Without a doubt, there has been a shift in digital marketing as we know it. Third-party cookies have played a critical role in online marketing over the last ten years. However, data privacy is becoming ever-more important in the digital age. Google is now phasing out third-party cookies within the next year, and the need for online, cookieless tracking is imminent. 

Rest assured, there is still time to prepare for a cookieless world. 

For marketers, the key is to find a balance between having the necessary privacy and security measures in place while still delivering a personalized user experience. This post will explore the topic of cookieless/anonymous tracking and provide marketers with tips for navigating a cookieless future.

What is Cookie-based Tracking?

Cookie-based tracking is when a web browser stores a cookie, a small text file, on a user’s computer to track the individual’s activity online. Cookie-based tracking monitors a user’s browsing activity and tracks their IP addresses to collect data specific to the user. Typically, this information is leveraged for targeted marketing and advertising, but cookie-based tracking doesn’t have the best reputation in terms of privacy. 

For example, when you choose to keep yourself logged into a particular website for future visits, your browser will store a cookie onto your computer. The website can in turn interact with and keep track of your preferences for the future, which sounds great. However, cookie-based tracking does not come without privacy concerns.

Are Cookies Bad?

Cookies themselves aren’t harmful because the data in cookies doesn’t change. Cookies can’t infect computers with viruses or malware. The real danger lies in their ability to track individuals’ browsing histories and information like location, purchase history, and device type. As such, some cookies may pose a threat, depending on where they come from and how they’re used. Let’s discuss.

  • First-party cookies are directly created by the website an individual is using. Generally speaking, they are safe as long as you are browsing reputable and uncompromised websites.  
  • Third-party cookies are more concerning because they are generated by websites that are different from the ones the web users are currently using and are typically linked to the ads that are on that particular page. When a user visits a site with five ads, this may generate five cookies even when the users never click on those ads. 
  • Zombie cookies are more threatening because they come from a third party and are permanently installed onto users’ computers even when users choose not to install cookies. Zombie cookies also can reappear after they are deleted. These cookies are typically used by web analytics companies to keep track of unique visitors’ browsing histories and ban specific users. 

What is Cookieless/Anonymous Tracking and Why is it Important?

Traditionally, search engines rely on cookies to gather together sessions and user information (such as user demographics, attribution, purchase funnel). Without cookies, you can see the action that was taken (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 utilizes scripts that run when a user visits a web page. Once streaming information and data are captured by the script, it is then sent to the analytic server for storage instead of being stored in a cookie on the user’s browser device. When cookies are taken out of the equation, the user remains completely anonymous, but you can still see their interactions on your website. 

The demand for online privacy is at an all-time high and is becoming a key concern for users all around the world. The old method of collecting behavioral data and user information via cookies as we browse needs to change. That’s why major platforms such as Google, Microsoft, Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn are slowly shifting away from cookies. With third-party cookies phasing out, we are truly reaching the end of an era and cookieless tracking is becoming more important than ever. 

Here are just some of the benefits of cookieless tracking:

  • Privacy and Security: Since cookieless solutions utilize server-side tracking, they block cookie-stuffing conditions, thus reducing the risk of affiliate frauds.
  • Accuracy: Advertisers can accurately track individual transactions because cookieless solutions generate unique click IDs when a user clicks on a tracking link. 
  • Mobile Tracking: Numerous mobile devices, like iPhones and Androids, have default browsers that remove cookies automatically. For that reason, cookieless solutions enable efficient and accurate results on all mobile devices.
  • Cross-device Tracking: Regardless of the device that users are on (mobile, desktop, laptop, tablet, etc.), cookieless tracking precisely attributes them and provides a real-time overview of their browsing journey.

How Can E-Commerce Marketers Navigate a Cookieless Future?

Here are 4 tips on how you can successfully navigate a cookieless future in e-commerce

1. Map out what information you currently collect about your users

It is important to map out what data you collect, where it’s stored, and whether or not it can be used for marketing purposes. When you have a grasp on where you currently rely on third-party cookies and what first-party information you have available, you can holistically see where there will be gaps in the future. This gives you a lot more time to resolve those issues.

2. Leverage contextual advertising

Contextual advertising doesn’t require cookies because it targets relevant audiences using keywords and topics sourced from the content around ad inventory. With contextual advertising, the ads that users see are dependent on the content they are looking at. For example, when users are looking at different dinner recipes, they’ll see ads for cooking utensils or other food-related ads. 

Contextual advertising enables ads to resonate better with consumers and therefore improves purchase intent because it’s more relevant to their current situation. This enables digital marketers to foster a real and authentic connection with consumers in the right place at the right time. 

You can also take advantage of an engagement platform that gives you access to unified customer profiles and lifecycle segments to deliver one-to-one personalization.

3. Shift your focus to first-party data

Third-party cookies may be phasing out, but first-party data is here to stay. A lot of what you will read about third-party cookies will typically discuss the need to shift gears towards leveraging and focusing on first-party data because it will only increase in value. It is now more important than ever to ensure your data collection methods for first-party data are GDPR and CCPA compliant. You can start by using your website analytics and insights to understand your audiences. Then, you can A/B test new audiences with offers as part of ad targeting within ad platforms, like Google Ad Manager or Facebook ads.

4. Leverage a customer engagement platform

First-party data is going to be the biggest ally for marketers in the rapidly approaching cookieless future. To ensure that you maintain GDPR compliance and good standing with your customers in terms of privacy, it’s important to leverage an end-to-end customer engagement platform. This tool will help you unify all cross-channel customer information and make it easy to collect, analyze, and act on all of that data to effectively attract customers and purchases.

Final Thoughts

As users begin to delete cookies and major platforms begin to focus on digital privacy, marketers are no longer relying on cookies for their strategies. For that reason, cookieless tracking is becoming a major focus for marketers. Cookieless tracking enables you to see what actions are taken by users, what purchases they make, and what pages they interact with the most. Even though it’s not the same amount of data you are used to seeing with cookie-based tracking, you still gain valuable insights into these anonymous user’s behavior.