GDPR | Google Analytics | Web Analytics

Overcome third-party cookies depreciation with first-party data

Since 2018, the online marketing sector has been plagued by constant regulatory upheaval. General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) and the EU’s e-Privacy Directive served as catalysts to mark the turning point when digital marketing was forced to put privacy first. These public debates on regulating data privacy meant that society as a whole has become more aware of personal data protection and more concerned with who is accessing and processing their personal information online.


Cookie banners are now commonplace on every website and app where explicit user consent is required in order to collect personal data in compliance with data protection regulations. Without this user consent, collecting customer data is a direct violation of the strict data protection laws. Additionally, web users can take further steps to hinder the tracking of their data or online activity by implementing ad and browser blockers making it even more difficult for digital marketers to collect and analyse customer data.


To worsen the issue, browsers such as Safari and Firefox have been protecting user data by blocking third-party cookie tracking by default for several years now. Fortunately, Safari and Firefox are used by a minority of users. The most popular browser world-wide is by far Google Chrome, accounting for around 60% of all web activity. Too bad, then, that Google has also announced that they will be now also turning off third-party cookies in the next year. If you want to know how the “big players” in the digital advertising business such as Google, Meta and Microsoft are preparing for the end of third-party cookies, we have summarized their solutions in this article.


The amount and quality of data collected is therefore lower than ever before!


With the end of the third-party cookie era, many companies are now being forced to rethink their approach to online marketing and web analytics.


The challenges that we are currently facing in online marketing do have a common solution: with server-side tracking and a first-party data strategy, the effects of a cookie-less marketing landscape would hardly be noticed. Quite the opposite, in fact. A comprehensive and integrated first-party data strategy can be the defining factor that propels a digital marketing strategy into the next era of online marketing – personalised and privacy-first.



Client-side tracking: the uncertain waters

The conventional method for tracking user activities is essentially client-side which means simply that a cookie is allocated to the user for each tracking or advertising tool that collects data on the website. These cookies are set by a third-party, i.e. a cookie whose origin is not on your own domain. The purpose of these cookies is generally to recognize users via a user ID and to identify which third-party website they arrived from. This allows a marketer to correctly attribute traffic, and the valuable actions that a user might complete on their website, to a specific source.

When a user accepts the cookie notice banner, and if third-party cookies are not blocked by a browser extension, users can be recognized on each website they visit.


Accordingly, targeted and personalised advertising can then be displayed for this particular individual. For example, they may see the same products or websites that they visited previously through banner advertising elsewhere on the web.

It is important to note, that consented traffic is roughly around 30% of the total traffic that a website receives. Therefore, it is difficult to truly understand fully the impact of a particular source for online marketing, because simply put, there is data missing. This puts into question the quality of this data as a whole.


Server-side tracking: the anchor in the “cookiepocalypse”

The logical alternative to saving user IDs through a third party, is a first-party cookie (i.e. a cookie whose origin is on your own domain). First-party cookies are also particularly resistant to blocking attempts by browser extensions as they are loaded in the same way as functional elements of the website (e.g. a shopping cart). In case of doubt, a blocking tool cannot simply block all first-party cookies without potentially disrupting the functionality of the website.


Server-side tracking ensures that users are recognized within their own domain. Cross-domain tracking can also be achieved with a first-party data strategy by passing on the stored user ID as a parameter to other domains such as advertising or analytics tools like Google Analytics or Facebook Ads. The advantage of server-side tracking is that you, as the data owner, can choose which of your client’s data you will share with a third party. This allows you to protect their personal data, while still receiving the insights from your marketing activities.


We have summarized further advantages and disadvantages of server-side tracking in this article.


Admittedly, the effort required for server-side implementation is higher. Especially when it comes to advertising and retargeting, you will have to give it more thought. A well prepared data strategy is the key to data-driven marketing and the first step should be a solid, safe and compliant repository of first-party data.


Step by step to first-party tracking: our resources at a glance

If you have reached this point of our article, you may be thinking, “Great, so what should I do next?”. The first step is to identify, which tool is the right one for your migration to server-side tracking. There are several options on the market, depending on your data volumes, budget and avaliable resources. Take a look at our tool evaluation of server-side tracking tools to see which options we recommend.

If you are at the stage where you would like to implement a server-side and first-party-data strategy for your online marketing, use the contact us form to book a free 30-minutes consultation with one of our specialists.