How Marketers Can Strategize Around Active vs. Passive Intent Users Post-Cookie

By Jon Waterman is the founder and CEO of

Many sectors have felt the stinging effects of a down economy over the past year, none more so than brick and mortar retail, travel, and hospitality. At the onset of the global pandemic, these economic conditions had a heavy impact on the digital marketing industry, which saw revenues decline steeply and forced brands to slash budgets and quickly develop new customer outreach strategies.

While the pandemic undoubtedly did a great deal of damage, many categories are starting to see an uptick in digital ad spend and user acquisition and cost per click rates are starting to slowly rise again. While the industry will rebound as it always has before, this recent period has changed the marketing landscape permanently in some areas. Now, brands are thinking digital-first and starting to break down silos and look for more omnichannel customer experiences.

In a post-COVID world that has accelerated digital transformation, brands and marketers need to cater their strategies around shifting online habits and take advantage of the wealth of quality data around user search behaviors.

Search surges in 2020 amid fast-moving behavioral shifts

In the digital marketing industry, it can be said that when the economy is down then performance goes up. While many feared digital advertising’s revenue numbers were on the verge of falling off a cliff last year, the damage wasn’t nearly as great as some anticipated.

One segment that experienced tremendous growth during COVID-19 has been searching marketing. The search market, which is being heavily driven by an increase in mobile content consumption, saw its 2020 revenue climb by a staggering $20 billion and showing strong performance across all global regions. Put simply, search gives brands a way to diversify their spending, drive better performance, and reach quality customers with high purchasing intent. Understanding the nuances of passive (how users are engaging with things like in-content feeds) versus active intent (where users have specific search activities in mind) can help marketers reach their goals and achieve better ROI.

Driving performance in a post-cookie world

Ever since Google announced its push towards privacy by phasing out third-party cookies, there’s been a “proceed with caution” attitude amongst brands and marketers. The digital advertising industry was built around third-party data, and it remains the primary way to determine intent and track consumer behavior online. It’s continuing to be a scramble across the ad industry to find the right alternatives and solutions.

Brands are being held more accountable today than in the past, forcing a greater reliance on customer data platforms to create a holistic view around user intent. The intent is fully user keyword-driven and doesn’t require third-party cookies to drive user clicks. With cookies going away in 2022, advertisers must double down on user search intent, as well as relying on other metrics that can help them gain buyers and reach last-click customers.

The rise of voice intelligence

The nature of user intent is changing as well, given the increasing number of devices at our disposal. Internet of Things (IoT) and voice-driven technologies are everywhere, with the average American household now having up to 10 connected devices. Platforms like Google Assistant, Siri, and Amazon Alexa are becoming mainstays in our lives, connecting everything we do to the web.

Voice, in particular, is ascending fast as millions of people are now using voice assistants to search for products, brands, and information. Voice-enabled search data gives marketers the ability to plug into search across multiple devices, opening up new in-search data streams that can drive conversions and increase return on investment. As voice capabilities improve, suggestions based on user search queries will enable marketers to remove the guesswork and develop a much deeper understanding of customer insights and purchasing habits.

Where Search is Headed

In the coming years, search-based strategies that are driven by user intent will continue to be a powerful mechanism for marketers. Brands must effectively reach and engage their target audiences and should look to sources such as behavioral search data, AI and statistical models to achieve these goals.

To fully harness the power of search marketing, brands should look beyond just the tech giants like Amazon and Google and leverage strategies built around user-driven intent. The search proved resilient during the pandemic, and in the new first-party focused advertising landscape, it will continue to be a cornerstone strategy for brands to improve conversions, ROI, and reach.

About Jon Waterman, Founder and CEO of

Jon Waterman is the founder and CEO of, an advertising marketplace that helps Fortune 500s and some of the biggest brands acquire new customers outside the major search engines for more than two decades. A serial entrepreneur and pioneer in paid search who founded his first company, WayInternet, Inc. in 1998, Jon brings his digital advertising expertise and vision to’s research and development (R&D) team. Jon holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in Communications from the University of California, Santa Barbara.

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