Is Google’s Enhanced Conversion Tracking Worth the Cost?

If your initial response to this question is ‘there is no cost,’ you need to heed this article carefully.

If you’ve watched The Great Hack or read anything about data, data collection, and Customer Retention Management, you know in your bones that data is valuable. In some cases, the data you have on customers is more valuable than all of your inventory. So why in the world would you give it to Google for nothing more than an estimated guess about tracking website engagement?

Google has been pretty stealthy about what Enhanced Conversion tracking gives to Google. They’ve wrapped it up in the EU/UK as a GDPR issue:

Enhanced conversions is a feature that can improve the accuracy of your conversion measurement and unlock more powerful bidding. It supplements your existing conversion tags by sending hashed first party conversion data from your website to Google in a privacy safe way. The feature uses a secure one-way hashing algorithm called SHA256 on your first party customer data, such as email addresses, before sending to Google.

It’s very smart of Google to make this a GDPR issue because that draws attention away from what this really is – a data grab. If privacy had nothing to do with anything, would you just give Google your email lists? To use indiscriminately? (This is not Customer Match.) Particularly if how Google uses the information helps your competitors?

Everybody’s Doing It

The pressure I’ve gotten from Google to move to Enhanced Conversion (EC) tracking is significant. I’ve been running Google Ads/AdWords for over 15 years, and I’ve never gotten more pressure from my various Google account managers ever before.

I am responsible for Google Ads accounts in the UK, Sweden, the Netherlands, and Belgium and I have different account managers in each region. All of them, have set up various calls and sessions with their respective privacy teams to try and convince me to get on board.

The question I’ve asked at every meeting and in every email is this:

If Google can guarantee to me and my clients in writing that the data we provide Google will never be used to enhance ads or offerings from our competitors, we will enable EC. But until Google guarantees that the data we provide will only be used to enhance our ads and offerings to our customers, we will not comply.

This is why EC is unlike Customer Match. Customer Match helps Google to help you reach your own customers and those with similar attributes. The most important point about Customer Match is that it only helps your ads. EC gives Google’s machine learning unfettered access to track behaviour and offer ads strategically from ANY advertiser.

For clients like mine, that sell veterinary healthcare and pharmaceuticals, handing Google our client’s email addresses would be like Google handing us the details of its algorithm.

The fact that Google includes enabling EC as part of the Google Ads account optimisation score is very telling. Linking how we track ad conversions with the quality of the ad is suspect at best.

I use the work-around for drops in optimisation scores so it’s not absolutely insidious, but linking optimisation score to EC is a kind of nagging pressure with short lived consequences. Google needs to learn that ‘no’ means no.

Google’s Data (Land) Grab

Remember Google profits from the click and only the click. Google doesn’t profit from engagement or conversions of any kind.  Google’s most lucrative relationship is with the searcher not the advertiser. Always remember that.

As an advertiser you are a means to an end with Google. Advertisers are not Google’s main priority. This is why Google is so successful. As a searcher, you know this. As an advertiser, it’s easy to lull yourself to sleep believing that Google ‘does no harm’ to advertisers, but deep down, you have to know that Google most definitely uses and manipulates you to serve its end users.

Google is not on an advertiser’s side in this. Google profits from the click no matter which ad is clicked. What Google knows is that the more precision it has when serving ads, the more clicks they get.

The precision they have found with gmail user behaviour is unfathomable, and while Google has made it difficult to use search without being signed in to a gmail account, there’s still a significant amount of non-gmail users out there.

For advertisers who gather email addresses for promotional purposes, this may not be a big deal to them. If there are many people like me, I use my gmail for exactly this purpose, if for no other reason than Google’s ability to filter out promotional emails from primary ones.  

For businesses like my clients, email addresses are required to ensure the efficacy and safety of their veterinarian’s prescriptions. Most of those email addresses are not gmail, which makes them even more valuable to Google – and that makes me more determined to ensure that Google won’t get that access for free.

Imagine how lucrative it will be for Google to get machine learning behavioural access to every email address in the world…Imagine that Google is able to leverage even one more click per searcher per day based on precision ad serving. Imagine how much additional revenue that is per day. 

Look This Gift Horse in the Mouth (It Has No Teeth)

This is not a privacy issue. This is a land grab by Google, and it might just work.

All they’ve had to offer advertisers to achieve this goal is better attribution modelling – attribution modelling that Google doesn’t even claim to be accurate.

If you’re using an agency, make sure they haven’t  already opted in to EC without running it by you. If your agency is only thinking of this as a privacy issue, they may have already given away the goods. Since Google is selling EC as a way of getting better attribution modelling for PPC, the agency has a vested interest in giving Google the goods – which might be part of what Google is banking on.