Back to all Blogs

IP tracking vs Cookie tracking vs Visitor level tracking, why does it matter?

Published 14 May 2013 by Frederic Abrard, CANDDi
Read this in about 4 minutes

There are many analytics solution, but what's the difference between IP tracking, cookie tracking and visitor level tracking?
This is an old blog post. Click here for the updated version in 2019!

ip tracking

Since I’ve been with CANDDi I’ve been asked many times the difference between analytics software that perform IP tracking, cookie tracking and visitor level tracking.

There is a massive difference between the three technologies:

IP tracking is the simplest form of tracking and is widely used to do geolocation based content customisation (such as language or “shop near your location”). IP tracking is also used by some software to indicate which companies visited a given website, via a lookup matching the detected IP to an IP registry database.

Cookie based analytics go one step further and track a computer (or more precisely a browser in most cases). A visitor visiting from different locations will be seen as a returning visitor unless he clears the cookies or uses a different browser or a different computer.

Visitor level tracking is far more advanced and usually combines IP tracking, cookie tracking and also some advanced algorithms to recognise a visitor across different devices or if the previous cookies have been removed. This can be done for example by capturing login details submitted on the website for each unique visitor and matching them in the database for finding duplicates, indicating that the same visitor was identified on different devices or on a computer that had cookies removed. For example this is the technology used at CANDDi where we have implemented many techniques to “merge” contacts when the confidence level is high enough.

So why does it matter?

Our internal stats at CANDDi show a staggering 47% of returning visitors have more than one location in their history. A recent research indicates that 41% of emails are opened on mobile phones.

These figures demonstrate the size of the problem facing analytics software vendors.

Now let’s take the example of Joe, a business executive and decision maker at


Joe is busy and visits your website from his laptop whilst sitting at an airport lounge on his way back from a business trip. He looks at your products and spends 5 minutes checking your customers list and contact details.

What happens here:

IP based tracking shows you another visit from an IP linked to the airport or any internet service provider (ISP) used for the internet connection. IP based language detection might be wrong (Joe speaks English but is browsing from France) and certainly no history of Joe can be recorded. A lookup on the company name won’t give any interesting insight and this visit will be dropped from any sales reporting. On the other hand, both Cookie based and Visitor level tracking show you a unique visitor (the computer) from this IP.

Then Joe needs to close his laptop before going further and makes an enquiry when back in his office.

IP based tracking shows you a visitor from the IP belonging to Since the IP level tracking treats each IP differently they will not show you Joe had been on your website before from a different location. Both Cookie and Visitor level tracking show you a new visit from a visitor previously seen. Visitor level tracking will in addition capture the content of the enquiry form and interpret “email” as the email of the person, therefore building an “identified” profile.

Finally Joe became a customer following his previous enquiry. 3 months later Joe, still on the move, opens an email on his mobile. Joe reads it and clicks through to your website to see more details on the product you’re talking about. Unfortunately Joe is late for his meeting and closes the browser.

IP based tracking shows you a new visitor from the IP belonging to the phone network. Once again this visit is likely to be dropped from any sales reporting. Cookie based tracking shows you a visit from a device, possibly capturing the source as being an email. Visitor level tracking understands the tracking code hidden in the email, checks the information against the database of previous visitors and merges the new record with the existing record of Joe. Now Joe’s profile is updated with a visit from his mobile (now identified as Joes’ mobile) and a keen interest in your new offer. Any subsequent visit from Joe’s mobile with added to Joe’s profile.

Before deciding on a technology you need to ask yourself what level of data you use and whether or not you need the single visitor journey.

In some cases IP tracking is more than enough, in other cases Visitor level tracking is what you need.

Back to all Blogs