Two Announcements Promise to Shake Up Search in 2024
Marketers, hold on to your hats, 2024 is off to an interesting start, with a couple of key announcements foreshadowing a volatile year to come.
While many of us were already planning to allocate investments to evergreen trends like video, content quality, creative testing and site speed, it seems that economic forces are positioning AI and privacy-first initiatives to redefine the entire search landscape.
A Digital Diet: Say Goodbye to Third-party Cookies
Upon returning from holiday break, many search marketers were abruptly reminded that the future is now. Officially announced December 14th, Google initiated the rollout of its Chrome Tracking Protection initiative on January 4, 2024.
This new privacy-first “feature” is designed to restrict 3rd-party cookies by default on Google’s Chrome browser, protecting users from unauthorized tracking. According to the announcement, the rollout will begin with 1% of users globally and conclude with the complete restriction of 3P cookies by Q4.
This update should come as no surprise to those of us who endured iOS 14 updates, but represents unwelcome news to advertisers and agencies who are already balancing tight budgets.
Despite the fact that privacy legislation like Europe’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) and the California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA) set privacy standards nearly a decade ago, many advertisers have been leaning hard into 3rd-Party tracking in spite of its impending demise. In fact, according to Statista.com, about 83% of marketers still rely on third-party cookies.
Here is a quick breakdown of the basics and some recommendations for what marketers can do to prepare for Q4.
What are 3rd-Party Cookies?
Cookies are small files that websites place into the cache (temporary memory) on your device (computer, phone, or tablet). 3rd-party cookies generally refer to files designed to track browsing behavior across the web, placed by entities outside the website you are browsing. This type of cookie is undergoing scrutiny in the privacy-first era because users are often unaware that they are being tracked and have limited ability to know who is tracking them.
How are 3rd-Party Cookies Different from 1st-Party Cookies?
Unlike first-party cookies, which are only placed by the website you’re visiting, 3rd-party cookies are placed by a different domain than the one a consumer is visiting. This means 3rd party companies can track your activity across multiple websites, building up a detailed profile of your interests and browsing habits.
What Technologies are being developed to replace 3rd-Party Cookies?
While many experts advise advertisers to develop more robust 1st-party data strategies, tools like contextual targeting, device fingerprinting, Device IDs, and Universal IDs show promise as alternatives to 3rd party cookies.
One drastic example Google is developing is the Privacy Sandbox which keeps user data in the Chrome browser, versus embedded in the user’s device. Advertisers would be able to this data to personalize and track users.
How Should Marketers Prepare?
If your advertising, sales or growth strategies rely heavily upon 3rd-party data for targeting new users, you should consider augmenting your marketing mix with alternative targeting and acquisition methods before Google blocks 3rd-party cookies completely later this year.
We recommend that clients maximize zero & 1st-party data to create a better user experiences. More than ever, eCommerce brands need to build their CRM lists with signup forms, newsletters, and surveys & polls; layered them with automated email flows and tailor those emails to keep trust and engagement high. Cultivated strategically, those lists will be your most valuable asset come holiday 2024.
Eating Organic: Generative AI to Upend SERPs
Just a year ago, I recall opening my inbox to learn about the public release of ChatGPT. In an instant, it seemed that the beta of OpenAI’s flagship Large Language Model (LLM) started a virtual arms race. In short order, Google rushed Bard AI to market and many others followed, saturating the marketing landscape with new tools, tactics and ethical questions.
As we set forth into the new year, the drama behind AI and Generalized Intelligence unfolds in the daily news cycle. Among the most interesting headlines, The Wall Street Journal reports that billionaire Jeff Besos, CEO of Amazon, has invested in Perplexity AI, claiming his stake in the landrace to revolutionize the Search Engine.
At this point, it seems to be anybody’s game, with a host of ambitious investors and engineers aiming to unseat Google at the top of the industry. Meanwhile, Google seems ready to defend its position with Google SGE. All in all, it looks like 2024 is going to be a volatile year for search marketers.
Here are the stakeholders we have our eye on in early January:
Perplexity: Founded by former Google and OpenAI engineers, Perplexity has branded itself as an “answer engine”. The underlying AI reportedly leverages real-time data and an augmented version of Google’s PageRank algorithm to help rank sources for its LLM learning model.
Google SGE: According to statements given by Google, SGE is a search module designed to complement organic results by addressing use cases underserved by traditional SERPs. The technology excels at providing topical overviews, answering follow-up questions and anticipating next steps in a user journey.
Andi Search: Andi Search provides a distinctly different search experience by eliminating complimentary search results altogether. The technology leans heavily into rich media like images and video to complement verified text resources to provide more comprehensive answers to the most nuanced, complex questions. Critics report that Andi seems to have solved the misinformation issues that are commonly associated with other GPT-based products.
Metaphor: Metaphor is described as a “next link prediction” engine that allows for personalization. With an experience similar to traditional search, users select sources (e.g. social media, news, peer-reviewed research) that are most relevant to them and encounter results that are intended to be better aligned to user intent. Ultimately, Metaphor’s competitive advantage may be embedded in its back-end indexing process. They’ve engineered a LLM that doesn’t need to be retrained when new information is introduced.
What is Generative AI?
Generative AI, short for Generative Artificial Intelligence, is a type of AI that creates new, original content. This distinction, differentiates Generative AI from Large Language Models like ChatGPT and Google Bard that analyze and assimilate existing datasets.
What are the risks behind Generative AI?
While some technologists genuinely fear apocalyptic outcomes, issues like plagiarism, bias, and misinformation are more realistic tangents of ethical discussion.
How Should Marketers Prepare?
In the short-term, Google is expected to maintain its position at the top of the industry, but marketers should acknowledge that their market share is drifting. Today they own around 80% of internet searches, down from 90% just three years ago.
We recommend marketers keep a close eye on the features and user experiences each of the above players is testing. Inevitably, we expect that the competitive field will likely assimilate the best user experiences into a relatively homogenous product set and compete on the fringes for market share.
If you invest in the underlying technology (video, image formats, microdata, citations, etc), you may have an opportunity to beat your competition to the punch when Generative AI goes mainstream.