaluable their results are to a business in broadened reach, consideration, and conversion.

Gaining helpful consumer insights into the channel requires moving SEO data sets into integrated and consolidated data sources. SEO marketers must get website analytics into these hubs as they would for clean rooms such as Google Ads Data Hub (ADH), and other marketers shift toward utilizing such platforms. Such strategies can still draw up clear and coherent customer journeys across paid media impressions, clicks, and site engagement by combining data and tags for sources in organic searches.

Marketers can also move toward an attribution use case to quantify the impact and positive results of such SEO models and their links with the other channels. With a cookie-free future underway, adding SEO analytics data to an integrated clean room paves the way for more trackable solutions.

Most marketers won't be motivated to prioritize SEO over paid media campaigns, particularly regarding attribution and channel performance evaluation. However, effective performance tracking is precisely what we need in this new age of SEO. Only when we achieve a cross-channel picture that involves incremental data additions via cookieless approaches can we realize better navigation through more efficient platforms and channels.

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