WebTrends update addresses ‘cookie’ conundrum

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Analytics provider WebTrends Inc. this week announced a new version of its WebTrends 7 product, WebTrends 7.5, that is designed to address, among other issues, a recent Jupiter Research report about the accuracy of third-party cookies.

In March, Jupiter Research released a report that said in 2004 more than 58% of online users deleted cookies, the markers that help marketers track the effectiveness of online campaigns. As many as 39% of users are deleting cookies on a monthly basis, according to the report. Even more significant for b-to-b marketers, many corporations block cookies automatically. Third-party cookies are a common target, said Eric T. Peterson, site operations and technology analyst at Jupiter Research. Peterson authored the study on cookies.

This week’s announcement is WebTrend’s first major news since becoming a privately held company once again. Francisco Partners, a Menlo Park, Calif. private equity firm, finalized its acquisition of Portland, Ore.-based WebTrends on May 3.

WebTrends 7.5 includes first-party cookie support. In addition, WebTrends has announced it will implement first-party cookies for its customers. "If a customer can’t deploy its own [first-party cookie], we can help them do it and still keep ownership of their SSL certificate," said Jeff Seacrist, the company’s director-product marketing. Jupiter Research’s Peterson agreed the announcement is good news for customers looking to thwart cookie blocking and anti-spyware software.

"It’s good that one of the better-known vendors is actively looking at the problem and doing so using the guidance [using first-party cookies] that we suggested when we released our report," Peterson said. "The analytics vendors didn’t have to like our report but they had an obligation to their customers. WebTrends’ upgrade provides more actionable and accurate information to their customers based on what we know."

WebTrends competitor WebSideStory is testing similar functionality, while CoreMetrics, another analytics provider, is already implementing its own first-party cookie solution, said Peterson. But while these improvements may solve the issue of cookie blocking, they can’t fix cookie deletion. Even if a browser accepts a first-party cookie, once it’s deleted, it’s deleted, Peterson added.

Analytic providers such as WebTrends are looking at cookie alternatives such as so-called "sessionization," using IP addresses plus agents to create a "unique" visit to track. In some cases, software is relying solely on IP address, a method that can be off as much as 50%, said WebTrend’s Seacrist. Still, this is better than the alternative, said Peterson.

"Cookies are being deleted quite frequently. If 30% of your audience is unidentifiable, using IP plus Agent you can get 75% of those 30%," he said. "But nothing out there provides an absolute picture."

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