Digital marketing as we know it is experiencing a seismic shift as the reliance on third-party cookies diminishes. Marketers now face the urgent task of rethinking their tracking strategies to adapt to this new reality.

As we move into the second half of 2024, first-party data collection and cross-domain tracking are powerful components for creating personalized user experiences while staying compliant with increasingly stringent data privacy regulations, both regionally and internationally.

Why Digital Marketing Needs a New Approach Now

Digital marketers must now rethink their tracking strategies in a post-third-party cookies era. The once-dominant method of using third-party cookies for tracking and personalization is being phased out, requiring a fundamental shift in how user data is collected and utilized.

This is being driven by growing concerns over privacy and data security, leading major browsers and tech companies to introduce new privacy measures. For marketers, this means finding innovative ways to gather actionable data without compromising user trust or violating privacy laws.

Key Strategies for Thriving in a Cookieless World

Using first-party data collection and cross-domain tracking is key for personalized experiences and compliance with data privacy regulations.

First-party data, gathered directly from user interactions with a company’s digital properties, offers a more secure and reliable basis for personalization. Cross-domain tracking augments this by giving marketers the information they need to track user behavior across multiple sites within the same organization, providing a holistic view of the customer journey without compromising privacy.

End of Third-Party Cookies and What It Means for You

Google’s Move Away from Third-Party Cookies

In 2019, Google announced its plan to eliminate third-party cookies, which began to take effect in Q2 2024, with cookies being deprecated for 1% of Chrome users. By Q3 2024, Google’s Privacy Sandbox APIs will fully replace third-party tracking methods.

Google’s move aims to reinforce user privacy by reducing reliance on invasive tracking technologies while still allowing advertisers to reach their target audiences.

How Safari and Other Browsers are approaching Privacy

Apple’s Safari browser implemented Internet Tracking Prevention (ITP) in 2020, further limiting the use of third-party cookies. This move, along with similar initiatives by other browsers, means that over 80% of global users now access the internet through browsers that restrict third-party tracking.

Widespread adoption of privacy-focused measures has highlighted the pressing need for marketers to adopt new strategies for data collection and user tracking.

Facing the Challenges of Data Collection Post-Cookies

Transition away from third-party cookies presents a major challenge for digital marketers. Gathering user data becomes more complex without the tools and techniques that have long been standard.

Despite these challenges, personalization remains foundational, with nearly 75% of consumers indicating a preference for personalized shopping experiences.

However, collecting this first-party data is not straightforward; only one-third of consumers are willing to share their email addresses without an incentive. Reluctance here requires innovative approaches to data collection that build trust while offering clear value to consumers.

Focusing on first-party data collection and implementing cross-domain tracking helps marketers better manage and work through these challenges. These strategies comply with privacy regulations while providing a more accurate and reliable understanding of customer behavior, ultimately leading to better-targeted marketing efforts and improved customer relationships.

Why Client-Side Tagging Is Falling Out of Favor

Understanding Client-Side Tagging

Client-side tagging is a tracking method in which tags are activated directly from a user’s browser, sending data to various external endpoints. These tags, typically implemented as JavaScript code, track user interactions on a website and relay the data to third-party services for analytics, marketing, and advertising purposes. Popularity of this method stems from its straightforward setup and the immediate availability of data for analysis.

The Ease of Client-Side Tagging

The primary advantage of client-side tagging is in its easy implementation. Marketers can quickly deploy tracking tags without needing extensive backend infrastructure or technical expertise.

Real-time data collection is another tangible benefit, letting businesses monitor user behavior as it happens. Such immediacy gives marketers the ability to adjust campaigns and strategies on the fly, reacting to user engagement metrics and trends in near real-time.

Drawbacks of Client-Side Tagging You Can’t Ignore

How Tag Overload Slows Your Site and Costs You Customers

One of the biggest drawbacks of client-side tagging is its impact on website performance. Each tag that loads on a page adds to the overall load time, which can greatly slow down the website.

Studies have shown that even a one-second delay in page load time can lead to a 7% reduction in conversions.

Latency and slow-loading pages frustrate users and affect their willingness to stay on the site and complete desired actions, such as making a purchase or filling out a form.

SEO Penalties for Poor Tagging Practices

Slow page load times negatively affect a website’s search engine optimization (SEO). Google’s Core Web Vitals, a set of performance metrics used to evaluate user experience, including:

  • Largest Contentful Paint (LCP): Measures the time it takes to load the main content of a page; slower times hurt rankings.
  • Cumulative Layout Shift (CLS): Evaluates visual stability by measuring unexpected layout shifts; high scores negatively affect user interaction.
  • Interaction to Next Paint (INP): Tracks the time it takes for a page to respond to user interactions; delays reduce user satisfaction and engagement.

Client-side tagging can degrade these metrics by increasing load times and causing unexpected layout shifts. Poor performance in these areas can result in lower search engine rankings, reducing the site’s visibility and organic traffic inflow.

Why Trust Is key in Data Collection

Many consumers are wary of how their personal information is used. According to a report, 80% of consumers are concerned about how companies use their personal information, and 71% will not buy from companies that have lost their trust.

Distrust is exacerbated by the lack of control consumers feel over their data, with 73% believing they have little to no control over data collection. Companies relying heavily on third-party data collection methods risk alienating their customer base and damaging their brand reputation.

Understanding the True potential of First-Party Data

First-party data refers to information collected directly by the owner of the digital property from their interactions with users, including behaviors, actions, and preferences observed on the company’s own websites or apps. Unlike third-party data, first-party data is gathered firsthand, making it more accurate and relevant.

How User Consent improves Data Security

Collecting first-party data lets companies get explicit consent from users for data tracking. Transparency here improves data security and better aligns with privacy regulations, giving users confidence that their data is handled responsibly. Businesses must clearly communicate how users’ data will be used, which in turn builds trust and strengthens customer relationships.

Managing PII the right way

First-party data collection minimizes the risks associated with handling personally identifiable information (PII). When data is collected directly by the business, there is less need to share it with third parties, reducing the potential for non-compliance with data protection regulations. This also helps in keeping tighter control over data security, as the business can implement robust encryption and storage measures.


Compliance with strict data privacy regulations such as the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) and the California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA) is more straightforward with first-party data. These regulations mandate clear guidelines on data handling, storage, and deletion, which are easier to adhere to when the data is collected and managed internally. Companies must follow these regulations closely to make sure they meet legal requirements and avoid hefty fines.

Why First-Party Data Is More Reliable and Relevant

First-party data is inherently more reliable and relevant for making marketing decisions. Since the data is collected directly from user interactions, it reflects genuine user behaviors and preferences. Higher levels of accuracy lets businesses better tailor their marketing strategies, ultimately leading to better-targeted campaigns and improved customer experiences.

Companies can leverage first-party data to gain deeper insights into their audience, ultimately driving higher engagement and conversion rates.

Enriching First-Party Data with Cross-Domain Tracking

Why First-Party Data Is Gaining traction

In 2016, 74% of marketers identified first-party data as the most valuable type for gaining customer insights. This preference has likely increased as digital privacy regulations have become more stringent.

First-party data provides direct insights into customer behaviors and preferences, making it a goldmine for personalized marketing strategies.

With the growing importance of data privacy and the decline of third-party cookies, the value of first-party data continues to rise, giving businesses a trusted source of information that can drive more effective marketing decisions.

Comparing Client-Side and Server-Side Tagging

Client-side tagging has been the dominant method due to its simplicity and immediate data access through placing tags directly on a website, which then sends data to third-party services. While easy to implement, client-side tagging has considerable drawbacks, including website latency and negative impacts on SEO metrics.

On the other hand, server-side tagging is a more sophisticated solution, involving setting up a cloud-based server container and defining new processing rules. Although the setup is more complex and requires greater technical investment, server-side tagging provides superior compliance with data privacy regulations and enhanced analytics capabilities. It minimizes the load on the user’s browser, leading to faster page load times and improved user experiences.

Why Cross-Domain Tracking matters

Cross-domain tracking is a powerful tool that enables businesses to gather comprehensive user behavior data across multiple websites within the same organization or partner ecosystem without collecting personally identifiable information (PII). Anonymous unique IDs are assigned to website visitors, letting marketers track user interactions across different domains while maintaining privacy compliance.

How Anonymous IDs Make Cross-Domain Tracking Powerful

Using anonymous unique IDs, cross-domain tracking creates a seamless experience for users and a holistic view of their interactions for marketers. Anonymous IDs help identify returning visitors and track their journey across various sites under the same organizational umbrella. It respects user privacy by not tying the data to personal information, yet it still provides valuable insights into user behavior and preferences.

Cross-Domain Tracking in a real-world example

Consider a user who visits the Athleta website for the first time. Cross-domain tracking recognizes this user as a first-time visitor and creates a JavaScript tag on their browser. If the same user visits two weeks later, these solutions identify the user as a first-time Gap visitor but recall their previous interactions with Athleta.

Information such as size preferences and shopping behaviors lets marketers at Gap tailor their strategies to better suit the user’s interests without ever collecting PII. This can then be used to develop robust retargeting strategies across multiple brands within the same organization, boosting the overall user experience and driving higher engagement.

Tim Boesen

June 28, 2024

9 Min