Apple Updates to Safari Spell Changes for User Tracking

Intelligent Tracking Prevention (ITP), a feature of Apple’s Safari browser, prohibits companies from using cookies to collect certain types of user data. Tech giants like Google and Facebook have used workarounds to ITP for years, but Apple recently made moves to restrict data tracking – and these workarounds – further. 

  • ITP updates represent a shift in how the world views tracking; businesses that monitor user behavior need to understand how Apple’s new priorities might affect their work.
  • Traditional customer tracking on Safari browsers is going to become impossible, and the biggest victim of the updates will be innovation if businesses don’t take the appropriate steps to adapt.
  • To continue to innovate despite consumer privacy changes, businesses should measure the impact of ITP, create user IDs and invest in high-quality tech talent. 

The latest update, dubbed ITP 2.1, eliminates all third-party cookies after 30 days. That’s just the start. The next update will prohibit third-party cookies entirely and degrade first-party cookies after just seven days. Based on this, experts predict that as Apple continues to refine ITP, the window for traffic monitoring could shrink to a time frame as short as 24 hours.

These updates represent a significant shift in how the world is starting to view tracking. Because of this, every business that monitors user behavior online will be forced to develop an understanding of how Apple’s new privacy-oriented priorities might affect their work.

Is customer tracking a lost cause?

C-suite decision-makers rely heavily on tracking data to generate the key performance indicators they use to develop business strategies, and Apple’s ITP updates will reduce the supply of that data by severely limiting the lifespan of cookies.

From a practical perspective, analytics will only be able to identify new visitors and not those who are returning. Further, because companies can no longer consistently track users, it will become harder to do things like personalize sites and perform traditional A/B testing.

Over time, the shrinking pool of data could lead to skewed ROI calculations, lost ad dollars and decreased efficiency. Falling back on workarounds like link decoration, which adds information to the URL in a link, will no longer work, because ITP updates target those, too. And because practices like this are used by advertisers, publishers and affiliate marketers, the impact will most certainly be felt.

Traditional customer tracking on Safari browsers is going to become impossible, which will make doing business in the digital age that much harder. Most troubling of all, the biggest victim of the updates will be an innovation if businesses don’t take the right steps to adapt. 

Finding new sources of inspiration

Innovation doesn’t happen in a vacuum. Rather, it’s inspired by the patterns and preferences of actual consumers. That’s why tracking tools like link decoration have historically been advantageous – they allowed companies to follow people throughout the buyer’s journey, identifying pain points and unmet needs that they can solve along the way.

So if ITP restricts tracking, how will companies continue to foster innovation? They’ll be forced to find new approaches. If businesses can’t follow customers through their journeys, they’ll have to meet them at their final destinations, making omnichannel marketing essential.

This is by no means impossible. Companies already have a treasure trove of insights inside their customer databases and e-commerce platforms that reveal what their customers need and want. Now that it’s harder to track customers, companies must engage them at the top of the funnel, move them through it, and get them to convert by using compelling images, strong calls to action, and a mobile-first user experience. 

Thriving without tracking

Digital marketers are already finding ways to connect the channels they use and make their marketing more holistic. Think of connected, targeted TV ads that appear when users pause their shows or companies’ partnerships with Alexa that position them as expert sources of information for certain topics.

Omnichannel marketing makes sense, and it makes your messaging stronger. But make sure you really get to know your audience and learn how to bring together your offline and online channels seamlessly before getting started. Digging into internal consumer databases and e-commerce platforms are always reliable options that can uncover needs and inform new ways for your brand to innovate what it has to offer.

Without tracking ability, you’ll also have to consider how you look at your creative work. What are you using on your ads? Does your call to action make sense, and is it leading to more first-click actions?

Your business won’t have to immediately and completely abandon user tracking. Data will still be available from other browsers, giving you access to some, but not all, traffic information. Use these strategies to help you adapt and innovate in a new way.

1. Measure the impact of ITP. 

Safari only accounts for approximately 4% of desktop browser sessions and 20% of mobile sessions, so it likely represents a small portion of your audience. Use the segments feature in Google Analytics to calculate exactly how many people are coming from desktop and mobile Safari browsers. Look at browser and mobile statistics separately, because mobile accounts for five times more traffic.

You can gauge the impact of ITP updates further by measuring how much time it takes first-time visitors to convert on your site. If it’s less than 24 hours, ITP’s cookie limitations will have little effect on your marketing model. 

2. Create user IDs.

ITP makes it harder to track anonymous traffic, but when users sign in to your platform, they’re giving their consent to be tracked. Create user IDs and then encourage sign-ins by optimizing every part of the website experience: landing pages, checkout processes, mobile purchases, etc. Keep in mind that this will have to be intentional and truly offer users value if it will entice them to sign up and disclose information about themselves.

Give visitors a reason to come back by offering them compelling content and assistance with purchasing. Ensure that it’s easy to digest, actionable and engaging. Whether you offer users this content in the form of a blog post, a video, a podcast or an infographic, remember that content is one of the most powerful tools you have. Make it enticing for users to log in with their unique ID by promising something special only to members.

By taking these steps to engage customers on your site, the fact that you can’t track them when they leave becomes less of an issue. 

3. Invest in tech talent.

There aren’t true workarounds to the ITP updates, but there are alternatives. Tools like tracker pages, IFramesand server-side scripts can all replace some of the insights that tracking data provides – as long as you have the right tech talent to implement and optimize them.

Start recruiting this talent now to prepare for future updates and whatever privacy changes follow. Companies will need to be nimble and flexible as online advertising evolves; don’t wait to find the necessary talent until it’s too late. And remember that investing in technology gives your business an edge over the competition. The sooner you get started using these powerful technology tools, the sooner you can get ahead and excel.

It’s easy to be alarmed about the ITP updates. But when you put them in context, you’ll find that they only affect a specific category of data from a limited percentage of traffic. You could even argue that these changes are a good thing, because they force advertisers to be clearer and more compelling than ever before. 

In the midst of all the changes, innovation will continue to be mandatory. It’s because of this imperative that businesses will need to adapt along with consumer privacy changes in order to thrive in the future.

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