Apple’s Safari ITP 2.2 Update Explained
The rollout of Safari Intelligent Tracking Prevention 2.2 as part of the iOS 12.3 update has material implications for digital marketers, which will be felt by some industries and businesses more than others. In this post I will explain what this update is, what the anticipated impacts are, and best practices for how to adapt your analytics strategy moving forward.
What is ITP?
Intelligent Tracking Prevention is Apple's initiative in the Safari browser (for both phones, tablets, and computers) that is intended to prevent advertisers and other technologies from tracking and collecting information about users. Apple has already released a couple iterations of ITP over the past few years. To understand exactly what is changing with ITP 2.2, it is important to understand the differences between first- and third-party cookies.
First-Party vs. Third-Party Cookies
Cookies collect and store information about users in the browser. They are used extensively in advertising—everything from media platform tags, DMPs, site analytics, and CRO tools. Cookies are generally split into two types: first-party cookies and third-party cookies. First-party cookies are tied to the domain that the user is visiting, and thus, are allowed to do some additional things and persist for longer than third-party cookies, which are set by an external domain.
Previous iterations of ITP affected only third-party cookies. Prior to this, a majority of advertising platforms leveraged third-party cookies. However, due to ITP, most major advertising platforms moved from third-party cookies to first-party cookies to mitigate ITP third-party restrictions. ITP updates prior to 2.1 had little effect on advertisers provided they had updated their marketing tags to those that set first-party cookies.
ITP 2.1 and 2.2
In late March, Apple released ITP 2.1 which limited all first-party cookie data persistence to 7 days. Previously this limit was 2 years for many cookies, and most advertising cookies used a 30 day time persistence. (Note: this does not apply to certain cookies which prompt a secure response from the host domain such as authentication cookies that keep you logged into a site).
On Monday, Apple rolled out ITP 2.2 which further degrades the first-party cookie data lifetime from 7 days to a mere 24 hours. This means that for all users in Safari browsers, no data used by advertising or other marketing cookies can be stored for longer than 24 hours, provided the user does not return to the site so it can be refreshed within that 24 hour window.
What Does This Mean for Advertisers?
Safari currently represents ~35% of the US browser market share. And Firefox (which is following Apple's lead and will release the same ITP update soon) is ~5%. So generally speaking, this will effect 40% of brands’ users. That said, the specific degree of impact on brands will vary based on the following:
1. The percentage of a brand’s user base that uses Safari (and soon, Firefox).
2. The percentage of a brand’s sales that are latent, or occur after the first interaction with an advertisement or site visit. Brands that have customers with more complex buying processes will lose visibility into the first touch contribution of digital media for any conversions taking place on Safari if the conversion takes place more than 24 hours after the first interaction. Data for brands with very short conversion periods will be less impacted.
Anticipated Impact on Media Data
Generally speaking, the loss of visibility of media channel performance will be greatest for top-of-the-funnel tactics. Paid Search/SEM data will be impacted less relative to other channels as SEM conversions tend to skew towards last touch. Again, for brands with higher consideration purchases that have a longer selling cycle, we will likely lose visibility into the contribution of top-of-funnel non-branded keywords. I also expect affiliate data will have a lower impact as most interactions with affiliate ads occur at the bottom of the funnel. Paid Social and Programmatic data will be impacted the most. For conversions that take place on Safari, advertisers will lose visibility to view-through or click interactions with ads outside of the 24 hour window. This will make it much more difficult to evaluate and compare the impact of various Paid Social and Programmatic tactics, which often are used for the awareness and consideration stages of the purchase funnel.
Anticipated Impact on Site Analytics Data
The 24 hour look-back window for Safari traffic and conversions will have a significant impact on some areas of site analytics reporting, particularly for any unique user/visitor activity. Currently, all site analytics platforms leverage 2-year persistent cookies used to identify a given user as the same person who visited the site previously. What that means is, if I visit a site, and return anytime in the same 2 years from the same browser, site analytics tools will know that I am the same person and can carry that information forward. This means that historically site analytics could connect first touch media interactions to eventual conversions. Now, if 24 hours pass from the moment of the first touch to the conversion, that traffic source data is lost. Also, the volume of unique visitors will increase as site analytics can no longer stitch together historic visit data.
This also has a potentially high impact for organic traffic data, especially for brands with a longer conversion evaluation process. Since organic search plays a large role in the start of information gathering for users, in a scenario where a user visits a brand’s site after discovering the brand on Google, but then waits more than 24 hours before actually converting and enters from another channel or via bookmark/history, SEO will not be credited as site analytics is no longer able to tie the initial visit to the converting visit.
What Should Brands Do Next?
The first step for brands is to understand that this change is happening, and that it is universal for all advertising tools and is impacting the entire industry.
As of today, the major ad platforms and marketing tool vendors have not created a solution for this loss of media data visibility for Safari activity. While we will continue to monitor any technology changes or tactics that can mitigate the effects of ITP 2.2, it is highly possible that the entire digital advertising industry will be forced to adjust to this new normal.
Site analytics platforms are talking about moving towards browser local storage to mitigate this change, but that solution has drawbacks as well. Rise is currently testing this solution for Google Analytics and will have an update soon, but that solution becomes very complex for GA instances that track multiple domains (including subdomains), which is common.
If you’d like to learn more about how Rise can help evolve your digital strategy in light of updates like ITP, contact us today.