Cookie Consent in SEO (and Analytics Without Cookies Consent)
You may have heard about something called cookie consent in SEO. Cookie consent could have implications for Google Analytics and traffic data for marketers.
But first, what are Cookies?
Cookies are essentially saved snippets of data from the web. They are stored in your browser and allow a site to remember bits of information between pages or visits. They contain small pieces of data that are exchanged between a user’s device and a web server to identify them and improve their browsing experience.
The Cookie Law and GDPR:
The ePrivacy Directive, or European Union Cookie Law, states that no cookies or trackers can be placed without consent from the user. It mainly covers what websites and companies can do with your digital data and what they can and can’t do without your consent. The Cookie Law itself mainly deals with cookies, data retention and unsolicited emailing.
Although it’s nicknamed the “cookie law,” it’s not actually a law but a directive passed in 2002 that each country in the EU was required to adopt and implement in their own way.
The General Data Protection Regulation, or GDPR, is a privacy and security law in the EU that imposes obligations onto websites that are targeting or collecting data related to people in the EU. The GDPR was established in May of 2018 to protect user’s online privacy now that most people are entrusting their personal data with online services. This regulation is an actual EU law that applies automatically to all EU countries and focuses on data protection regardless of the type of data.
Although this law started as a European Union Directive, other countries – including the United States – updated their own laws to comply. Essentially all websites owned in the EU or targeted toward citizens of the EU must comply with the GDPR.
Later on, California’s Consumer Privacy Act (or CCPA) would also get thrown into the mix. This law was similar to the GDPR and would require businesses to let individuals know what sort of data they are collecting, delete personal data upon request, or allow people to opt-out of having their private data sold.
For businesses that own websites, all this means making sure that your site complies with the law by using cookie consent forms on your site. Non-compliance, or collecting data without using a cookie consent form, can result in potential fines.
But what does cookie consent mean for analytics? Marketers and business might find that Google Analytics without cookie consents makes understanding their site traffic far more complicated.
Cookie consent and SEO
For many, when the regulations for tracking were first implemented there was worry about the effects of cookie consent on SEO. Unlike paid ads which rely heavily on user information for targeting, SEO is already working on targeting a specific audience organically so there is little different in your strategy. There are some affects on Analytics tracking but we will cover that later on.
Will Cookie Consent Hurt Search Rankings?
The short answer is no.
Including a cookie-consent request pop-up won’t hurt your SEO. There’s no area of search engine optimization where cookies are regarded as a ranking signal by Google or Bing.
Although having too many intrusive interstitials has the potential to harm rankings, cookie consent pop-ups do not have a direct impact on rankings. Google knows what the pop-up is and that it is necessary by law in the U.S. It is also important to note that these pop-ups do not increase rankings as well because they are not a ranking factor of Google’s. When Google imposed rules about “intrusive interstitials” in 2017, they specifically mentioned that important requests like cookie consents would not be negatively impacting for website search performance.
Also remember that a screen-dominating pop-up is not necessary. A lot of sites will put a consent form in as a footer at the bottom of the page, so it does not intrude on the user’s experience as much.
Personalization in the SERP
This isn’t related to the cookie consent that websites themselves might be required to ask, but it’s another area where extra cookie-less private browsing can have an impact on search.
This also includes personalization for organic search results. Google typically pushes people into queries related to prior searches, location, time and more. Any search can be personalized based on a user’s history as long as they accept cookies. All this means that paid-search ads can also be hampered users searching without history or without browser cookies as remarketing strategies rely on cookies to work.
If a user declines, the search is depersonalized. For websites targeting broad, less specific queries tend to benefit, however sites that rely on local, more specific queries, it can be a bit more difficult to reach those users.
Regardless, when it comes to search, it can be done completely anonymously using incognito or private browsers. Aside from personalization, search does not necessarily need cookies to provide great results for users. Making sure to optimize the pages on your site is important for being competitive in the SERP whether a user consents to cookies or not.
Targeting User Intent
Without the ability to target users with personalize ads, marketers must work hard to target user intent with content. For SEO this means writing content that actually matches what the users want that can be found in the SERP.
Since cookie consent in SEO means that it might be harder to track browsing habits, marketers may have to rely on other strategies. Crafting content tailored to search intent and visitor needs means getting back to the human element in your marketing.
Writing relevant, user-friendly content is important for Google rankings but it is also important for reaching users. If you are writing content for Google and not for users, now would be the time to change your strategy and start creating content that users are looking for. This is one specific area where focusing on search optimization can help or why hiring an SEO company can give you better search results despite hindrances from cookie laws. Search engine optimization means you will be able to get professional keyword research, and striking distance optimization for better page #1 rankings based on keywords that are accurate for your business.
Focusing on the intent of search keywords for marketers means being able to get better click-through-rate in Google or Bing and better conversion rate from visitors that know what they want.
Cookie consent and analytics
Cookie consent in SEO has big implication for the way it affects Google Analytics data.
There are several Google Analytics advanced features that rely on personal and third-party data including display features, demographics, User IDs, remarketing features and more. Analytics cookies are also critical for being able to track “sessions” where users might visit a domain multiple times in a certain time frame. These features are designed to bring you personal data on your users within Google Analytics, and some of them allow you to see specific activity for individual users.
Under GDPR you cannot collect some of this data without user consent. Although this data is important for marketers and helps enhance your Analytics tracking, the bottom line is Analytics without cookie consent equals no personal tracking. There are various types of cookie consent software, but many work by delaying tracking scripts until consent is obtained from the visitor.
When cookie consent first began, some sites noticed dips in traffic most likely associated with their cookie pop-ups. Now that almost every site should have cookie consent forms, there is likely to be little difference in your Analytics data with the exception of tracking changes. It is expected that anytime you implement a change in tracking, you be aware of potential effects in Analytics.
The standard Google Analytics set up doesn’t collect very much personal data, but it does record personal information. The data collected is enough to fall under GDPR rules for users in the European Economic Area. Included in this data are user IP addresses, and although you cannot see IPs in Analytics, your account still collects this data for your Geo reports, service provider reports and lets you filter reports by entering IP addresses. You also have the option to anonymizes user’s IP addresses by adding a function to your Analytics tracking code in Google Tag Manager to make it GDPR compliant.
Advanced Google Analytics installations track many forms of personal and third-party data. With advanced installations, you can track demographics, display features, user IDs, custom dimensions and more but if you want to track this data you should be asking for consent.
Because holding onto data indefinitely puts Google and other websites at risk of violating the GDPR, Google has all personal user data expire 26 months after being collected. This data includes demographics and affinities but does not include things like sessions and goal completions.
Google also allows site owners to change the default 26 months to something else using data retention controls. You can change it back to “do not automatically expire,” however, this puts the risk on you rather than Google.
If you decide to take this route with cookie consent in Analytics, you need to take the steps to ensure that data is not recorded anywhere else other than Analytics. On the other hand, if you do not collect personal data, then you do not need to ask permission to track visitors anonymously. Essentially if the data your collecting is not user specific, you do not need consent.
When it comes to cookie consent and Analytics, it is always best to ensure your tracking is GDPR or CCPA compliant.
Getting useful data without cookie consent
Now that some cookie consent laws have been around for a while, businesses using Google Analytics have had time to adjust.
Google has adjusted its Analytics tools be more compliant with initiatives like CCPA and the GDPR. But in some cases, if users reject cookies used for analytics it still means they could be left out of your Google Analytics data. Google operates as a data processor for Google Analytics, which acts as a data processor under GDPR. Under the CCPA, Google just acts as a “service provider” for its users.
Businesses using the default reports Google Analytics may face fewer issues than those with custom reports or campaigns that might rely using data. The aggregated data is a more general representation of the browsing data Analytics normally receives and isn’t as affected by GDPR or the CCPA.
This means that aggregated data reports like audience reports, acquisition reports, behavior reports, and conversion reports are still reliable.
You can also use Google’s Search Console to get a sense of traffic.
You can use Search Console to get insight on how Google understands your site and on indexing status. You can also use Search Console for tracking clicks to the sites, which can act as a very approximate measurement for traffic. What’s more you can see click data for individual search queries, along with click-through-rate (CTR) which means you can understand which keywords perform the best on “user intent.”
Contact us to learn more about cookie consent in SEO and how to get a better understanding of your business using Google Analytics, even without cookie consent. Our SEM agency offers services to help you grow business online.