Mar 22 2024
Zach Moore

Rethinking Measurement and Attribution in a Cookieless World


It was early 2020 when Google first announced plans to deprecate third-party cookies in its Chrome browser. Now, several years and numerous delays later, those once-distant plans are coming to fruition: Cookies were turned off for 1% of users as of early 2024, and they appear set to be deprecated for all users by the end of the year.

Google is by no means early to the party when it comes to taking a stance against the legacy identifier, considering that Mozilla’s Firefox started limiting cookies back in 2013 and Apple’s Safari followed suit in 2017. But given that Chrome currently accounts for more than 66% of the global browser share, Google’s move will have the biggest impact on advertisers.

In the years since Google’s initial announcement, the digital advertising industry has been aflutter with conversations around alternative targeting solutions for a cookieless world—from contextual targeting, to geotargeting and location-based targeting, to collecting and maximizing first-party data, to tools like Google’s Privacy Sandbox.

But targeting isn’t the only thing that will be transformed by cookie deprecation. A recent survey found there are two key challenges that are top-of-mind for advertising professionals as we head into a cookieless world: Targeting and measurement/attribution. As the digital advertising industry stands on the precipice of cookie loss, the conversation is expanding to include more comprehensive solutions around not only targeting, but measurement as well.

Rethinking Measurement: A Necessary Shift

Since the advent of the third-party ad server, marketers have grown used to empirical metrics housed within reporting modules: They knew exactly how many view-through conversions they were getting and the (relatively) precise path to conversion, and they could easily measure ad frequency. This was all enabled by third-party cookies, which tracked a user’s experience as they navigated the digital space.

As Google turns off third-party cookies for its users, advertisers are losing the cookie-fueled reports that they’ve relied on for years. Without them, advertising teams must reconsider how they both assess campaign performance and tell those performance stories to either clients or teams. And given that 30 million Chrome users have already had cookies turned off, the time to make that shift is now.

Among the industry leaders we work with, the ones who are adapting more quickly than their peers are those who understand how their buying decisions, audience strategies, and performance expectations need to shift, and are actively working to change how they communicate performance stories to their clients and teams.

For instance, cookie-based reports used to allow advertising teams to say, “This person saw my ad on this channel, they saw a retargeted ad X days later on this other channel, and then they purchased this product after X amount of time.” Now, without cookie-based data, teams will need to get comfortable telling stories that sound more like, “We invested X amount on this channel, X amount on this channel, and X amount on this channel. Though we can’t track conversions on the individual user level like we used to, we see that sales went up by X amount based on business data, that search terms peaked on this day, and that social engagement grew as well. Using various data sets, we can infer that those ads played a part in driving awareness, consideration, and, eventually, conversion.” Teams can also leverage data they gain from modelling to make projections about performance based on media spend, as well as cookieless conversion attribution to measure post-click conversions in a privacy-friendly way.

Cookieless Measurement Solutions

Just like with cookieless targeting, there isn’t a silver bullet solution out there that’s going to make measurement as precise as it was with third-party cookies—and advertisers should approach any claims that a certain solution can do so with a healthy amount of skepticism.

Instead of hoping for a fix-all solution, teams across the industry will need to experiment and try out different measurement tools to determine what works best for them in a cookieless world. It’s OK to not have a single path forward, and it’s OK to try different approaches—but it’s not OK to just keep waiting. In this new landscape, it’s about being comfortable with experimentation and adaptable to performance.

Tools like cookieless conversion attribution that rely on click strings or Google’s Privacy Sandbox reporting can give advertising teams some insights on conversions for anonymized groups of users in a privacy-friendly way. Strategies like media mix modeling—which rely on statistical analyses of media spending rather than individual user information—are another solution digital advertising teams might consider as they rethink measurement. Teams that get comfortable with modeling out what to expect from performance vs. having hard figures to rely upon will have an edge once third-party cookies are completely gone. Other tools like brand perception studies and audience panels can also prove useful when it comes to post-cookie storytelling. And if teams haven’t started optimizing their first-party data processes? Considering that first-party data is useful for both targeting and attribution, it’s a strategy that’s critical to invest in.

Leaders should also recognize that this new way of measuring is far more resource intensive, and that they won’t be able to have a digital media associate pull a comprehensive report to send to clients or stakeholders like they could when third-party cookies were around. In a cookieless world, there will be far more people—and a far greater level of skill—involved. Leaders who start to plan for this now will be well-positioned once cookies have been fully deprecated.

Looking Ahead: Measurement in a Cookieless World

Whether industry professionals choose to grapple with it now or later, Google’s third-party cookie deprecation will change measurement across the digital advertising ecosystem. Leaders who work with their teams to reapproach how they communicate campaign performance, and to experiment with alternative measurement solutions, will set themselves up for success as the cookieless future becomes the cookieless present.


Interested in how your peers are adapting to signal loss and preparing for the cookieless future? Basis Technologies surveyed over 200 marketing and advertising professionals across agencies, brands, non-profits, and publishers to find out how ready they feel for a world without cookies, what cookieless solutions they’re implementing, and more. Dig into the findings in our report, Identity vs. Privacy: Digital Advertising in a Cookieless World.

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