Google Ads: Privacy and Enhanced Conversions

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Goodbye Cookies, Hello Enhanced Conversions 

Cookies are out for good– what does that mean for advertisers? Data is a vital part of Google Ads success. To respect consumer privacy and still give advertisers the stats they need to run successful campaigns, Google introduced Enhanced Conversions. In this post, we’re going to cover what they are, why you should use them, and how to get started (with pro tips). 

Despite Google announcing the plan to phase out third-party cookies back in January 2020, data privacy concerns are going strong. 

As of 2021, 46% of consumers felt unable to protect their data. This significant level of concern can impact the way consumers engage with advertisements. Consumers are more aware of their online privacy than ever before, and that awareness is impacting purchase decisions. 

Advertisers who wish to quell concerns and gain their audience’s trust can take steps to be more transparent. For example, 84% of consumers would be more likely to trust a company that allows them to limit how their data is shared with third parties. 

Google is responding by permanently phasing out third-party cookies and filling their absence with a new feature called Enhanced Conversions. Using Enhanced Conversions is key to regaining trust and creating successful campaigns in 2023 and beyond. 

What’s Happening to Cookies?

Once third-party cookies are phased out, they’ll be gone for good. Currently, they’re set to be completely phased out of Chrome by 2024. Google has no intention of building or using any alternate identifiers for covert tracking once cookies are completely phased out. 

Google introduced Enhanced Conversions to compensate for the loss of data. The decision was supported by the idea that personally identifiable information (PII) graphs used by other providers will not meet consumer and regulatory privacy expectations.

PII graphs are vulnerable to data breaches and unauthorized access. Additionally, their complex nature keeps consumers from understanding how their data is used and shared. 

The chosen alternative uses privacy-preserving APIs that prevent individual tracking while producing the data advertisers need to run successful campaigns. 

With technology like differential privacy, aggregation, anonymization/k-anonymity, and on-device processing, Google no longer needs individual identifiers. 

Aggregation condenses multiple data points into one generic data set. This lowers the amount of personal information used, showing advertisers trends and patterns without exposing single data points.

Anonymization scrubs PII from data sets to prevent the data from being linked to an individual consumer.

On-device processing uses the processing power and data storage on a user’s device (instead of Google’s server) for data analysis and machine learning. This eliminates any risk of a breach during data transfer.

Differential privacy adds noise/random perturbations to a data set to enable statistical analysis without identifying any sensitive information about a specific person in the data set. 

K-anonymity protects user privacy by ensuring that there are at least k number of individuals that share characteristics within a group. This anonymity measuring tool makes it difficult for data to be linked to a specific individual. 

What are Enhanced Conversions?

Google Enhanced Conversions is a feature that improves the accuracy of conversion data while protecting consumer privacy. It works by supplementing existing conversion tags with hashed first-party conversion data from your site. This produces a secure, one-way hashing algorithm that encrypts all first-party data before it is sent to Google. 

The new feature manages to enable better campaign visibility while protecting consumer privacy. Google adds user data from the website to existing tracking tags. The supplemental data allows encrypted personal information (like contact information, for example) to be matched with business records for accurate attribution data.

Basically, Google gathers whatever data the conversion produced, stores it, and uses it for more accurate, advanced consumer matching.

Consumer data collected when a user converts on your website is hashed– aka turned into a set of characters according to the SHA 256 algorithm. That data matches the consumer’s Google account, tying conversions to ads and gathering audience insights that will enhance future conversion reporting. 

You can still view campaign impact and track conversions across multiple devices and emails, but this feature lets you do that without violating consumer privacy.

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Why use Enhanced Conversions? 

Relevant advertising and consumer privacy are not mutually exclusive. Google is keeping relevant advertising available to consumers and digital advertising performance benefits available to advertisers, all without the need to track individual consumers.

Increasing privacy concerns, regulations like the California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA), and Apple’s introduction of iOS 15 are just a few reasons your ads could be underperforming. The shift away from third-party cookies led many platforms to gather first-party data. Enhanced Conversions responds to concerns by matching encrypted first-party data with campaign data, even if conversion actions were taken on multiple devices.

Users can control what data is shared and how it is used in their Web and App Activity settings. All data is encrypted via the SHA 256 formula, which limits access to Google. 

Because Enhanced Conversions offer a more detailed look at which ads perform best, advertisers can use the feature to inform future campaign decisions and boost their overall ROI. The feature lets you see what actions users are taking on your website at a more granular level. 

Google clients who spend on search experienced a 5% median increase in reported conversion rates. Clients who spend on YouTube for Action experienced a 12% increase in reported conversion rates. 

Overall, Google data shows enhanced conversions result in higher reported conversions, lower cost per acquisition (CPA), and higher return on ad spend (ROAS).

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  • ROI: tracking conversion rates with Enhanced conversions reveals what your ads are actually producing. You can see whether your investment of money and time earns its keep.
  • Smart Bidding: Enhanced Conversions enable further utilization of smart bidding strategies. Together, they can help you automatically optimize campaigns to meet conversion objectives.
  • Customer journey mapping: By capturing the path customers take prior to converting, Enhanced Conversions reveal how users behave across multiple devices, browsers, and email accounts.

Tracking without Enhanced Conversions

While tracking conversion data is possible without Enhanced Conversions, choosing not to use the feature means you’ll only see how many clicks your ad got and how many users opened your website. 

This limited amount of information makes it difficult to assess ad performance and optimize accordingly. You will not be able to see how many ad clicks lead to conversions. Any efforts you make to adjust your ad performance will be blind, as you can’t see any data on how each ad impacts conversions. 

Consent Mode

Because 76% of website visitors ignore consent banners, advertisers may receive less conversion data in their Google Ads accounts when requiring user consent to use cookies.

Consent Mode improves data accuracy by enabling conversion modeling to recover conversions lost to user consent choices.

According to Google’s data, using Consent Mode increases conversion rates by recovering over 70% of ad-click to conversion journeys lost. 

Without Consent Mode, unknown consent can lead to limited data and a low number of reported conversions. With Consent Mode turned on, users receive a cookie settings popup after clicking an ad. If they reject cookies, Google reports modeled conversions. If they accept, the conversion is reported as normal. 

Total number of conversions = modeled conversions + observed conversions. 

What to do first?

  • Use first-party tagging to collect data, generate insights, and tailor channel experiences. Do this by utilizing Global Site Tag, Enhanced Conversions, and Consent Mode (for EMEA users). 
  • If you don’t qualify for Enhanced Conversions, then go straight to Consent Mode. 
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How to use Enhanced Conversions?

Enhanced Conversions is currently in beta, which means some accounts have it and some don’t. When you get the feature, you have to set up conversion tracking to use it. Google also requires you to remain compliant with relevant regulations and detail how you collect data through a privacy policy on your website.

Install Enhanced Conversions Manually 

Setting up Enhanced Conversions starts with identifying what actions you want to track (ie whatever you classify as a conversion). Next, add a conversion tracking tag to the pages where users will convert. That tag will send conversion data to Google as users convert. 

In your Google Ads account, you’ll see how many conversions each ad generates, as well as their value. Analyze this data to optimize future ads. 

Because this feature tracks conversions by the action, it allows advertisers to gauge how close ads are to reaching specific objectives.


  1. Sign into Google Ads
  2. Click the tools icon, then select Conversions in the Measurement dropdown menu.
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  1. Open the conversions action you want to use
  2. Click “Turn on enhanced conversions” in the “Enhanced conversions” section at the bottom of the page. 
  3. Select “Google tag or Google Tag Manager”. 
  4. Agree to the compliance statement. 
  5. Click “Check URL” to check your website for a Google tag. 
  6. The tag type should default to “Google Tag Manager”. If you used Google Tag Manager to set up your website tags, this is what you must use to set up enhanced conversions. 
  7. When it comes time to set up enhanced conversions, you have three methods to choose from:
  • If available, use automatic collection. 
  • If not, you’ll have to use manual configuration with CSS selectors or existing data layer variables. This method does not require code changes and is recommended for those who can’t use automatic.  
  • Lastly, you can use the code method to send all data in a single data object. This method uses javascript variables on your conversion page and works as long as your customer data is defined in global Javascript variables on your conversion page. Choose this method if:
  • You prefer passing the information using Javascript variables
  • Customer data is not available on your conversion page
  • You change your site formatting often (this method is most resilient to code changes).

Tips to remember

  • Know what conversion page URL the conversion tag fires on
  • Make sure the page where the conversion tracking tag fires has first-party customer data available
  • Have your development team on standby, as implementation may require code changes and knowledge of how conversion tracking is set up on your website. 
  • APIs allow hashed first-party data to be sent up to 24 hours after the conversion occurs, which allows the locating of data from a CRM or database as well.  
  • Google Ads tracking codes must be updated on every page of your site, either through a conversion linker tag in Google Tag Manager that fires on the All Pages trigger, a Global Site Tag configured for Google Ads tracking on every page, or a current remarketing tag on every page. 

Enhanced Conversions requires up to 75 days of training before it shows an impact on analytics reports. During that training period, its status appears as “Recording (processing enhanced conversions)”. 

Once Enhanced Conversions are included in reporting, you can hover over the tracking status to see an impact breakdown with the percentage of reported conversions tracked through Enhanced Conversions, grouped by campaign. That impact breakdown disappears after 30 days. 

Privacy Sandbox

The Privacy Sandbox is currently developing APIs to show relevant content and ads, measure digital ads, and strengthen cross-site privacy boundaries without sacrificing consumer privacy. 

Topics API is a newly proposed cookie-tracking algorithm. It works in the consumer’s browser, classifying them according to a set of high-level interest groups. This tool replaced FLoC, improving upon the previous solution’s lack of transparency and security risks. 

Topic API has the consumer’s web browser determine the number of topics that represent their interests in a week. Topics are kept for three weeks and are chosen entirely on the consumer’s device, involving no external servers. When a consumer visits a Google Topics API-enabled website, the tool will choose three topics from the last three weeks to share with the website and its advertisers. Topics API learns only one topic per week (requires less data), then distributes each topic to many users with common interests. 

Chrome offers user controls for consumers to view and edit their topics. Topics are curated to exclude sensitive demographic categories. Ultimately, Topics API means businesses can serve relevant advertisements without tracking methods like browser fingerprinting. 

Federated Learning of Cohorts (FLoC) was part of Google’s Privacy Sandbox initiative. Using federated learning, this technology enabled multiple devices to work together to improve machine learning models without sharing raw data. It grouped users into cohorts according to their browsing history. It was created so that advertisers could use the cohorts (topics of interest) to deliver targeted ads without collecting personal information. 

FLoC didn’t stand the test of time, partly because it did not safeguard consumers against browser fingerprinting. Additionally, FLoC’s machine learning cohorts grouped users based on sensitive demographics. 

Topics API groups users into a transparent set of topics curated by actual humans. Users and website owners can choose to opt-out. Google Topics API also makes interest targeting more intuitive, whereas FLoC IDs required data science to be of use.

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First-party Relationships are more Vital than ever 

Consumer relationships are critical in a privacy-first world. Google supports these relationships on ad platforms for partners by providing direct connections with their own customers. These solutions will continue to grow as direct relationships between consumers and brands become more crucial.

To remain competitive as privacy regulations and advertising platforms evolve, advertisers must prioritize collecting more first-party data using strategies like email marketing, social media, mobile apps, and surveys.

Most importantly, advertisers must stay up-to-date with the latest best practices as Google’s suite of tools evolves. 

Our paid media management platform brings all your cross-channel advertising efforts into one place.

For help with your advertising strategy, and to learn how Google Ads Enhanced Conversions could affect the future of your marketing efforts, set up a free consultation with a Marin marketing expert today.