Introducing Silktide Analytics – analytics without cookies

Privacy

We removed our cookie banner – here’s how

We decided to get rid of third-party tracking cookies from our website. It was easier than we thought.

Over the last decade, online privacy has been eroded. Advertising companies track your every move online through cookies, pieces of code that let the websites you browse and third parties see your online activity.

The privacy laws changed in the EU a long while back, and we wrote a comprehensive guide about it. It’s still our most viewed blog post, mainly from people asking Google why cookie popups are even a thing given how terrible they made the Internet.

The reason for cookie banners is the vast majority of websites install third-party tracking cookies for marketing purposes. EU law specifically states “You can’t set tracking cookies unless the user explicitly consents to it”. These tracking cookies send data to Big Tech, and track you online.

This is fine for most people, they just click “I accept” without considering the consequences. But given the state of what Facebook, as an example, is up to at the moment in terms of circumventing the restrictions placed on it by Apple and the EU, perhaps they’d not be so keen to do so. More on that later.

The most common trackers are:

  • Google Analytics (so organizations can understand who’s visiting their site, where they came from, and what they did)
  • Twitter (so companies can show targeted ads on Twitter to recent website visitors
  • Facebook (so Mark Zuckerberg can take over the entire Internet, see everything you’re doing, and give businesses a terrible and crappy ads interface. Oh, AND track visitors and advertise to them, not just on your website but across ALL websites)

So, what’s wrong with that, I hear you ask. Businesses need to get data on their customers and advertise to them. What’s the big deal? Plus, aren’t you in charge of marketing?

I hear you. But look, Silktide is all about helping people make the web better. We’ve been talking about the crappiness of cookie popup banners for about ten years now (we even built one and gave it away for free in an exercise in extreme irony).

But cookie banners are merely a band-aid over the real problem – the invasion of user privacy online.

If big tech companies weren’t tracking your every move, we wouldn’t need them.

How did we remove our cookie banner?

So, the first thing we needed to do was look at which cookies were being set on silktide.com. Silktide’s web governance platform actually does this already, so that was quite straightforward. Here’s the list:

  • Google Tag Manager
  • Google Analytics
  • Twitter pixel
  • Facebook pixel
  • Intercom (live chat)

Obviously, setting cookies before consent is a massive no, so we use Google Tag Manager to load everything in, but only once the user explicitly accepts cookies in our banner (GTM itself is also only loaded once the user accepts cookies).

That’s the correct way to do it, but you’d be surprised by the number of websites that set cookies automatically before asking permission (and you can read about that in an upcoming post).

The marketers in the room are probably thinking “Wait, what about my ads and analytics”.

We don’t retarget on Google, Twitter, or Facebook. In fact, we barely do any paid advertising, save for a few select keywords in Google Ads, and some recruitment ads on Facebook and LinkedIn. But those don’t require any tracking pixels to be set.

So really, for us, there’s no need to have Facebook and Twitter pixels on our site at all. That’s why I took them off a few months ago.

That just leaves Google Analytics and Google Tag Manager.

We use Tag Manager to handle various functionality, like sending conversion events into Google Analytics and some basic funnels for people clicking on our “Request Demo” button to see if they convert and where they came from.

So turning that off presented some problems for me because it would basically break conversion tracking.

That said, given that we’ve removed Google Analytics anyway, it’s a moot point.

Removing Google Analytics

We no longer use Google Analytics on our website. This is, of course, madness from a marketing perspective, because how is a global SaaS company expected to track user activity and report on marketing metrics? Why is the head of marketing suggesting this is even a Good Thing?

Fret not. We simply built our own cookie-free analytics and heatmapping solution. We got a bit tired of the way Google Analytics works, so built something which still allows user behavior tracking without invading privacy.

It doesn’t need a cookie consent banner, because there are no cookies. Nor is any data sent outside the EU, and nor is any personally identifiable user data collected or stored.

Removing Facebook and Twitter

I mentioned earlier that we’d removed Facebook’s pixel. Even if we retargeted users on Facebook, its effectiveness would have dropped significantly since Apple blocked Facebook’s ability to track iOS users.

Also, Google Chrome is blocking third-party cookies by default in 2023, which means Facebook and Twitter advertising will become even less effective in the future. Google, of course, owns Chrome and so that probably helps it track logged-in users even without cookies.

Given that most advertising data is now in aggregate the future seems clear – closed ecosystems with little transparency. Examples include Facebook’s Conversions API – the most insidious counter to EU law you can imagine.

Unfortunately, even without cookies, it’s still going to be possible for Facebook to track you. In fact, with the Conversion API, they’ll get even more personally identifiable data than before. We wrote a blog about that which you can read here.

What about Intercom?

We use Live Chat on our websites and in our app so our customers can talk to us. There are no Live Chat apps that don’t require data transfer, so the only choice here is to remove Intercom from our main silktide.com website.

We are, however, still using it on our support websites and so we kept a cookie banner on there to give people the choice. Intercom won’t load at all until you accept cookies.

It’s a compromise. You can still email us if you’d prefer not to use Intercom.

Putting the choice back in users’ hands

Users need a choice on privacy at a time that makes sense to them. They should also not be bombarded with cookie banners immediately upon visiting every new website.

It’s possible to have comprehensive analytics that also respects user privacy. You can still monitor conversions, you can still see traffic sources, and you can still report on advertising using standard URL tracking templates.

The difference is that no personally-identifiable user data is collected so you don’t need a cookie popup to use it. It’s also fully compliant with privacy laws.

The effectiveness of retargeting on Facebook is massively reduced now anyway, especially since Apple blocked third-party cookies on iOS. When Chrome blocks cookies next year, the problem will get even worse.

To find out more about cookie-free, privacy-focused analytics, click here.

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