Cookieless Attribution and Measurement Solutions

Cookieless Attribution and Measurement Solutions

Cookies have been the underpinning for most digital marketing performance measurement for over twenty years, which has allowed advertisers to measure post-click conversions and attribution for sales impact. As a result, channels like paid search and display retargeting typically stand out as ‘performance channels’. Simply put, cookie deprecation takes away the easy button of using off-the-self audiences and straightforward conversion tracking.  However, without third-party pixels, determining clear return on ad spend will become more challenging, especially for marketers who continue to rely on click-based attribution models.

Without cookies, it is imperative that you develop more meaningful ways of understanding how customers make decisions and how it impacts business results, a topic we recently covered on The Loop Marketing Podcast.

How to calculate marketing ROI in the cookieless future

In this new paradigm, marketers will need to rely more heavily on strategy to get the greatest and most accurate ROI

The ability to calculate marketing ROI starts with having a strong measurement strategy in place prior to campaign launch. Smart marketers know to look beyond online conversion data and search for correlations with business performance to determine true directional success. Advertising campaigns need to be set-up to achieve business goals rather than just vanity metrics. It’s important to know when to incorporate more robust analytical solutions to understand what’s impacting your bottom line. 

Cookieless measurement solutions

Some methods for measuring media campaigns in the cookieless future include: 

  • Media mix modeling (MMM): MMM works by isolating one variable at a time to see the impact of removing or adding a tactic. It allows deeper understanding of how omnichannel campaigns work together and incrementally impact key outcomes. 
  • Advanced measurement studies: Exposed vs. control consumer studies track brand lift, sales lift or foot traffic lift to provide greater insights into the real impact of advertising on difficult-to-measure business goals. 
  • Overlaying multiple data sources: Brands can match up Google Analytics conversion data, or sales data, with paid media data. While more time and knowledge intensive in terms of the analysis needed, this is effective to look beyond media data alone and instead looking holistically at the brand to understand marketing’s impact. 

Place less emphasis on media efficiency metrics and more emphasis on effectiveness. Look at correlations between business and media data to identify incremental conversions compared to your company baseline. 

To achieve this, marketers will need to identify leading indicators of success by channel and tactic and optimize towards those metrics.  

Will the cookieless future impact walled gardens?

Walled gardens, such as Facebook and Amazon, leverage their own first-party user data. As a result, cookie deprecation will affect them less in terms of targeting. 

Within platform confines, advertisers will still be able to track individual users, though the windows of attribution can vary. Due to this, walled gardens allow for brands to conduct some closed-loop measurement. That being said, there will be limitations on attribution, and less deterministic targeting as privacy laws continue to become stricter.

Walled garden pixels will have limited ability to pass back data to the platform once cookies are gone. We can expect front end marketing performance metrics to decline, even if backend business performance remains the same. Plan for shifts in attribution, using strategies like those laid out above, as we get closer to cookie deprecation.

Cookieless attribution tips

Begin testing and learning today to proactively understand what will and will not be effective in the cookieless future. 

  1. Begin benchmarking current performance ASAP: compare performance of cookie-based vs. cookieless tactics. Then, analyze backend data to determine the effect on business results and set expectations accordingly.
  2. Consolidate to fewer platforms, or find a way to ID map: Platforms are developing their own internal ID tracking frameworks. The more platforms you execute your media through, the more disparate measurement systems you have to consider. This will also minimize duplication across platforms. 

The deprecation of third-party cookies will undoubtedly impact the way marketers approach digital media. But a data-driven media plan tied into a holistic cookieless attribution and measurement solution will ensure your business continues to grow by reaching the audience in the right place at the right time.

Cookieless Targeting and Identity Solutions

An audience-first approach or 1:1 marketing is something brands often strive for. As a digital marketing partner, it’s at the core of our mission. 

However, the ‘cookieless world’, the meanest curveball Google has thrown at the industry yet, is approaching – even if its arrival has been further delayed. With cookieless targeting, being ‘audience-first’ takes on a new definition. 

Targeting will no longer be as simple as building an audience persona and pressing “go” on pre-made data sets. Instead, it’s about really diving into the ethos of who your core consumer is and using that intel to guide your audience strategy.

We sat down with Coegi’s Account Strategy Director, Savannah Westbrock, to get her perspective and tips on how she’s helping clients prepare for cookieless targeting. The following article is an edited transcript of that interview.

It’s Time to Improve Your Audience Research

How should audience research change in light of the cookieless future?

There are three changes in audience research most marketers need to make to ensure the data tells an accurate story: 

  1. Understand the methodology: We rely on research every day to inform our media plans and marketing decision making. However, we often don’t peel back the curtain to understand how that data was collected and consider potential biases. In the cookieless future, it will be even more important to think critically and be selective with our data sourcing. 
  2. Exit the platform: Don’t rely solely on demand side platform information and forecasting for your planning. This data will be most affected by cookie deprecation. Instead, combine platform insights with external research that never relied on cookies. 
  3. Diversify your data sources: It’s time to get creative. Platform data and syndicated research will still hold value. But, you’ll need to layer it with non-syndicated data and first party data. Combine these tools to see a full picture. Even consider non-media data, such as macro-environmental trends, which may impact your audience’s behaviors and the industry at large. 

What types of cookieless data should brands be gathering to understand their audiences?

Pixel-based retargeting is essentially out of the picture. The best pivot brands can make is mining their own first-party data. But you don’t have to rely solely on your own data. Combine ‘hard’ data such as your website and platform analytics with ‘soft’ data such as social listening. Taking a more journalistic approach with these softer data sources can actually provide more meaningful insights and make your brand more authentic and trustworthy. 

Tip: Balance quantitative and qualitative data. Trust your instincts and use research to back up or refute as needed. 

How can marketers collect and expand their first-party data? 

First, you need to have systems in place to generate leads. Then, it’s all about what you do with that customer data to maximize results and become more strategic. 

Lead generation campaigns: Keep first-party data and zero-party data collection top of mind when planning campaigns. For example, promoting a useful downloadable with a lead form. This will help drive consideration and give you an opportunity to learn about your audience in exchange for shared value. 

Data enrichment: Once you collect and understand your first-party data, you can upload it to enrichment tools, such as consumer survey platforms. This helps you learn more about your audience’s interests, media consumption and day-to-day behaviors. 

Cookieless Audience Targeting Alternatives

Is contextual targeting an effective cookieless targeting strategy? 

If your audience research is thorough, you will know the channels your audience frequents, their preferred devices, favorite shows, and where they are most engaged. Pair this insight with contextual placements that make sense for your ads. 

Contextual strategies fell by the wayside in the late 2010s. Many brands focused on only reaching the “perfect” deterministic, addressable audience with cookie-based data. So some marketers may fear for impression waste by comparison. However, there are now many sophisticated contextual solutions that allow for hyper-customization and reach niche interest groups

For instance, Natural Language Processing (NLP) algorithms are beginning to better understand the actual context of ad placements using artificial intelligence. This allows marketers to implement positive sentiment targeting and smarter keyword targeting. Smart contextual offerings can optimize to real-time content trends, going beyond standard display. 

Are new user identity solutions direct replacements for cookies? 

Cookieless identity solutions such as Unified ID 2.0 and Liveramp’s IdentityLink will help reach high-value segments without wasting media dollars on the wrong audiences. But, there will still be gaps. Pre-made audiences and 1:1 third party targeting will not be the same. As cookie-based information is no longer shared across the web, we’ll need to tap a few different buying strategies. I also expect walled gardens will center in on themselves more, protecting their high value audience data. 

To overcome these challenges, marketers use all the data at your disposal to understand customers better, from channel-based information, survey data, CRM analysis, Google Analytics, and more. 

Cookieless Targeting Tips

What’s your best advice to brands preparing for a cookieless future?

There’s a lot to consider, but the two simple things brands should prioritize are: 

  1. Invest in first-party data collection
  2. Start testing now 

The most important thing you can do now is establish a baseline. Then you can conduct a true study comparing your performance with and without cookies. Cover these two bases and you will be ahead of many brands. From there, you can continue to refine and adjust your research, targeting and measurement strategies as the industry evolves. 

Our team at Coegi is actively testing cookieless solutions and brainstorming innovative cookieless media plans for our clients. For more strategic insights and tips on how to prepare your digital advertising for this change, listen to our full podcast episode on cookieless targeting here

Why Walled Gardens Will (and Won’t) Be More Critical in the Future


As we explore the world of cookieless digital advertising, marketers will be focusing much of their attention on walled gardens with valuable first-party data. However, even walled gardens have issues we will need to navigate through in order to achieve business goals which are tangible to the financial guardians of brands.

Most analysts predict that walled gardens (in particular Google) will be the safest place to conduct audience targeted buys in 2024.  Even while Google’s DSP allows marketers to buy a lot of inventory, it is currently more limited in audio, connected TV and DOOH inventory.  These are channels where context is probably more important than the precision of the audience and where there is likely going to be a need to diversify to other advertising platforms to achieve a successful omni-channel strategy.

Using Facebook User Data

Facebook does have robust behavioral data from signed-in users; however, iOS 15 makes it more challenging to perform audience-based buys and to attribute conversions.  Some of our early campaigns showed a 15x increase in CPA within the platform, but nearly no impact on actual sales.  This means that conversion data on the Facebook platform was (and is) solely directional for most advertisers. While good for the business, this might be more challenging for marketers trying to prove their marketing is “working.”

Should You Trust the Algorithm?

The big ad tech players, and thus some agencies, will likely advise brands to ‘trust the algorithm’ even more than they have in the past, as Google, Facebook and Amazon don’t give specialists a lot of control over or insights about many aspects of their buying decisions.  Facebook in particular makes it challenging to control frequency, and DV360’s lookalike modeling is very opaque.  Against a lack of accurate measurement across each walled garden, brands and their agencies need to develop more holistic, advanced measurement frameworks.

How Will Cookie Deprecation Affect CPMs?

While scale is impacted slightly outside of Google Chrome and Android apps, there are still ample opportunities to bid for inventory in these environments.  However, with fewer buying platforms to conduct audience-based buys and fewer impressions to scale against, CPMs will likely increase, in particular on video.  This might put pressure on agencies to ‘keep the costs down’, which in turn may increase traffic from bots and fraudulent inventory.  Brands need to expect an increase in CPMs while not incentivizing a decrease in inventory quality.

A Walled Garden SWOT Analysis

Strengths – Google, Facebook, Amazon and Apple each have huge first-party data sets.  And not just in volume of users, they have robust metadata around each profile as well, from account information, purchase history and behavior.  Even if ID-based solutions grow in count, it’s possible we may not be able to append significant amounts of secondary data to each profile to be scalable for marketers.

Weaknesses – You will undoubtedly need adjustments in terms of attribution and measurement.  Even today, if you were to believe the metrics from each platform, nearly all of your automated marketing channels would have +ROI for the same purchase. Paid search, Facebook conversion ads and programmatic retargeting can’t all have a CPA of $10. They can’t produce 10,000 sales when you only sold 3,000 products. This is because each is taking credit for any time a user touches their ad. Because the walled gardens don’t share a common user profile, multi-touch attribution can be disjointed and inconsistent. It’s safe to say the methods of achieving measurement will have to change.

Opportunities – Lean into zero-, first- and second-party data in walled garden platforms, and rely less on retargeting. This allows for stronger prospecting and less reliance on audiences that were likely to “convert” anyway and, therefore, inflate marketing metrics.

Threats – Because many marketers and brands will be leaning into walled gardens, there will likely be an increase in advertising costs on these platforms. Budgets will need to increase to achieve the same scale as before.

So what does this mean?

At present, our suggestion is to lean into walled gardens for precise audience targeting. But, begin measuring success of your advertising program at a higher level.  Some examples of this include matched market tests, media mix modeling, and control vs. exposed methodologies.

Yes, this will make it more challenging to know which 50% of your marketing spend is effective. But, it’s the best solution with the reduction of transparency in algorithmic data and therefore less understanding of success from a conversion data standpoint.

This will also force marketers to start looking at the data as a whole. It’s time to get away from optimizing towards last-click and last-touch metrics. They have provided misleading signals for years.

Regarding measurement changes, advertising campaigns need to be set-up to reach business goals rather than just media metric KPIs.  To achieve this, individual channels and tactics will need to identify leading indicators to optimize toward.  Engagement rates, reach, completion rate, and measures of media effectiveness like CPM/CPC should become more of a focus rather than CPAs.

Check out our 5 Step Guide to Measuring Marketing ROI to get started:

Download Coegi’s Measurement Guide
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