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3 Alternatives to Traditional Tracking

Thekla von Plate,
Content Marketing Manager @Mapp
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Tracker blocking rates are as high as 26%, and ad blockers show an overall global rate of up to 43%. We see the highest rates on tech-focused pages simply because those users are more aware of the functionality and impact of tracking and third-party cookies. And of course, all industries are affected by this trend.  

This blog shows three alternatives to conventional tracking to significantly improve data quality and reliability while being fully GDPR-compliant. 

How Traditional Tracking Works 

Don’t worry: we know you’re aware of conventional tracking. But let’s refresh your memory, to better understand the difficulties and where we see the old system struggling.   

Ever since web tracking was established, it has worked in a very similar matter. When a page is loaded, an invisible pixel (yes, an actual image pixel) implemented on the page requests the server to be loaded – indicating that the page has been opened. The pixel also sets a cookie that delivers information on actions on the page and follow-up pages, creating a detailed and insightful customer profile. This makes it easy to target or retarget visitors based on their interests – organically or with ads. 

You read the word cookie – and this is precisely where part of the trouble starts. Third-party cookies, the ones that can track activity across several follow-up domains, are a thing of the past. Most browsers (such as Safari, Mozilla Firefox, and soon also Google Chrome) are putting an end to third-party cookies – hence all related tracking that created third-party data. Additionally, browsers are working towards closing loopholes that advertisers have started using to avoid the limitations that third-party cookies are now facing by using first-party cookies in a similar matter. This combo often leads to a decrease in data quality.  

Are advertisers having sleepless nights because of this? Maybe. But for marketers, there is hope. Several options are available to sustain a high data quality without needing third-party cookies or being heavily affected by blockers.  

 Ad Blocker vs. Tracking Blocker 

First, we need to differentiate between ad blocking and tracker blocking. While the first aims to block out advertisements, which is more common and may also affect your data quality, tracker blocking is dedicated to only that purpose: to avoid data being documented. Both are usually browser-based – often in the shape of plugins – but have different assignments:  

Ad Blockers vs. Privacy Blockers 

Ad Blockers  Tracking Blockers
Blocks ads Yes Yes
Blocks ad tracking Yes Yes
Blocks site analytics
(e.g. Google Analytics)
No Yes
Blocks website tracking scripts No Yes
Blocks third-party requests Yes, if related to ads Yes (but wide spectrum)
Web-font blocking No Yes (some)
Can block JavaScript? No Yes (some)

Source: https://avoidthehack.com/difference-adblock-tracker-blocking  

As seen in the table, ad blockers also regularly block tracking – cookies for ads and for tracking are often read similarly by the blocker.  

We’re obviously not advocating tracking without consent. However, we strongly believe that marketers need to be able to have access to data to understand customer expectations and improve the customer experience. How else would you be able to find out which forms aren’t working and where visitors are dropping out of the customer journey? Insight-led Customer Experiences are the key to success in today’s competitive market, and at its base stands solid and complete data. 

Let’s look at three tracking alternatives that work without cookies but deliver robust first-party data. They improve data quality and enable you to understand your visitors better.   

Alternatives:  

1) Custom Track Domain

2) Server-to-Server Tracking

3) Proxy Tracking

1)    Custom Track Domain 

Custom Track Domains are relatively straightforward but very efficient for improving data quality. Instead of sending tracking requests to a URL that reveals the tracking software in the URL name, they’re sent to a subdomain of the actual page. From there, the request is forwarded to the actual tracking server. Let’s look at one example:  

 examplepage.com sends a tracking request to tracking.examplepage.com which then forwards the request to the final target: the software provider (such as Mapp Intelligence). 

This way, the tracking request is noted as an internal request and will not be seen as a third-party tracking request and subsequently not be blocked. This is especially important for blocking that derives from ad blockers and significantly improves cookie acceptance.  

While this is a relatively common practice within Mapp, it’s still not an industry standard.  

Mapp customers can rely on being equipped with a custom track domain right from the start to ensure high data quality.  

2)    Server-to-Server Tracking 

Server-to-server tracking is a more elaborate approach. Instead of the browser communicating with the tracking service server, the host server communicates directly with the tracking service server, delivering accurate first-party data. This means that the browser is intentionally being left out of the tracking concept. Instead, the loading of the page is guaranteed to be registered. The server notices that a page is being loaded and which URL it is.   

This approach delivers very precise numbers for “click-on-page.” This makes it a very popular approach for tracking key pages, such as “order” or “order value.” Those figures will also show up in overall orders, which allows for a cross-check on data accuracy.  

What it cannot provide is information on anything that happens on a page without needing a reload (single page application).  These are, for example, “add to cart” or generally browsing within a page (think changing the size/color of a fashion item).   

What you need to ask yourself is: do I want 100% of all page impressions but only 90% of all page impressions, with all onsite clicks? The choice is yours.   

The financial industry regularly implements server-to-server tracking to understand the usage of sensitive areas such as post-login pages. This enables them to identify the most relevant pages with 100% accuracy.  

We recommend implementing Server-to-Server tracking on key pages to understand the “bigger picture,” while always combining it with traditional tracking that’s running on custom track domains. Customers end up with very precise numbers on essential pages, while also gaining insights on onsite behavior. This is essential to understand and improve CX.  

3)    Proxy Tracking 

Proxy tracking is a hybrid model between the two methods mentioned above. It’s a valid alternative to conventional tracking. This is how it works: 

All tracking requests generated in the browser go directly to the customer server – running on a custom track domain. The customer server then simply forwards the data to the software solution. Browsers and blockers recognize the customer server as the primary data collector. 

The data quality is exceptionally high in this approach. Blockers will not blacklist the owned domain, which may occasionally happen with custom tracking domains. Here, the final target remains unseen. Furthermore, it improves data security. If a leak or hack should ever occur, the ties to the software can easily be cut. Additionally, the customer can filter out certain information that should not reach the tracking servers by default. This can, for example, be non-encrypted email addresses. This also increases data protection.  

To set up the proxy tracking solution, you need to implement tracking as usual on your site – but instead of sending the information to a tracking server (say, Mapp Intelligence), it goes to the customer server.  

Conclusion 

In the digital world, few things are black and white. This also applies to tracking concepts. In this blog, you’ve seen the pros and cons of each approach. Often, merging different concepts is the best way to go forward.  

Proxy tracking is the most solid path to excellent data quality – despite rising blocker rates and the death of third-party cookies. It comes with a straightforward setup, improves data quality, delivers only GDPR-compliant data to the service provider, and gives high control to the customer. For banks, this is clearly the go-to solution. For eCommerce, server-to-server tracking at the checkout line may suffice in many cases. But by implementing any of those tracking approaches, your organization is guaranteed to see improved data quality. If you’d like to find out more about how Mapp can help you improve your data quality, get in touch.  






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3 Alternatives to Traditional Tracking

Thekla von Plate,
Content Marketing Manager @Mapp
3 Alternatives to Traditional Tracking');
share
linkdin
twitter
facebook

Tracker blocking rates are as high as 26%, and ad blockers show an overall global rate of up to 43%. We see the highest rates on tech-focused pages simply because those users are more aware of the functionality and impact of tracking and third-party cookies. And of course, all industries are affected by this trend.  

This blog shows three alternatives to conventional tracking to significantly improve data quality and reliability while being fully GDPR-compliant. 

How Traditional Tracking Works 

Don’t worry: we know you’re aware of conventional tracking. But let’s refresh your memory, to better understand the difficulties and where we see the old system struggling.   

Ever since web tracking was established, it has worked in a very similar matter. When a page is loaded, an invisible pixel (yes, an actual image pixel) implemented on the page requests the server to be loaded – indicating that the page has been opened. The pixel also sets a cookie that delivers information on actions on the page and follow-up pages, creating a detailed and insightful customer profile. This makes it easy to target or retarget visitors based on their interests – organically or with ads. 

You read the word cookie – and this is precisely where part of the trouble starts. Third-party cookies, the ones that can track activity across several follow-up domains, are a thing of the past. Most browsers (such as Safari, Mozilla Firefox, and soon also Google Chrome) are putting an end to third-party cookies – hence all related tracking that created third-party data. Additionally, browsers are working towards closing loopholes that advertisers have started using to avoid the limitations that third-party cookies are now facing by using first-party cookies in a similar matter. This combo often leads to a decrease in data quality.  

Are advertisers having sleepless nights because of this? Maybe. But for marketers, there is hope. Several options are available to sustain a high data quality without needing third-party cookies or being heavily affected by blockers.  

 Ad Blocker vs. Tracking Blocker 

First, we need to differentiate between ad blocking and tracker blocking. While the first aims to block out advertisements, which is more common and may also affect your data quality, tracker blocking is dedicated to only that purpose: to avoid data being documented. Both are usually browser-based – often in the shape of plugins – but have different assignments:  

Ad Blockers vs. Privacy Blockers 

Ad Blockers  Tracking Blockers
Blocks ads Yes Yes
Blocks ad tracking Yes Yes
Blocks site analytics
(e.g. Google Analytics)
No Yes
Blocks website tracking scripts No Yes
Blocks third-party requests Yes, if related to ads Yes (but wide spectrum)
Web-font blocking No Yes (some)
Can block JavaScript? No Yes (some)

Source: https://avoidthehack.com/difference-adblock-tracker-blocking  

As seen in the table, ad blockers also regularly block tracking – cookies for ads and for tracking are often read similarly by the blocker.  

We’re obviously not advocating tracking without consent. However, we strongly believe that marketers need to be able to have access to data to understand customer expectations and improve the customer experience. How else would you be able to find out which forms aren’t working and where visitors are dropping out of the customer journey? Insight-led Customer Experiences are the key to success in today’s competitive market, and at its base stands solid and complete data. 

Let’s look at three tracking alternatives that work without cookies but deliver robust first-party data. They improve data quality and enable you to understand your visitors better.   

Alternatives:  

1) Custom Track Domain

2) Server-to-Server Tracking

3) Proxy Tracking

1)    Custom Track Domain 

Custom Track Domains are relatively straightforward but very efficient for improving data quality. Instead of sending tracking requests to a URL that reveals the tracking software in the URL name, they’re sent to a subdomain of the actual page. From there, the request is forwarded to the actual tracking server. Let’s look at one example:  

 examplepage.com sends a tracking request to tracking.examplepage.com which then forwards the request to the final target: the software provider (such as Mapp Intelligence). 

This way, the tracking request is noted as an internal request and will not be seen as a third-party tracking request and subsequently not be blocked. This is especially important for blocking that derives from ad blockers and significantly improves cookie acceptance.  

While this is a relatively common practice within Mapp, it’s still not an industry standard.  

Mapp customers can rely on being equipped with a custom track domain right from the start to ensure high data quality.  

2)    Server-to-Server Tracking 

Server-to-server tracking is a more elaborate approach. Instead of the browser communicating with the tracking service server, the host server communicates directly with the tracking service server, delivering accurate first-party data. This means that the browser is intentionally being left out of the tracking concept. Instead, the loading of the page is guaranteed to be registered. The server notices that a page is being loaded and which URL it is.   

This approach delivers very precise numbers for “click-on-page.” This makes it a very popular approach for tracking key pages, such as “order” or “order value.” Those figures will also show up in overall orders, which allows for a cross-check on data accuracy.  

What it cannot provide is information on anything that happens on a page without needing a reload (single page application).  These are, for example, “add to cart” or generally browsing within a page (think changing the size/color of a fashion item).   

What you need to ask yourself is: do I want 100% of all page impressions but only 90% of all page impressions, with all onsite clicks? The choice is yours.   

The financial industry regularly implements server-to-server tracking to understand the usage of sensitive areas such as post-login pages. This enables them to identify the most relevant pages with 100% accuracy.  

We recommend implementing Server-to-Server tracking on key pages to understand the “bigger picture,” while always combining it with traditional tracking that’s running on custom track domains. Customers end up with very precise numbers on essential pages, while also gaining insights on onsite behavior. This is essential to understand and improve CX.  

3)    Proxy Tracking 

Proxy tracking is a hybrid model between the two methods mentioned above. It’s a valid alternative to conventional tracking. This is how it works: 

All tracking requests generated in the browser go directly to the customer server – running on a custom track domain. The customer server then simply forwards the data to the software solution. Browsers and blockers recognize the customer server as the primary data collector. 

The data quality is exceptionally high in this approach. Blockers will not blacklist the owned domain, which may occasionally happen with custom tracking domains. Here, the final target remains unseen. Furthermore, it improves data security. If a leak or hack should ever occur, the ties to the software can easily be cut. Additionally, the customer can filter out certain information that should not reach the tracking servers by default. This can, for example, be non-encrypted email addresses. This also increases data protection.  

To set up the proxy tracking solution, you need to implement tracking as usual on your site – but instead of sending the information to a tracking server (say, Mapp Intelligence), it goes to the customer server.  

Conclusion 

In the digital world, few things are black and white. This also applies to tracking concepts. In this blog, you’ve seen the pros and cons of each approach. Often, merging different concepts is the best way to go forward.  

Proxy tracking is the most solid path to excellent data quality – despite rising blocker rates and the death of third-party cookies. It comes with a straightforward setup, improves data quality, delivers only GDPR-compliant data to the service provider, and gives high control to the customer. For banks, this is clearly the go-to solution. For eCommerce, server-to-server tracking at the checkout line may suffice in many cases. But by implementing any of those tracking approaches, your organization is guaranteed to see improved data quality. If you’d like to find out more about how Mapp can help you improve your data quality, get in touch.  






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