Future of SEO In the Absence of Cookies

Other marketing channels are modifying how they measure performance as the end of cookie tracking approaches, and SEO must do the same.

The SEO industry is busily preparing ambivalent and publishing memes on Twitter as third-party cookie tracking is ending.

Since its inception, SEO has had to deal with the absence of cookie tracking.

So, does it matter if the cookie dies?

We’d like to tell you two things, my friends.

The good news is that there is a chance and that this shift has significance.

The bad news is that it won’t be simple.

It requires some cunning and significant resources that you are unlikely to obtain while seated over there in the SEO corner of the office (remote, of course).

What’s The Situation

Marketers’ use of user tracking is becoming more restricted thanks to laws like the EU General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) and the California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA).

The initiative’s justification that users demand more control over their data is only partially valid.

The majority of users only sometimes worry or consider who is tracking them. Unless they try to hide something, it is not a concern that makes people alter their online behaviour.

Most of us favour having transparency and sensible restrictions on what advertisers may track about us and how they can target us. However, I’ve discovered that we typically stop there.

The typical user doesn’t give it much thought, especially considering how quickly and increasingly it becomes technical and specialised.

However, it’s a good thing that these privacy limits are on the way.

Have you observed, for instance, the increase in Google’s delivery of audio-targeted content?

At some point, an experiment in your house.

Introduce a random and specific topic while repeating the keyword or keywords a few times.

It will likely appear in your news feed, advertisements, search results, and strange “suggested” locations.

Freaky? Yes, kind of.

Having laws that place restrictions is probably good, however minimal they may be at this early time.

It’s not particularly new. For years, cookies have been in the spotlight.

For instance, Firefox started to restrict third-party cookies in 2019, and in 2020, Safari did the same thing.

SEO needs to keep up as the transition to a cookieless future gets momentum and places more constraints on digital advertising.

Particularly about the evaluation of channel efficacy, attribution, and, yes, incrementality (there, I said it! ), we need a seat at the table.

The latter is a huge word and challenging to accomplish in SEO.

Models Of Historical Measurement

Analytics toolkits will gradually phase out old measurement approaches that depend on cookies, such as multi-touch attribution (MTA).

Media mix modelling (MMM) and MTA have historically been marketers’ main models.

While MTA is bottom-up, more granular, and dependent on cookies to track sessions and users, MMM is a top-down strategy that often spans multiple years of data.

There is also some significance to the issues with cookies. More recently, they are opt-in only and do not assess cross-device.

But marketers still need to assess their effectiveness, and cookies have proven helpful.

Ideas For Tracking SEO On A Higher Level

To understand how a cookie-free future will affect SEO, use the cleanroom paradigm that other measurement channels have already established.

The truth is that an SEO-specific clean room is unlikely to be constructed. Since SEO doesn’t use first-party data, it is not necessary.

Compared to other channels, the harsh reality of SEO becomes clear at this point. Its measurement won’t result in an organisation’s resources being invested, at least not by itself.

However, you can use other people’s efforts in paid media, for instance, to obtain some intriguing SEO measuring tools.

Combined Attribution

This method looks at a high-frequency indicator, like organic search sessions, and analyses how other media, such as TV ads, affects the channel instead of using individual data.

This kind of analysis sheds light on how SEO satisfies the demand produced by a TV advertisement, an offline campaign, or a display campaign.

Modelling The Modified Media Mix

By attempting to drive organic clicks into media mix modelling (MMM), you will be modifying the results that have already been reported to the organisation, which is a poor use of the measure.

The paid media team would disagree, and the company would be diverted and maybe become mired in attribution disputes.

Instead, we can use the MMM and disregard all media-driven sales. Then, to extract the SEO signal concealed in the base, we can compare SEO clicks to the base sales.

We may also compare SEO clicks with paid media impressions in a model to better comprehend media interaction.

This is more specific than the aggregated attribution approach.

Additional Considerations

The reality of how much teams are prepared to spend monitoring SEO ROI compared to other channels must be balanced.

An excellent tool which is the DMA SEO ROI Calculator can help you to monitor your SEO ROI over time.

Much money flows into the media, encouraging rapid innovation in media mix modelling and attribution for these channels.

For SEO, the same cannot be accurate. However, we must develop sophisticated metrics to assess SEO ROI that aligns with current practices in other channels.

The days of relying on some third-party Semrush charts are long gone, with the possible exception of situations when we are examining competition insights.

Without running the risk of what analytics teams refer to as “collinearity,” or the phenomenon of insights being skewed from data sets that are dependently correlated (i.e., linear) when sliced and diced, it may very well be that existing MMM solutions already have sufficient insights available to them that include owned and earned observations.

Another factor to consider is the possibility that teams may need more funding or necessity for MMM-style complicated modelling. In these situations, Google Analytics 4 and Adobe may provide everything that is required on a fundamental level, with the addition of some SEO testing.


The solution is straightforward but challenging to implement.

SEO as a channel is well known for taking a back seat to media, whether paid search, display, or sponsored social.

Yes, businesses care about and spend on SEO.

However, media dollars will always come first in measurement discussions after all other factors are considered.

Regarding resources from the analytics and data science departments, SEO gets the short end of the stick because resources tend to follow the money.

But it’s not necessary to be.

Gaining insights into the channel requires moving SEO data sets into clean rooms and integrating them with other data sources.

SEO teams must get site analytics data into clean rooms like Google Ads Data Hub (ADH) and others as digital marketers shift toward using them.

SEOs can examine client journeys across paid media impressions, clicks, and site engagement by combining the data (including a tag for the source as an organic search).

Marketers can also move toward an attribution use case to quantify the contribution and incrementality of the SEO channel and its relationship with the other channels in this new environment by adding SEO analytics data to a clean room.

But there’s a tricky catch in this, and it’s challenging because getting support from others is crucial.

This shift from cookies to clean rooms and more traceable solutions has already received considerable attention and funding.

This indicates that resources need to be more active to accommodate SEO. Additionally, only some marketers will be motivated to prioritise SEO over media, particularly regarding issues like attribution and channel performance evaluation.

But effective performance tracking is precisely what we need as SEOs more than ever.

And the cross-channel picture needs SEO’s participation and incremental addition, in particular.

SEO includes managing people and resources while gaining support from the appropriate constituencies to prioritise this effort.

If you can accomplish that, SEO’s worth to the company and contribution will become more apparent to the entire organisation.

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