Don’t Get Caught Without a Post-Cookie Plan

Don’t Get Caught Without a Post-Cookie Plan

Visitor reporting is about to look very different. From hash anonymization to compliance, here’s what you need to know for confident post-cookie analytics.

With another delay announced, Google's plans to deprecate third-party cookies are likely to take effect in 2025. Yet despite years of notice, nearly half of marketers didn't believe this shift would actually happen (per a 2023 survey by Forrester) and that means that many organizations are about to be caught without a plan — or with a plan they’re not wholly confident in.

Given that website visitor data is critical to a modern marketer’s success, you can’t afford to take a breath between the demise of cookies and a new source for visitor data. 

So why are so many marketers burying their heads in the sand? With responses like ‘We’ll wait and see’ or, ‘Let’s pick the first solution we come across and hope it works,’ it feels like many organizations don’t realize how much they currently rely on third-party cookies to inform everyday business decisions.  

To those whoare aware, the demise of cookies can feel like the end of the world, or at least a major headache, but there’s a third way to look at it: As a much-needed kick in the pants for digital marketing to evolve and become more sophisticated. 

As Wired notes, “Third-party cookies [were] not the seamless solution for understanding customers that they were made out to be [and] coming changes to the digital marketing landscape will enable companies to build new and more nuanced approaches to better understand audiences as individuals.” 

Megan Kresinske, Siteimprove’s VP of Product Marketing, sees the shift as an opportunity rather than a challenge: “It’s a chance for digital marketing to evolve and become more strategic,” she says, adding that there’s no time like the present to find out what’s possible and adjust your approach. “The urgency to adapt is real, and we’ve got to move fast or risk being left behind.”

Still, urgency needs to be fueled by thoughtfulness. Switching from cookies to another data tracking type is like changing the ingredients to your go-to marketing analytics recipe; you need to set aside some time to really think about your substitutions if you’re going to make sure what you end up with is delicious — perhaps even better than the original —rather than disastrous.  

The basic ingredients 

No matter which substitute you settle on, there are three basic ingredients that everyone must incorporate.  

Robust IP anonymization  

Correct user tracking requires anonymizing the IP address of each individual visitor to protect both the user and your organization (more on that below). One of the ways to do this is with a “Visitor Hash.” 

Unlike traditional cookies, Siteimprove’s Visitor Hash uses an algorithm to generate a unique, fixed length string of characters known as a hash value. This hash value is created using non-personal information such as hashed IP and HTTP header values including browser type, browser version, and browser language. 

Each Visitor Hash only consists of server-side attributes passed along by the website server, and most importantly: Siteimprove cannot restore an anonymized IP. The hashed IP is used in the Visitor Hash, but it is not stored individually, and the truncated IP (where the last octet of the IP is removed) is used to solely to determine the visitor’s and organization’s geographical locations.  

Our Marketing Analytics tool  is all about keeps an eye on visitor trends for general insights into website performance, something that helps turn ebbs and flows in visitor behavior into actions you can leverage for business growth. 

For example, at Siteimprove, we're not in the business of singling out individual website visitors; our focus is on the big picture. With cookieless tracking, we guarantee that neither Siteimprove, our customers, nor any of our partners will be able to pinpoint a specific person based on an anonymized IP address.

Compliance in a post-cookie world  

To avoid running afoul of GDPR compliance regulations, Siteimprove’s cookieless tracking solution is complete with improved IP anonymization already switched on and was crafted specifically to meet the personal data rules laid out in the GDPR. This means that the anonymized IP addresses don't reveal specifics about individual users, their privacy remains intact, and you meet compliance requirements without hassle or added technical workload. 

Localized legal requirements for consent 

 Cookie and tracking technology consent laws differ worldwide. Given these variations, we suggest conducting your own legal review to understand the regulations applicable to your organization. Armed with that understanding, you can determine whether consent is necessary before activating cookieless tracking.

Will cookieless tracking alter your visitor data? 

Because your analytics center will no longer use data from cookies to inform its reports on new and unique visitors, we predict some noticeable changes once you switch to cookieless tracking: 

  • Cookies serve as the main tool for recognizing both unique and returning visitors. Our script scans the visitor's device for the cookie whenever they load a page with the Siteimprove analytics script. With Visitor Hash stepping in as an alternative technology for the same purpose, you can expect shifts in the numbers of unique and returning visitors once cookieless tracking kicks in. The extent of these changes may vary across websites, influenced by visitor behavior and characteristics. 
  • Typically, Visitor Hash tends to stick around longer, which could lead to a decrease in the count of unique visitors. Unlike cookies, which tend to expire relatively quickly, potentially inflating the numbers of unique visitors, Visitor Hash offers greater accuracy in tracking both unique and returning visitors, which means you will gain a clearer picture of your audience. 
  • Once cookieless tracking is activated, anticipate minor effects on neighborhood-level geographical lookup accuracy. Because Siteimprove will employ a truncated IP for the lookup, the precision in determining visitor location might slightly diminish; however, this adjustment primarily impacts data concerning user neighborhoods rather than broader geographies. 
  • Once you switch on cookieless tracking, this will restrict the option to exclude data using the full IP address and permit only exclusion based on the truncated version. If you currently have data exclusion set up using IP groups with specific addresses, be aware that exclusion will now be based solely on the first three octets of the IP, disregarding the last one. Review your data exclusion settings prior to enabling cookieless tracking. (To access these settings, head to Analytics > Analytics Setting > Tracking > Data Exclusion Settings.) 
  • When you enable or disable cookieless tracking, an annotation will automatically be added to maintain transparency across the data displayed in Siteimprove Analytics. 

So long, and farewell

Cookies have dominated martech since the industry was in its infancy, but we’ve outgrown them, particularly as new technologies and consumer expectations lead to seismic shifts.  

“Let’s face it: With the digital marketing world becoming more privacy-centric and with AI at the forefront, it’s a chance for us marketers to step up our game,” says Megan.  

Plunging in is really the only option. Marketers need become fluent in the possibilities and then develop a clear plan of action that leverages new tools and data sources.  

If you’re ready to meet our new post-cookie internet head on, we make it easy to get started. Reach out to Siteimprove team today to talk tools and strategy.

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