Cookieless tracking

The phasing out of third-party cookies is forcing marketers to rethink their strategies. This post aims to shed light on how cookie-based systems work, explore the various cookieless tracking technologies, and discuss their impact on data privacy regulations like GDPR, CCPA, and ePrivacy Directive.

How Cookie-Based Systems Work

Cookies are small text files stored on a user’s browser, collecting data like browsing history, login credentials, and other personal information. Marketers have long relied on third-party cookies for targeted advertising, retargeting, and measuring the effectiveness of their campaigns.

Cookieless Tracking Technologies

First-Party Data

Collects data directly from your audience. It’s highly accurate and less intrusive. Requires consent to track.

Zero-Party Data

Data that the user willingly provides, often through surveys or sign-up forms. Requires consent to track.

Contextual Advertising

Targets users based on the content they are currently viewing rather than their past behavior. Requires consent to track.

Device Fingerprinting

Collects data on the device’s properties, such as IP address, screen resolution, and browser type, to identify users. Requires consent to track.

Universal IDs

Single identifiers that recognize a user across different advertising platforms. Requires consent to track.

Isolated hits tracking

Track each hit individually without individual tracking. It doesn’t require user consent to track.

Summary Table: Cookieless Tracking Technologies

TechnologyDescriptionRequires User ConsentImpact on Advertising
First-Party DataCollects data directly from your audience. Highly accurate and less intrusive.YesHigh Accuracy, Less Intrusive
Zero-Party DataInvasive, High-riskExplicitly YesUser-Driven, Highly Personalized
Contextual AdvertisingTargets users based on the content they are currently viewing.YesContent-Based, Less Personalized
Device FingerprintingCollects data on device properties like IP address, screen resolution, and browser type.YesInvasive, High Risk
Universal IDsSingle identifiers that recognize a user across different advertising platforms.YesCross-Platform, Complexity in Implementation
Isolated Hits TrackingTracks each hit individually without individual tracking.NoAnonymized, Less Personalized

How Fingerprinting Tracking Works

Device fingerprinting is a technique used to identify individual devices based on the unique characteristics and configurations of that device. Unlike cookies, which store data on the user’s browser, fingerprinting gathers data directly from the device and its settings. Here’s how it works:

  1. Data Collection: When a user visits a website, the site’s server requests various types of information from the user’s device. This can include the operating system, browser version, IP address, screen resolution, and even the fonts installed on the device.
  2. Unique Identifier Creation: This collected data is then processed to create a unique identifier or “fingerprint” for that specific device.
  3. Data Storage: Unlike cookies, this fingerprint is stored on the server side, not on the user’s device.
  4. Tracking and Analysis: Marketers and website owners can use this unique fingerprint to track user behavior across sessions and even across different websites, provided those sites also use fingerprinting.
  5. Persistent Tracking: Because the data is stored server-side and the fingerprint is based on the device characteristics, fingerprinting offers a more persistent form of tracking. Even if a user clears their browser cache or uses incognito mode, the fingerprint remains the same.
  6. Lack of User Control: Users have very little control over this form of tracking. It’s difficult to delete or modify the fingerprint, making it a more invasive form of tracking.

Cookies vs. Fingerprinting: A Detailed Comparison Table

CriteriaCookiesFingerprinting
Data StorageStore data in the user’s browser, including session information and user preferences.Collects data about the device itself, such as the operating system, browser version, and screen resolution.
User ControlUsers can easily delete or block cookies through browser settings.Far less control is given to the user; fingerprinting can occur without explicit consent.
Privacy ComplianceMore compliant with privacy regulations like GDPR when using first-party cookies and asking for consent.Often considered invasive and less compliant due to the lack of user control and explicit consent.
Efficacy for MarketersIt provides a more persistent form of tracking but comes with higher risks, including potential non-compliance with privacy laws.Provides a more persistent form of tracking but comes with higher risks, including potential non-compliance with privacy laws.

Take a look to our comparison post about cookies tracking vs digital fingerprinting tracking.

Efficacy for Marketers: A Detailed Table

CriteriaCookiesFingerprinting
Data AccuracyModerate; depends on user consent and browser settings.High; based on unique device characteristics.
User EngagementCan be high if users opt-in for personalized experiences.Generally lower due to the invasive nature and lack of user consent.
Risk of Non-ComplianceLower, especially with first-party cookies and explicit user consent.Higher due to the invasive nature and lack of explicit user consent.
LongevityShorter; affected by browser settings and user actions like clearing cookies.Longer; persists even if the user clears browser cache or uses incognito mode.

Key KPIs for Marketing Directors: An In-Depth Look

KPIWhat It MeasuresWhy It’s ImportantTypical Use Cases
Conversion RateThe percentage of visitors who complete a desired action.Direct indicator of the effectiveness of your call-to-action and overall user experience.Evaluating landing pages, A/B testing, optimizing sales funnels.
Cost Per Acquisition (CPA)The total cost to acquire a new customer, including all marketing and advertising expenses.A critical metric for evaluating the cost-effectiveness of marketing campaigns.Assessing the ROI of advertising campaigns, optimizing marketing spend.
Return on Advertising Spend (ROAS)The revenue generated for every dollar spent on advertising.Directly correlates to the profitability of advertising campaigns.Evaluating the effectiveness of different advertising channels, budget allocation.
Traffic-to-Lead RatioThe percentage of website visitors who become leads.A higher ratio indicates more effective lead generation strategies and better website engagement.Website optimization, content marketing effectiveness, lead generation strategies.

You can find all these KPIs in SEAL Metrics Reports:

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And ROAS Evolution or measure your own custom sales funnel:

Create custom sales funnels

Top pages analysis

How cookieless is affecting Retargeting Campaigns:

The waning efficacy of cookies poses a significant challenge for marketers, particularly in retargeting campaigns.

Retargeting has long relied on third-party cookies to track user behavior across various websites, enabling marketers to serve highly personalized ads based on past interactions.

However, with increasing privacy regulations like GDPR and browser changes that limit the lifespan and reach of cookies, the foundation of retargeting is being eroded. Users are becoming more privacy-conscious and often block cookies, leading to less accurate tracking and, consequently, less effective retargeting campaigns. This shift is forcing marketers to rethink their strategies and explore alternative tracking methods that are both effective and compliant with privacy norms.

The decline of cookies is not just a technical issue; it’s a fundamental challenge that requires a strategic overhaul in how marketers approach retargeting in the digital age.