What is cookieless tracking

May 10, 2024
Feb 28, 2023
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Cookies are a key part of digital advertising and marketing, yet many advertisers and marketers need help understanding them and how they work. If that sounds like you, don't worry – we have a blog post that will give you an overview of cookies so that you can utilize them with confidence in your marketing campaigns. 

In this blog post, we'll break down the concept of cookieless tracking, explain why it's essential, and provide tips on using it in your next marketing campaign. Take a few moments to put aside everything else you're working on - by discovering tracking without cookies, you may find new insights about your target audiences that will ultimately allow you to make smarter business decisions. Let's dive in!

Why cookies are necessaryCopy link to this section

Сookies make browsing the web a more seamless and unique experience for users. 

Here are some reasons why cookies are important and why they exist:

  1. Authentication. Cookies allow websites to remember if a user is logged in or not. This means that users don't have to enter their login credentials every time they visit a website.
  2. Personalization. To remember a user's preferences, such as their language or font size.
  3. Shopping carts. When shopping online, cookies can be used to remember what items are in a user's shopping cart, even if the user leaves the website and returns later.
  4. Analytics. To track how users interact with a website: what buttons they click on or not, etc. This information can be used to improve the website's design and functionality.
  5. Ad targeting. Cookies can be used to track a user's browsing history and interests, which allows advertisers to show more relevant ads.

Cookies exist to enhance the user experience on websites and to enable website owners to collect data that can be used to improve their services and marketing efforts. While there are some privacy concerns related to cookies, which we'll describe further, they are an essential part of the modern web.

Why cookies are badCopy link to this section

While cookies can provide many benefits to users and website owners, there are also some potentially negative aspects associated with them:

  1. Privacy concerns: cookies can be used to track a user's online activity, which can raise privacy concerns. A user's activity is usually tracked across multiple websites. This can enable advertising networks to build a detailed profile of interests and behavior, which some users may find intrusive.
  2. Security risks: in some cases, cookies can be used to store sensitive information, such as login credentials or financial information. If a user's computer is compromised, this information could be accessed by a malicious actor.
  3. Malicious cookies: it is possible to deliver malware or other malicious software to a user's computer. This is a relatively rare occurrence, but it is a risk associated with the use of cookies.

It is worth noting that many of these concerns can be mitigated through the use of browser settings or third-party tools that block or limit the use of cookies.

How analytics and marketing platforms try to overcome the use of cookiesCopy link to this section

GA4 is marketed as privacy-focused, and it is meant to function with or without cookies. GA4 can cover data gaps as the world grows less reliant on cookies by utilizing machine learning and statistical modeling.

With browsers such as Safari and Firefox restricting third-party cookies, you can configure Google Analytics 4 to depend on first-party cookies by transitioning to server-side GA4 tracking. Mapping tagging server URL with a custom domain establishes 1st party cookies, which are more dependable and have a longer lifespan than 3rd party cookies.

You can set up GA4 tracking without utilizing any cookies, be it 1st or 3rd party, by using Stape's Advanced GA4 tag. This allows for purely server-side GA4 tracking.

And as for the Facebook solution - Facebook conversion API and Conversion API Gateway - it can be said that besides cookies, it relies on user data. With the help of user parameters you send together with FB CAPI events, FB will match events to users in their database. As a result, you will have more reliable data and do not rely on cookies at all. To prevent the use of FB cookies, you should configure FB tracking exclusively on the server-side.

How does cookieless tracking workCopy link to this section

Server-side tracking is one of the most reliable and privacy-friendly methods of tracking user behavior without relying on cookies. 

With server-side tracking, the tracking code is executed on the server rather than on the user's browser. This means that the user's device does not need to store any tracking data, and the tracking is done entirely on the server side.

Server-side tracking can be implemented in several ways, including: 

  • Event tracking: Events such as page views, clicks, and form submissions can be tracked on the server side. The tracking data can then be stored in a database or sent to a third-party analytics service.
  • Server log analysis: Server logs contain information about each request made to a website, including the user's IP address, user agent, and other data. This information can be analyzed to track user behavior and generate reports on website traffic.
  • API tracking: APIs can be used to track user behavior on third-party platforms, such as social media or mobile apps. The tracking data can be sent to the server and processed using server-side code.

Stape has a full list of platforms that support server-side tracking.

To implement server-side tracking without cookies, it's essential to configure each tracking vendor purely on the server side. This approach ensures tighter control over the information each vendor sets and collects.

For instance, the standard configurations of platforms like Google Analytics 4, Facebook, TikTok, and many other analytics and marketing tools necessitate the use of both web and server-side tracking. Web pixels can freely gather data and set cookies in this setup, whereas server-side tracking steps in to assist web tracking when it faces challenges due to various tracking limitations.

With pure server-side tracking, you'll have a singular data stream that sends user and event data to the server-side container, which could be, for instance, webhooks from your CMS or CRM. Subsequently, within the server-based Google Tag Manager container, you determine what information gets relayed to your analytics and marketing platforms.

Cookieless tracking in Google Analytics 4Copy link to this section

Server-side tracking with Google Analytics 4 (GA4) can be done without relying on cookies. In fact, server-side tracking is one of the recommended methods for implementing cookieless tracking with GA4.

Here are some ways that cookieless tracking works in Google Analytics 4: 

Client ID: GA4 uses a unique identifier called "Client ID" to track individual users across different devices and channels. 

Events: GA4 allows for the tracking of various events, such as pageviews, clicks, form submissions, and other user interactions. These events can be triggered by server-side code or JavaScript on the client-side and can be sent to GA4 servers using the Measurement Protocol. 

User properties: GA4 allows for the collection of user properties such as age, gender, interests, and other demographic data. This data can be collected from various sources and can be used to create audience segments for targeting and personalization. 

Consent Management: GA4 provides tools for managing user consent and complying with privacy regulations such as GDPR and CCPA. This includes options for disabling tracking for users who opt out of tracking or who have not given their consent.

Server-side tracking with GA4 provides a privacy-friendly and flexible way to track user behavior without relying on cookies. It can be used to track user behavior across multiple touchpoints and devices, while still respecting users' privacy preferences.

ConclusionCopy link to this section

So there it is – an overview of how cookieless tracking works and what it can do for your marketing campaign. We hope this blog post has inspired you to explore tracking without cookies and use that knowledge in your next marketing decision. With Stape's help, you can tap into your audience on a level they never dreamed of before. 

If you have any questions or need additional help understanding the concept of cookie-free tracking, please don't hesitate to reach out via our support team - they'll be able to answer all your questions and provide you with more detail. So don't wait - start using cookieless tracking today and watch as your business takes off!

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