Internet users may seem open to sharing a significant part of their lives today, but they still value their privacy. In fact, 42% of US users don’t consent to cookie tracking when given the option.
But how do cookies track you? Websites generate texts — otherwise known as cookies — that are stored in your web browser to gather information like:
- Browsing activity
- Time spent on site
- Other personal information
Cookies have been used for a long time, and they allow advertisers to collect data on user behavior stealthily. However, as concerns over privacy grew, it gave way to a new privacy-centric alternative: cookieless tracking.
The Opposite of Cookieless Tracking: What Is Cookie-Based Tracking?
Once you have a basic understanding of what a cookie is, cookie-based tracking doesn’t seem so hard to understand. Essentially, it is just a type of tracking in which cookies are used. The cookies generated collect information from the user, which may then be used for marketing purposes.
Although the circumstances behind the emergence of cookieless tracking lightly imply that cookies are bad, that’s not necessarily true. Cookies have unfortunately been linked to third-party cookies, which you’ll learn more about in the coming subsections.
But what do cookies track exactly? That mainly depends on its classification. For our purposes, you should know about the two main types: first-party and third-party cookies.
First-Party Cookie Tracking
Also known as performance cookies, first-party cookies are seen as pretty harmless and are created by the website itself. What it essentially does is create a file for you when you first visit the website to improve and personalize your experience to some degree.
These are stored by the website as well. So, the next time that you visit the site, they’ll remember what your preferences are. For example, instead of typing your email address every time you want to log in, they can have it in the file so you can proceed to just entering the password. Pretty convenient, right?
Third-Party Cookie Tracking
Most people (and governments) don’t have a problem with performance cookies. After all, all they are meant to do is enhance your experience while using a website. What gave rise to cookieless tracking is 3rd party cookie tracking and its connection with data privacy.
Mainly used for advertising purposes, a website places third-party cookies on the website you’re visiting and essentially follows you and your browsing activity to get a sense of your interests, likes, habits and other information. Understanding you as an online user helps the website using third-party cookies to target and retarget you with relevant ads.
This is what you’ll see phased out to make way for cookieless tracking.
What is Cookieless Tracking?
Cookieless tracking is a method of gathering user information and insights using alternative and more privacy-friendly means that we’ll discuss later on. The need for cookieless tracking is mainly because of two things:
- The user didn’t allow the website to track their information, thus preventing it from storing cookies on the user’s device.
Because of the growing awareness of privacy issues, cookieless tracking is becoming even more popular.
Why is Cookieless Attribution and Data Collection Important?
Cookieless tracking is simply the digital advertising method of the future. However, this isn’t something that happened overnight. We have yet to see the peak of cookieless tracking, but one thing is clear: it happened because, in general, people feel that their privacy has been violated and exploited for money.
There are a variety of factors at play that paved the way for cookieless tracking. We’ll discuss the reasons it has become so important in the following subsections.
More Countries Are Introducing Restrictions on Cookies
The European Union is a very lucrative market for advertisers, but it’s also where GDPR, a privacy and security law considered to be the toughest in the world, exists. This creates a huge incentive for companies to shift their strategies, like cookieless tracking, to adhere to what the law entails.
But it’s not just the European Union. There’s a growing sentiment for the need for stricter privacy measures when browsing the internet. And given what’s happening, it won’t be surprising if other countries make marketers stick to cookieless tracking in the near future.
Major Web Browsers Are Phasing It Out
Third-party cookies are about to be a thing of the past, thus making cookieless tracking more widely used. Right now, there are already privacy-focused browsers that prevent cookies from tracking you around the web. However, you may not need these types of browsers soon, as Google will completely phase out third-party cookies by mid-2024.
It’s not just Google, though. By default, Mozilla Firefox and Apple made cookieless tracking the only option when they blocked third-party cookies. Considering the huge market share that these three hold, cookies will basically become irrelevant.
It Will Be the New Norm for Digital Advertising
Regardless of people’s opinions on it, cookieless tracking is going to be the norm soon. This leaves you with just a few months to create new strategies to implement in the upcoming year. So, now is a great time to get your ducks in a row.
If you want to continue making revenue using various forms of ads, knowing and testing the limits and power of cookieless tracking are necessary. Do you have an existing list of registered users? You may want to experiment right now so you can find your footing even before 2024.
How Does Tracking Without Cookies Work?
Currently, it’s the web browser that stores cookies and collects information. To make the process more privacy-friendly, the tracking happens on the server side. Instead of using cookies, tracking systems generate a unique identifier or fingerprint for each user based on various attributes of their device, such as OS, browser version, screen resolution, language and more. This identifier becomes the basis for tracking user activity.
In addition to device recognition, tracking without cookies may also involve tracking based on IP addresses. It provides information about a user’s approximate location and can be used to track their activity across different sessions or devices.
This way, instead of relying on cookies stored in the user’s browser, cookieless tracking uses local storage features provided by the following tools:
- Event tracking: Events that happen within the site are tracked. This includes form submissions, clicks and views.
- API tracking: Instead of cookies, APIs on third-party platforms are tracked.
- Server log analysis: This analyzes the documented information obtained from a request to access a site.
Then, your server sends the anonymized data to your cookieless tracking tool, providing the information for your customers’ analysis. This procedure makes gathering data more anonymous and transparent for the users without losing valuable data.
How to Implement Cookieless Tracking: Best Practices and Challenges
Creating effective ads will definitely be more difficult without third-party cookies. However, since they will be phased out by browsers pretty soon, you should take this opportunity to set your future campaigns for success using cookieless tracking. There will definitely be challenges because of how easy cookies have made it for advertisers and publishers to gain valuable insights into their target audiences.
Although, you don’t have to start over when you move into a world with cookieless tracking. These practices will still be relevant even without automatic third-party cookies.
At least for now, cookieless tracking isn’t your default option. You can get consent from the user to allow the use of various types of cookies, so you don’t have to do away with them altogether. If you’re operating within areas with strict privacy laws, it’s important to adhere to the current regulations they have in place; for example, GDPR requires you to:
- Clearly define the type of cookies and the kind of information collected
- Store proof of consent from users
Depending on the law, this may extend to any other technology that stores or retrieves information from the user’s device, such as unique identifiers and pixel tags.
Even with cookieless tracking, you can still collect data on the user across various sessions through cross-device tracking. Here, the data collected from various devices are basically aggregated to create a profile of your user’s behavior. You can use either of these to comprehensively perform cross-device tracking:
- Device Graph: This became really popular when people started using smartphones. Although it worked well with third-party cookies, it will still feature limited data from users within a cookieless tracking environment.
- ID Graph: This is a database where cross-device connections of a user are made based on probabilities. It’s most accurate when the device is paired to an account.
User Identification and Segmentation
Because you need to obtain user consent to allow data processing for cookieless tracking, you will no longer have information for everyone in your target audience. This may seem like a bad thing, but this can actually be a great opportunity to study users with a user ID.
Here’s why: users will receive a user ID when they enter the site. This means that everyone with a user ID is a highly valuable asset and is easier to convert. So why not take this opportunity to find what they have in common? This will allow you to reach more of this type of user, and with accurate information from them, you can create clearly defined segments to help you design more personalized strategies.
Cookieless Tracking Solution: Filling the Gap in the Third-Party Cookie Phaseout
Just because third-party cookies are going to be out of the picture doesn’t mean that the work ends for internet marketers. Even with privacy watchdogs limiting the kind of information you can work on, you can still effectively create a wealth of information thanks to various cookieless tracking solutions out there.
From what we have seen, many of the cookieless tracking tool options available now cost money. However, they usually offer a free trial to see whether or not their services will be a good fit for you. So, what can these cookieless tracking solutions do for you? Here are the most common features that you’ll be able to enjoy using these tools.
For regulators around the world, privacy concerns are becoming a more pressing issue. That’s why user anonymity is very important. So, if you’re in the market for a cookieless tracking tool, then you can’t miss this feature.
This ensures that you’re GDPR compliant, thus preventing your campaign or your brand from becoming restricted or incurring penalties from various regulating bodies. But for your purposes, data from cookieless tracking would just be as useful in extracting relevant insights. After all, advertisers usually use aggregate data to make decisions.
User Behavior Tracking
One of the beauties of cookieless tracking is that it expands the focus to qualitative data, which allows you to see from your user’s perspective… literally. Cookieless tracking tools reveal a lot about user behavior in ways that numbers can’t. But here, we’re not just talking about a single tool. We’re referring to a collection of tools that can help you with various insights, like:
- Heatmaps that let you see what site users are looking at;
- Session recordings that allow you to view how an anonymous user is interacting with the page;
- Conversion funnels that help you assess how users are progressing toward a sale.
No Consent Banner
When you visit a site, there’s usually a consent banner at the bottom of the page or disrupting your entire view of the website content. From there, you decide whether or not you’ll allow third-party cookies.
But when using certain tools for cookieless tracking, there may be no need for a consent banner at all since there will be no use of third-party cookies. Meanwhile, first-party cookies will mostly be retained as most sites consider them necessary for maintaining a good experience. A few exceptions for this will be EU countries.
How will cookieless tracking impact advertising measurement and attribution?
Instead of individual user profiles, cookieless tracking will drive advertisers to use aggregate data instead. It will still be useful in creating a general profile on the audience; however, cookieless tracking may make it harder to segment your audience further because you don’t have access to individual-level information.
Why is cookieless tracking becoming more important in digital marketing and advertising?
Third-party cookies are about to be phased out by major players in the internet industry. This leaves cookieless tracking as the only viable option for generating data for digital marketing efforts.
When will cookies go away?
Cookies won’t go away completely. For Google, the only type that’s being phased out are the third-party cookies that track a user across the web, which is set to happen by 2024. Meanwhile, they’re already blocked by default for Mozilla Firefox and Apple.
How does cookieless tracking work with affiliate marketing?
Affiliate marketing programs will still work even with cookieless tracking, thanks to server-to-server tracking. Here, APIs are used to track conversions and clicks so you can still get your commission from the affiliate product or service.
How do major social networks like Facebook implement cookieless tracking?
Facebook cookieless tracking uses conversion APIs so they can share data directly from their servers. In doing so, the giant networks get around not having third-party cookies.
What are some examples of implementing cookieless tracking?
With cookieless tracking tools, you can perform the following:
- Event tracking
- API tracking
- Server log analysis
You can still get so much useful data from these without invading the privacy of your users.
Can every business implement cookieless tracking?
Definitely. If you have a website, one way to implement cookieless tracking is through contextual advertisements. Here, you place ads where they’re related to the content to increase the odds of someone clicking it.
Will cookieless tracking impact user identification and cross-device tracking?
Yes. Cookieless tracking will make the information obtained from the target market more accurate. Because you need consent to get data, you’ll be able to validate that the person you’re tracking is a real user.
Conclusion: Embracing the Era of Cookieless Tracking
It’s been a great run, but unfortunately, it’s all coming to an end. Even though many countries don’t have specific laws or regulations on third-party cookies, major browsers are planning to phase them out by next year, so now is the perfect time to test out the waters and perfect your cookieless tracking and advertising strategies for the years to come.
The transition will be challenging as you introduce yourself to a whole new landscape, but you don’t have to do it alone. If you’re planning to add native ads to your campaign, create an account with MGID today to enjoy expert tools and support so you can get the maximum impact for your campaigns.