Big changes come to Google Chrome and cookies: 7 things Eloqua users need to know

By Chuck Leddy

Google Chrome 80 is making big changes to cookies that will impact marketers everywhere, including Eloqua users. The changes are consistent with emerging, global trends around providing web users with more transparency and control of how their data (and their cookies) gets used by companies. GDPR and the new California Consumer Privacy Act/CCPA are recent examples of the trend. Google’s changes to Chrome 80 took effect on February 4th of this year. In order to help Eloqua users understand and respond effectively to these changes, we chatted with Adam Mitrosz, managing partner of Sojourn Solutions.

What are cookies, and why are they important for marketers?

A cookie is a small piece of data sent from a website and stored on the user’s computer by the user’s web browser while said user is browsing. Cookies are designed to enable websites to remember useful information (like log-in information) or to record the user’s browsing activity. Cookies are also used to track user/customer behavior for marketing purposes. “Cookies have always been perceived as something between marketing needs and user experience, and there’s always a compromise between security and ease of use,” explains Mitrosz. First-party cookies are specific to the site/domain the user is on, while third-party cookies can cross web sites/domains, enabling more extensive user tracking.

What specifically has Google changed?

Google has changed the way cookies get tracked in Chrome 80, with a special impact on third-party cookies. Chrome will now only deliver cookies with cross-site requests (i.e., third-party cookies) if they are set with `SameSite=None` and ‘Secure.’ As Mitrosz explains it: “If you do not change anything for the existing cookies, your third party cookies will stop working for Chrome. You lose the ability to identify the user. If you do not have first-party cookie tracking already enabled, you will see that something’s happened, but you won’t know who’s doing it. The whole value of reporting gets dramatically decreased.”

Before the change, tracking cookies (first and third-party) was allowed implicitly. As Mitrosz explains it, “if you wanted to track cookies, you could. Now, you have to update that cookie and mark it explicitly with “SameSite” attributes. There’s a new attribute: the cookie now in Chrome has to be set to “none” if you want to use it outside of the domain.” Tracking cookies won’t be enabled automatically anymore in Chrome.

Another area of change is mixed content, which refers to content that uses secure and non-secure resources on a webpage: “mixed content is now explicitly marked as “non-secure” in Chrome. It’s not a warning, but simply a statement,” says Mitrosz. “The content, and the whole website is marked as “not secure” by default, but users also have to consent to that. If users do not consent to the non-secure mixed content, then the website will not work at all.” That’s a great change for users seeking enhanced security, but it’s not so great for marketers seeking to track cookies and customer behavior in Chrome.

Why has Google made the change?

“The Google Chrome 80 change to cookies is part of a global trend to protect end users and be transparent with them about how cookies are being used or tracked, and what kind of cookies,” explains Mitrosz. “Most website users basically know that something’s going on [with tracking cookies], but only in a general way.” Google’s change offers users more information and transparency.

What’s the extent of the change?

“It’s not only Chrome [making these changes in cookies],” explains Mitrosz, “but Firefox isn’t far behind, and then Safari. And let’s not forget that Edge is using Chrome, so it’s actually the same engine. These changes will be hitting other browsers.”

What has Eloqua done in response?

In late January, Eloqua implemented a change to explicitly label cookies with “SameSite = None” and the flag set to “secure” in order to allow third-party tracking in Chrome 80. “That means that third party cookie tracking continues to work, which is good news for marketers.” However, continues Mitrosz, “a side effect of Eloqua’s change is that the cookie has to be reset because you can’t add an attribute without recreating the cookie.” 

What’s the overall impact of Google’s changes on Eloqua users?

It’s big, explains Mitrosz: “all known visitors start from scratch and now appear as unknown. That impacts reporting of activities for Chrome users who have updated their browsers. Roughly 65% of global users are Chrome users.”

For Eloqua users, they could be facing a blackout period in the short-term, where visibility into known users (and thus reporting) gets hindered. But there’s good news too, says Mitrosz: “at some point in the future, Eloqua users can link to the contacts again [and re-establish cookies]. They’d be able to see those “lost” activities retrospectively, but only if they re-connect, which happens when  user clicks through an email that was sent from Eloqua or submits a form, which are the two most common re-connection scenarios.”

What should Eloqua users be doing in response to Google?

Oracle is re-establishing cookies with the SameSite attribute. Marketers do not have to do anything, but the new cookie will not be linked to a known contact. The problem here for marketers is clear: an inability to attribute website behaviors to known contacts.

“It’s important to link that visitor profile with a contact,” says Mitrosz, “and that means any activity that helps increase click through and form submit rates. Now is a really good time to trigger a campaign around say, re-subscription to your newsletters or content, maybe coming up with a piece of attractive content to re-engage your audience, get them to click through to a landing page tracked in Eloqua. If the majority of your audience is not targeted via email and you mostly talk to them through the website, gated forms or progressive profiling forms should be used. Any kind of action that triggers users to enter their email address while submitting a form will allow you to  associate the web visitor with a contact in Eloqua.” When it comes to Chrome, tracking cookies has gotten more complicated for Eloqua users, at least in the short-term.

Reach out to us if you have more questions or concerns about how changes to Google Chrome and cookies impact you, and what to do about it.

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