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How to Track Performance in the Cookieless World

Tips & Guides — 22 Sep 2021

A Guide to Cookieless Tracking

How to Track Performance in the Cookieless World

Relying on consumer data is the thing that lets digital marketing get ahead of the other marketing strategies. However, gathering customers’ personal data may no longer be the option as Google’s intention to eliminate third-party cookies by 2023 moves us to the cookieless future. Major advertising ecosystems, browsers, and tech companies have already started to cut off the opportunities to track performance with cookies.

Why are Cookies Used to Track Digital Marketing Performance?

Cookies have been used for years to identify website users and track their online behavior, on-site and across various touchpoints with a brand. It’s possible thanks to the following types of cookies:

  • First-party cookies. These cookies help digital marketers identify a user on the website and improve user experience. First-party cookies are never transferred to third-party services, such as advertising platforms or networks, they are used solely by a domain a user is visiting.
  • Third-party cookies. These cookies are essential for digital advertising, as they gather information across various channels. It helps marketers discover what websites a user has recently visited and what they did on those websites. Third-party cookies are created by domains other than the one a user is currently browsing and can be accessible on any website that loads the third-party server’s code.

On a technical level, first-party cookies and third-party cookies are the same kind of file. The real difference lies in the way cookies are created and subsequently used. While they both make customers’ journeys clearer for marketers and help drive leads down the sales funnel, the third-party cookies aim more on cross-site tracking, retargeting and ad-serving.

How to Track Performance in the Cookieless World

Why Do Businesses Need to Switch to Cookieless Tracking?

For the majority the elimination of third-party cookies is associated with the Google decision. While it is partially the reason, it is important to understand the root cause that made ad tech companies and browsers step forward in the cookieless future.

Cookies allow companies to provide exceptional on-site experience, personalize offers for potential consumers, launch targeting and retargeting campaigns, and more. The problem is cookies may be used for criminal purposes just as effectively as for digital advertising.

In the previous years, a great chunk of internet users have fallen victim to cybercriminals or had their data compromised. Thus, consumers are growing more concerned about their data privacy and protection.

How to Track Performance in the Cookieless World

Though digital companies obey data privacy laws and GDPR compliance, it’s turn out to be not enough. Thus, major ad tech companies and browsers decided to get rid of third-party cookies. Firefox was going to block cookies in 2019, Safari — in 2020, and Google Chrome plans to do this in 2023.

Moreover, the mobile operating systems industry strives to improve user experience and increase consumer privacy as well. For instance, iOS 14.5 blocks cross-app tracking, which means digital advertisers can’t track their performance without a user’s permission. 

Apparently, tracking cookies won’t be an option in a couple of years. Meanwhile, marketers are struggling to switch to other identity solutions off the bat. Over half of them deem they need more than a year to make a shift.

7 Tips to Track Performance in the Cookieless World

Though the cookieless future may seem bleak, it doesn’t require advertisers to drop out tracking their campaigns’ performance. You can still get a clear picture of your advertising activities alongside valuable insights by using new technologies and proven tactics.

Create a First-party Data Strategy

Third-party cookies provoke the deepest concern, so they are the first to be thrown out the window. However, you can still rely on your own data. The key to success here is to prepare a first-party data strategy in advance. To get off the ground, revise your business objectives and target audience. Explore how your potential customers interact with your brand across various platforms and touchpoints. 

After taking these steps, you may get a pretty robust dataset coupled with understanding what metrics you can track without third-party cookies. However, you’ll need to bridge the gaps you certainly will find. Think of the ways you can combine first-party data to get new insights. 

Finally, spot the indicators of your success — what metrics you need to evaluate to understand if you’re reaching your business goals. Apart from this, remember to include the set of reporting tools and platforms for measurements into your data strategy. They might be CRMs, BI tools, and so on.

Build Your Own ID Graph

ID graph, or identity graph, is a tool whose importance is hard to overestimate. These databases allow brands to identify various pieces of data across multiple channels and devices with specific individual customers. The problem is brands often rely on third-party ID graphs, which have been partially inaccessible previously.  With the fall of third-party cookies, the situation may become even more difficult.

The solution is to create your own ID graph and have the full dataset at hand. Consider that you’ll have to rely only on authenticated profiles to get accurate information about each customer. Thus, you should incentivize your website visitors to sign up. It may require some effort, but in return, you’ll get a cookieless tracking tool to measure performance across various channels.

Switch to Improved Tracking Methods

Basically, marketers use two main tracking methods: client-side (C2S) tracking and server-side (S2S) tracking. We’ve examined the pros and cons of both strategies in the stand-alone article Pixel vs. Postback: Which Tracking Method to Choose in 2021?

The client-side tracking method is based on monitoring the events on the user’s page. Though this method is easy-to-use, it raises more and more concerns in the cookieless era. The good news: you can reap the benefits of client-side tracking and avoid its drawbacks by using more advanced solutions, such as Affise direct tracking. Our direct tracking feature lets advertisers employ accurate C2S tracking even in the absence of third-party cookies and helps increase user journey speed.

Server-side tracking operates outside the user’s browser. Instead, the tracking platform stores the information associated with a user on the server and assigns a unique ID to it. Such an approach allows businesses to improve customer privacy and safety and reduce the loading time of the web page, decrease the influence of ad blockers, and so on. Postback is indispensable for conversion tracking in Affise. Learn how to set it up in a separate article.

Use Partners’ First-party Data

As digital marketing is going cookieless, advertisers have to refuse programmatic advertising and switch to other strategies, such as contextual targeting advertising. Another option is to go back to direct interaction with publishers. Thus, affiliate marketing has all chances to thrive in the cookieless world. 

Relying on the carefully selected pool of permanent publishers, brands kill two birds with one stone. Thanks to partners’ first-party data, they can target more precisely and reach the most interesting audience. Plus, publishers can track their marketing campaign performance more precisely and provide advertisers with accurate results.

However, this strategy is incompatible with rapid growth and managing thousands of partners. But the businesses with a permanent and relatively small pool of well-performing affiliates can largely benefit from it.

Run Incrementality Tests

Incrementality is a specific approach to measure marketing effectiveness that evaluates the events that couldn’t have occurred without a specific interaction. Put simply, incrementality answers how many business results could have happened if there were no particular marketing activity. 

Previously, brands used incrementality to assign the attribution for conversion more accurately and spot how their marketing campaigns influence business outcomes. However, going cookieless makes the incremental method even more valuable. 

To enrich your performance tracking, consider running special incrementality tests. For instance, you can run a marketing campaign offering promo codes for a specific product. After a set timeframe, you need to count the number of sales made with coupons. To optimize and automate the process, consider using a promocodes tracking solution

The next step is to compare the number of purchases made with coupons with the number of sales of the same product without coupons. The difference between these two groups — incrementality lift — will show your marketing campaign’s impact on your business results.

Rely on the Brand Metrics

The good old tactic used to measure the impact any marketing campaign has made on brand perception can be employed by digital marketers as well. We’re speaking of such metrics as ad recall, brand awareness, and consideration. Evaluating them can help you get insights into how your advertising or marketing efforts have influenced interest in your brand, purchase intent, and so on. 

Luckily, there is a bundle of ways to evaluate brand metrics. Thus, you can assess organic search demand and growth by branded keywords, changes in traffic to your website, or the number of backlinks. 

Another tactic is to employ social listening tools, such as Agorapulse or Mention, to explore how the audience reacts to your brand or a particular marketing campaign. This tactic helps to explore not only the number of brand mentions but also the quality of the feedback.

Employ Probabilistic Attribution

This tracking method is especially useful for those who rely mostly on mobile ad campaigns. Apple’s iOS14 impedes advertising platforms from using IDFA (Identifier for Advertisers) for data collection. Without this identifier, such things as click ID, IP, and User-Agent are useless for performance tracking as they are not unique. Probabilistic attribution helps to eliminate this problem partially.

The probabilistic attribution method boils down to assigning conversion to the campaign that is more likely to generate it. Probabilistic attribution in Affise allows advertisers to match conversions with specific marketing campaigns without using Click ID.

This feature in Affise works with all mobile attribution platforms by using general tracking and postback links. To learn more about this feature, explore our article Preparing for iOS14: Affise Enables Probabilistic Attribution.

Wrapping Up

Obtaining accurate customer data and tracking performance is important to make the right data-driven decisions for advertisers. Unfortunately, relying on cookies is not the option anymore. Let’s sum up the main things you can do to prepare for the cookieless future:

  • Switch to first-party data and prepare the strategy in advance;
  • Collect your customer data and create your own ID graph;
  • Employ advanced tracking solutions;
  • Collaborate with first-party data providers;
  • Rely on incrementality tests;
  • Stick to brand metrics;
  • Try probabilistic attribution tools.

Most tactics are better to implement with new technologies and reliable Saas at hand. Consider trying Affise — our platform allows probabilistic attribution, SKAdNetwork integration, server-side tracking and can serve as a data hub.

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Content Manager

Anna is a Content Marketer with a background in B2B, creative approach, and eagerness for professional improvement. She aspires to produce content that helps achieve business objectives and benefit readers. When she’s not delved into writing another exciting article for you, she’s probably fooling around with her cat.

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