What Apple’s Intelligent Tracking Prevention Means for Advertisers
Find out the impact of Apple’s ‘Intelligent Tracking Prevention’ to digital advertisers, and what you can do to adapt.

In September 2017, Apple announced updates to Safari that impact the use of cookies used to track users across different websites.

The updates will have varying levels of impact for the industry, affecting advertisers, publishers and ad networks alike.

Given that the cookie has long been one of the primary methods employed by marketers to track conversions and retarget users, advertisers are understandably concerned about what it means for them as users of programmatic tools.

Historically, Safari browsers would block third-party cookies placed by domains other than the domain of the URL to which the user browsed.

For example, if a user loaded ESPN.com, Safari would only allow ESPN to cookie the user – any other tags placed on ESPN’s webpage, like a third-party measurement company, would not work for tracking purposes.

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Cookies placed on advertisements, however, were not beholden to Safari’s rules.

When a consumer clicks an ad there is typically a redirect to the advertising technology provider that is executing the campaign on the marketer’s behalf.

At this point, the ad tech partner can use a first-party cookie to identify the consumer.  In some cases, an advertiser can then leverage those first-party cookies for tracking conversions and for retargeting.

With Apple Safari’s new Intelligent Tracking Prevention, this concept of a “first-party cookie” is turned on its head.

In the first 24 hours, the cookie will act exactly like it used to – and can be used for conversion tracking and retargeting.

For example, if a customer visits Travelocity’s website and searches for a flight and hotel in Mexico, they can be tracked and retargeted as they move across the web for exactly 24 hours.

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However, after 24 hours, cookies that track cross-domain behavior will become dormant.

What Does This Mean for Marketers?

First, some background on how most advertising technology companies use cookies on behalf of marketers:

Within these technology platforms, an ad click is routed through the platform’s domain and becomes a first-party cookie. The technology platform uses the same domain for all its cookies, so all channels benefit from these cookies for conversion tracking, attribution, and retargeting.

With the upcoming Safari changes, first-party cookies used for cross-domain tracking on Safari browser will expire after 24 hours.

This means:

Tracking conversion tag activity won’t be possible beyond 24 hours of an ad click on Safari. This may have the biggest potential impact for search advertisers. The 24-hour clock is reset every time that user clicks an ad for that domain. Users cannot be reached in retargeting campaigns after 24 hours on Safari. The impact may vary by vertical and sales cycle (for example, the retail vertical’s short sales cycle may not be as impacted as the automobile vertical’s long sales cycle).

What Can You Do About It?

Not all is lost.

Despite these hurdles, marketers have options available to help them mitigate Safari’s new policy.

Ad tech vendors may have integrations in place that can track conversions without relying on the type of first-party cookies used for cross-domain tracking – so they aren’t limited by Safari’s new 24-hour policy.

For example, marketers who leverage search bid management and optimization platforms with site analytics integrations for conversion tracking shouldn’t be impacted.

This is because website analytics-based solutions don’t use cookies for cross-domain tracking. Rather, they are used to help the website understand where their traffic is coming from, remember customer preferences, etc.

As such, site analytics-based cookies are persistent, do not expire after 24 hours, and are not impacted by Safari’s changes.

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This is why integration matters.

Search advertising platforms that have integrations with analytics platforms are able to use these persistent cookies to sync site conversion and engagement metrics to advertising activity.

As a reminder, this only impacts the Safari 11 browser on iOs 11.

Given the rapid adoption of past iOs platforms, it is not unlikely that this update will quickly gain market share.

So, when deciding on a search-bid management and optimization partner, remember to consider whether it employs an analytics-based solution for tracking conversions – your ROI depends on it.