Last updated: July 6, 2022 Cookieless tracking: How marketers can navigate a privacy-first web

Cookieless tracking: How marketers can navigate a privacy-first web


If you’re like most marketers, you’ve grown all too reliant on third-party cookies. However, mounting concerns around data privacy have driven Apple, Mozilla Firefox, and Google to initiate steps to eliminate their use. In fact, with Google now planning to phase out third-party cookies by next year, the need for online cookieless tracking is even greater. 

So, how do you prepare for a cookieless world? And how do you strike a balance between implementing the necessary privacy and security measures while still delivering the personalized user experiences your customers expect? 

No more creep factor: The shift to cookieless tracking

Cookies are really about data. The issue lies in their ability to act like little spies that track your browsing history and details like your location, past purchases, and device type.

But the more information a website can access about a user, the more personalized that user’s experience can be. There are two main types of cookies marketers work with:

  • First-party cookies are created and stored only by the specific website you’re visiting. These aren’t shared with others, and generally speaking, are safe, unless they come from suspicious or compromised websites.  
  • Third-party cookies are created by one website, but then shared with other websites that use the same tracking code. This is where the creepiness factor sets in, because suddenly you can be shown ads on one site for products you previously viewed on other unrelated sites.

Cookies are helpful for marketers because they identify a user and their entire session history, preferences, site behavior, where they’ve been, what they’re looking for, etc. Without cookies, you can still see some of that info — like page view, event, or purchase — but you’ll have no idea who took that action, where they came from, or their previous actions in that particular session. 

Cookieless tracking, also known as anonymous tracking, is different. Instead of storing data in the form of a cookie, this tracking relies on scripts that run when a user visits a web page. Once streaming information and data are captured by the script, it’s then sent to the analytic server for storage as first-party data.

Without the cookies, the user remains completely anonymous, but much of their interactions and behavior can still be seen. This gives marketers the benefit of having some information to help create more relevant user experiences, while still giving back some sense of privacy to the user.

Benefits of anonymous tracking

While cookieless tracking ramps up privacy for consumers, it provides several advantages for marketers:

  1. Privacy and security: Cookieless solutions use server-side tracking; they block cookie-stuffing conditions, thus reducing the risk of affiliate fraud.
  2. Accuracy: Advertisers can still accurately track individual transactions because unique click IDs are generated when a user clicks on a tracking link. 
  3. Mobile tracking: Default browsers in mobile devices like iPhones and Androids will remove cookies automatically. But cookieless solutions allow for efficient and accurate results on all mobile devices.
  4. Cross-device tracking: Precisely attribute users and provide a real-time overview of their browsing journey as they move across devices.

How marketers can move beyond cookies

Marketers are staring at a cookieless future. Instead of living in fear, it’s time to take action. Here are five tips to help you succeed in the new, privacy-first world of marketing.

1. Evaluate your data

What kind of user data are you collecting? Where is it stored? Is it compliant with your local privacy and data regulations, and can you use it for marketing? 

Once you have a grasp on the data you currently have, you’ll know how reliant on third-party data you are, and whether you have enough first-party data to fuel your marketing.  You’ll also be able to identify potential problems with the data, such as:

  • Poor quality or accuracy
  • Lack of consent to use it
  • It’s not unified or stored properly
  • Lack of technology to fully leverage it and turn it into revenue-generating opportunities

2. Lean into contextual advertising

Not all digital advertising requires cookies. Contextual advertising eschews cookies and instead targets relevant audiences using keywords and topics sourced from the content around ad inventory.

This form of advertising doesn’t rely on the user’s demographic info or historical behavior — it relies on context.

The benefit here is that users still see relevant content, because the ads they’re shown are based on their browsing environment. For example, users researching fitness routines might be shown gym equipment or athletic apparel. 

3. Prioritize first-party data

Although the use of third-party cookies is ending, first-party data will remain a stalwart fixture in your 1:1 marketing efforts. In fact, now is the time to double-down on first-party data, and make it a top priority.

First-party data is not only more insightful and accurate than other data sources, but it’s yours — your business captures and collects it, so competitors won’t have it. However, this puts the onus on you and your marketing team to figure out how you’ll collect it, safeguard it, and ensure that it is GDPR and CCPA compliant.

And if you want to deliver personalized customer experiences consistently across all your channels, you’ll want to unify it so you can form a single view of your customer. 

4. Earn customer trust and consent to their data

If you’re committed to prioritizing first-party data going forward, you’ve already positioned yourself well to succeed in a cookieless future. But the majority of that first-party data you want and need must be provided by the customer, and you must get their permission to use it. To do this, you’ll want to clarify your value exchange. 

It’s simple — what will your customers get in exchange for their data? What’s in it for them?

If your customers don’t derive a major benefit, they’re unlikely to give you permission. Let them know that, by sharing and consenting to the use of their data, your business can provide more relevant and personalized experiences.

5. Leverage an omnichannel customer engagement platform

First-party data and zero-party data will be the shining heroes of your 1:1 marketing strategy going forward. But to get the most out of this insight-rich data, you need a customer engagement platform that allows you to fully leverage it. 

First, you need a way to unify, cleanse, de-duplicate, and analyze all of your data to get the most out of it. And unless you’re an expert data analyst, you want a platform that does this for you. As data comes in across your different channels, you need it brought into one single source so you can have a holistic view of your customer.

With this in place, you can start to deliver seamless, relevant 1:1 customer experiences across all your channels in real time.

More privacy, better personalization, more conversions

At the end of the day, we’re all consumers, and we all want our privacy respected. So it’s fair to say that the end of third-party cookies is a good thing. 

However, when you wear your marketer’s hat, you might feel different. The good news is, your marketing can still thrive in a cookieless world.

Focusing on first-party data and having the right technology partner for your customer engagement efforts will ensure you can deliver the highly personalized 1:1 experiences that convert more customers, increase revenue, and improve your overall CX.

No cookies? No problem. Modern marketing starts HERE!

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Kirk Donlan

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