What’s The Future of Cookieless Tracking?

With the ‘Cookieless Future’ looming, many digital marketing teams are starting to ask themselves how they are going to cope without the ability to view and use user data through the use of third-party cookies. While tracking cookies have been a vital part of digital marketing up until now, that doesn’t mean the future is entirely bleak when it comes to effectively tracking website visitor behavior. 

But first things first, what are cookies? Well, put very simply, cookies are pieces of code that allow websites and third parties to track a user’s online activity. 

In internet terms cookies have been around basically forever, and have traditionally been a valuable means of generating a competitive advantage for marketers. They work by collecting insights into website visitor preferences and consumer choices, allowing marketing teams to deliver experiences based on their habits and preferences.   

So what do people mean when they talk about a ‘cookieless future’? Well, they are referring to a time on the imminent horizon when marketers will have to increasingly rely on first-party data. Unlike third-party cookies, first-party data is collected directly by software and systems that a website itself owns, but we’ll get to that. 

First, let’s take a look at the difference between first-party and third-party cookies, why the latter are being phased out, and what impact this is likely to have on digital marketing practices and online behavior tracking in particular.

The Difference Between First-Party and Third-Party Cookies

First-party cookies are added by a website’s publisher directly in order to enable more positive user experience. The browser collects key data points that give insights on how to improve future visits. The type of data usually collected via first-party cookies includes pages visited, items left in a shopping cart, or voluntarily submitted personal information. First-party cookies are also known as session cookies due to the fact that they only track a user's session on the host domain.  

Third party cookies are most commonly used for advertising purposes and, unlike first-party cookies, originate from servers or domains that are separate from the one a user is visiting. They are sometimes referred to as persistent cookies, as the data packets they produce will remain active on a website until an administrator takes them down. In addition to marketing, third-party cookie data collection is also frequently used for services such as live chat, pop-ups from different domains, or buttons from social media platforms.

The Problem With Cookies

While this seismic shift in the digital landscape is primarily being driven by Google’s plan to eliminate third-party cookies in Chrome browsers, the world’s leading internet browser, there are a number of other elements at play. 

One such development that has further restricted access to identifiers traditionally used to associate interactions and offer personalized experiences include Safari’s ITP and consent being imposed on IOS devices. 

Another important factor is that Data privacy laws and regulations are increasingly being put into place across the globe. In time these laws will ultimately prevent advertisers from viewing and utilizing user data through the use of cookies.  

All of this comes as more and more people are awakening to the erosion of online privacy and the fact that their every move online is being tracked through the invasive use of cookies. Indeed, ever greater numbers are now declining to give their consent to data collection and processing activities, with a significant 30-40% now declining to do so when making online purchases in the EU. 

So, with the ability to collect data using cookies quickly becoming a thing of the past, how are tomorrow's marketing teams supposed to track their users' preferences and discover how they are interacting with digital content?

What Is Cookieless Tracking?

The answer you are looking for is ‘cookieless tracking’. Cookieless tracking offers a way to collect visitor insights when a user rejects cookie consent or when cookies are not supported. Instead of a cookie, a cookieless tracking solution enables marketers to track each user who visits a website. These scripts only run when a user visits a particular webpage and so cannot be used to track behavior outside of a given domain. 

Unlike third-party cookies, which have the ability to monitor a user's actions across the web,  cookieless tracking relies on the collection of ‘first-party’ data.  And what is ‘first-party data’? 

Well, first-party data simply refers to information that is collected directly from your audience, whether customers, site visitors, or social media followers. 

Whereas third-party cookies are created by a domain that is separate to the one a user is currently visiting, first-party data is collected directly from the website, and can only be used to track behavior on said website.

Some Advantages of Cookieless Tracking

While the death of third-party cookies may not be something that the majority of marketing teams will be relishing (far from it), there are without a doubt some clear benefits to cookieless tracking. 

These benefits include, but are not restricted to: 

  • The ability to reach users when they’re in the right mindset - With cookieless targeting, you can reach out to visitors based on the content they are currently consuming. 
  • The ability to reach niche audiences - By specifying a topic or set of keywords, cookieless tracking allows you to effectively target highly receptive consumers. 
  • Real-time metrics - Review and optimize your campaigns for maximum performance.  

In addition to the above, cookieless tracking is exceptionally safe and can therefore help you to build trust with your website’s visitors.

What Does a Cookieless Future Mean for Digital Marketing Teams?

This phasing out of third-party cookies will be sure to have a transformative impact on the digital marketing landscape. In this brave new world, marketing teams will be forced to find new ways to deliver targeted advertising to website visitors and measure the effectiveness of online campaigns. 

Some advertisers will certainly have a hard time adjusting, having relied on third-party cookies to accurately target and retarget audiences for such a long time. Organizations that are just a little ahead of the curve can already start looking beyond the immediate drawbacks, however,  and start experiencing the benefits of comprehensive cookieless tracking analytics.  




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