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Web Site Measurement Hacks by Eric T. Peterson

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Hack #17. Alternatives to Cookies

While cookies are the most widely used means to identify unique visitors, they are by no means perfect, and a handful of worthy alternatives exist.

Cookies, when properly used, provide a great service to web measurement applications, allowing unique visitors to be tracked from visit to visit and enabling valuable measurements like frequency of visit and lifetime value. Sadly, web site analysts must sometimes do without cookies. There are many reasons for that, such as the following:

  • Some visitors actively and consciously disable cookies in their web browsers due to concerns about their privacy. They are essentially opting out of being measured and tracked.

  • Some visitors may allow regular cookies set by your web site but disallow tracking cookies set simultaneously by third-party web sites.

  • Some visitors may browse your web site from handheld devices that are not always capable of keeping cookies.

  • Some web sites make a conscious decision not to cookie their visitors as a symbol of their respect for their clients' privacy. Most typically, this may be the case with websites of banks and other financial services.

Even if your web site attempts to set cookies, there will be a portion of your visitors for whom cookies are unavailable. Web server logfile-based site measurement tools typically uncover that 15 percent of visits to a web site do not carry a cookie. This hack will show you some alternatives.

Reasonable (If Not Great) Alternatives to Cookies

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