Today, we are pleased to share with you a new guest post from our friends from Voluum, the experts in tracking software for affiliate marketers. By the way, here’s the previous post from Voluum.
Nowadays, it seems like there can’t be a digital marketing-oriented topic without an article on cookieless tracking.
Here’s our take.
We tackle this topic once and for all for the beloved PropellerAds users, so they will be able to continue to walk tall, be proud and efficient.
Digital marketing is truly a wonderland. Shame that Google pushes its commendable agenda by making everybody confused and scared with its proposed privacy changes.
But hey, at least you get to read this beauty of an article. Let’s start.
State of the industry
We’ve covered the topic of what cookies are before so here’s a quick recap: Cookies save various user settings and information. There are first and third-party cookies. If you visit a CNN.com website, a cookie that makes requests to the CNN domain is first-party; the one on the same domain that makes a request to the trackallyoucan.com domain is third party.
Only the latter ones will be blocked by Google.
Third-party cookies have been the industry’s punching bag for a long time and they became synonymous with bad practices. Other companies have already started blocking third-party cookies (Apple in Safari browser).
Google clearly wants to show itself as a privacy-oriented company while still profiting from privacy-breaching tech that allows for precise ad targeting.
Google, through its Privacy Sandbox initiative, is proposing and testing various solutions that would allow it and other companies to do just that.
The first pitch was FloC (Federated learning of cohorts) which allows for grouping users with similar characteristics. This was almost universally rejected. And note how Google is still trying to keep various user data while talking about privacy.
It is a case of both eating and having a (metaphorical, not third-party) cookie.
Their second (and probably not last) attempt is called Topics API. This approach allows advertisers to target users based on 5 characteristics that Google has recorded.
Google hopes that its solution will be widely adopted – but for now, everyone is sticking to the old methods.
What are they?
Tracking… how does it work?
Tracing is about passing information between a page that a user is currently visiting and a tracking platform. There are different ways of doing that:
- Redirect tracking, the industry’s gold standard until recently, relies on making a small detour before taking a user from an ad to a landing or offer page. Such a visit is redirected through a tracking domain, which counts the event with some other visit characteristics.
The click ID value (a unique identifier across a campaign funnel) is stored in a cookie and pulled when a user clicks a CTA button on a landing page. Depending on the setup, such a cookie may be treated as first or third party. We’ll discuss the first-party setup later.
- Direct tracking – which relies on scripts that are implemented on a landing or offer page to make requests to a tracking solution with visit info – is a newer alternative. It still saves a cookie with a campaign ID in case the referrer data is lost.
There are a lot of moving parts. Different browsers with varying levels of privacy protections, multiple device types that may cause some data to be lost.
Firefox, for example, blocks cookies that refer to known tracking domains. So if you use a tracker that offers legacy domains for all its users, chances are that your campaign will already be blocked.
It is virtually impossible to predict all possible configurations, and even more impossible to create a truly future-proof solution.
What is possible is creating a setup that will cover almost all cases.
Set your campaign up for first-party cookies
The easy solution is to set up your campaign in a way that makes visitors’ web browsers to treat all cookies set by these campaigns as first party.
No fancy tech solutions, just smart setup.
Ok, so do you remember what differentiated first and third-party cookies? That’s right, the domain they were referring to.
So, the point of this setup is to use the same domain for your landing page and for tracking.
See, a web page needs a domain. If you host a landing page, you can either use a domain that you got from your hosting provider (which usually has a terrible, randomly-generated name) or use your own domain that you obtained from a domain provider.
Some hosting services can already provide you with a custom domain name for an extra charge.
So, you get a domain for your landing page. Say, carsnstuff.com. You then go to your domain settings page and create a subdomain dedicated for tracking. This subdomain can be named something like track.carsnstuff.com.
The last thing you do is to create a CNAME (canonical name) record that points to your tracking solution’s actual tracking domain and add its name there.
There’s a detailed article on first-party cookie setup on the Voluum Blog.
That is it.
You are safe.
Google can even block third-party cookies tomorrow – but you’ll be fine.
The added bonus is that by using a custom and meaningful domain name for your landing page (carsnstuff.com for a shop with car accessories, for example), you increase credibility. And domains aren’t expensive either, this would be the best way to spend $20.
Cookie apocalypse or business as usual?
Let’s get something straight: there is too much money involved for Google to just break thousands of marketers’ campaigns. Even more so if you consider that a lot of them purchase traffic from Google.
This really is the case of something being too big to fail.
What do you think about cookieless tracking? Discuss it with fellow affiliates on our Telegram chat or in the comment section below!
Google is a lot like a monkey: they won’t let go of the current branch until they get a good hold of the next. And once they do, be sure that ad trackers will adapt.
Disclaimer. The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official position of PropellerAds.