Cookieless Attribution: How to Maximize Marketing ROI Without Third-Party Cookies

Marketing effectiveness depends on companies’ ability to figure out how different marketing channels, devices, and interactions work together to produce results. In that respect, third-party cookies have been the cornerstone of multi-touch attribution and tracking.

But this lifeblood—third-party cookies—is going extinct.

Eventually, companies relying on cookies will find it more challenging to see the complete buyer journey insights and drive marketing performance. 

Given the depreciation of third-party cookies, how do you ensure your company navigates through the challenges as smoothly as possible and does not over or under-invest in specific channels? Welcome to cookieless attribution.

3 major problems with cookie-based tracking

Cookies are widely used to track users as they navigate different website pages, improve the website's usability, and personalize the website for users. Depending on a particular purpose, a website may use different types of cookies, such as strictly necessary cookies, performance cookies, and first-party cookies. That being said, cookies have their fair share of challenges.

1. Cookies target devices

The first problem with cookie-based tracking is that it’s targeting devices, not users. Today, consumers use at least 2 devices—phone and laptop—and each device has a different cookie with a different user ID.

Since the information is drawn from a device, cookies won’t allow you to target the entirety of an account. Additionally, when a user decides to clear up the cookies on their device or browser, previously collected data become redundant.

2. Cookies provide a fragmented view of user interactions

Another issue with cookie-based tracking is that, since cookies eventually expire, it provides a limited representation of the user's digital interactions. The cookies' duration—typically lasting from seconds to years—can be set when cookies are created.

Some cookies, like session cookies, are destroyed when the browser window is closed. So, the lack of a complete data window means you could miss out on critical insights that can help you maximize your marketing funnel and increase revenue.

3. Cookies aren’t secure

The third problem with cookies is associated with privacy and security. Cookies represent a window for criminals to access user accounts. In 2017, 32 million Yahoo accounts were hacked with forged cookies. Forged cookies allow intruders to access a user’s account without any password. That aside, third parties can access and use third-party cookies for their own purposes, potentially compromising the user's privacy.

What is cookieless attribution?

Cookieless attribution is an anonymized way of capturing information about visits and interactions with your website without storing user-identifiable data. Interestingly, cookieless doesn’t necessarily mean no more relevancy, tracking, or absence of cookies.

In terms of personalization, it’ll still be possible with other currently available solutions like first-party data, time-based messaging, or contextual targeting across various digital channels. Overall, cookieless means non-intrusive personalization that prioritizes user experience, anonymity, privacy, and trust more than anything else.

The idea of cookieless tracking allows you to avoid using cookies with personal information and user identifiers. Tracking without user identifiers is considered anonymous and may not require consent in the form of cookie banners.

How does cookieless attribution work?

There's more than one way to track without cookies, but the most common technology in use is called fingerprinting. Fingerprint is arguably the market-leading solution for that.

This approach creates and assigns a unique ID to each visitor, using known data points like IPs, screen resolutions, browser languages and more.

It sounds useful (and it is), but having fingerprints alone for each user still doesn't let you understand the users journey to landing on your site & converting. That's the important bit that will impact your marketing strategy.

HockeyStack is an example of a multi-touch attribution software that tackles the issue. Their solution tracks every touchpoint in the customer journey, with each visit and the actions they took. It also integrates with ad channels like LinkedIn/Google/Meta, and CRMs like HubSpot & Salesforce for a holistic view of everything.

They have a live interactive demo on their site so you can get a feel for how it looks/works.

Benefits of cookieless attribution for marketing

Third-party cookies have gained a bad reputation over the years, so it’s time for you to switch to cookieless tracking. I’ve listed below 3 benefits of cookieless attribution.

Enhanced control and privacy for users

Cookieless tracking platforms don’t allow third parties to place cookies on your browser, which enhances privacy and reduces the possibility of intruders gaining illicit access to your personal information. Cookieless attribution tools don’t gather or store personally identifiable information or PII, meaning all users remain anonymous by default.

Furthermore, users will have more control over the data they provide with businesses or websites online, thanks to the restriction on third-party cookies, although personalization of a web experience can become less common.

Improved accuracy of data

Cookieless attribution allows for more accurate tracking of user actions and conversions since it is not reliant on cookies that can be blocked or deleted by users.

Cookieless attribution uses alternative methods, like server-side tracking and fingerprinting, to track user actions, providing more accurate data than cookie-based tracking. That way, marketers can more accurately track user behavior and attribute conversions to the correct sources, leading to more accurate data and better insights into the efficacy of marketing efforts.

Cross-device tracking

Users are connected to the internet through a variety of devices. Cookieless attribution enables precise tracking of every user's journey, from the first point of contact to conversion, regardless of the device or platform, which gives marketers and advertisers a more complete picture of users’ behavior.

Cross-device tracking can be particularly valuable for ad targeting and conversion attribution purposes. Today, multi-channel and omnichannel are integral marketing concepts, so via cross-device tracking, companies can associate numerous devices with the same person, offering a seamless experience for consumers across all their devices.

Limitations of cookieless attribution

Cookieless marketing is an inevitability. Yet, no attribution is complete and perfect, and cookieless attribution has its own limitations.

First, the measurement will be more difficult in a cookieless world. The end of third-party cookies will significantly influence the data availability for developing multi-touch attribution models, which in return, will impact the marketers’ ability to optimize budgets across different marketing channels.

Another limitation of the elimination of third-party cookies is that marketers will be targeting the same audience over and over again. That’s valuable to some extent, but it won’t grow the customer base. Overall, cookieless attribution is less precise and actionable than cookie-based data.

That being said, the end of third-party cookies doesn’t mean the end of attribution. With cookieless tracking, marketers should now get smart with customer journey analytics and put their first-party data to work with customer-led experiences via privacy-friendly approaches.

About the author

Pasha Abdulov

Pasha is a full-time content marketer and writer. With over 2 years of experience in content strategy and SEO, he crafts educational content on SaaS marketing and analytics tools to help marketers grow and succeed. When he's not hard at work, odds are Pasha’s spending time with his family, jogging, or reading about emotional intelligence, leadership, and productivity.