Apple’s Intelligent Tracking Prevention – How To Use Google Analytics To Determine Its Impact On Your Business

by Hollis Bowman

Co-authored by Ed Finn and Pat Cooney.

Recently, Apple made changes to the way that Safari 11 will handle cookie data. Apple calls this Intelligent Tracking Prevention. These changes will significantly effect advertisers and vendors who make extensive use of third party cookie data. Generally speaking, if you’ve been using third party cookies to send retargeting messages to users, you will lose visibility into conversions happening on Safari after the first 24 hours from their last visit. 

This post is focused on helping our community begin to navigate these changes. In particular, it provides direction on how to use Google Analytics to assess how much this change is going to impact the data that has been previously available. I will assume a level of knowledge about the difference between first and third party cookies, and the content here is directed at businesses that may be actively or considering using third party data to drive marketing efforts. 

What is Intelligent Tracking Prevention?

Here’s the run-down on the changes. In the smallest of nutshells, for Safari users:

  • First party cookies will expire after 30 days
  • Third party cookies will expire after 24 hours

Why is Intelligent Tracking Prevention a big deal?

Based off the client data I’ve seen for the last five years, Apple devices represent a large and steadily growing market share of mobile devices on the web. Compounding this, there is an increasing trend towards the majority of web traffic coming from mobile devices. Advertisers and vendors have spent a lot of time, effort, and money to create a mobile-friendly web, and launch ads that are designed with the mobile user in mind. Because of these trends, changes to how Apple treats data crucial to these ad spends will make significant waves in the adops industry. What’s more, Safari users often have a revenue contribution well larger than their traffic contribution. As a result, advertising vendors are concerned that they will no longer get the credit for closing high-value traffic that they had been able to credit to their campaigns up until this point.

What will Apple’s Intelligent Tracking Prevention mean for your business?

Over the next 3-4 weeks, many people will start to see a drop off in the data available for many retargeting campaigns. Retargeting campaigns that rely on data from third party cookies will cease to function for Safari users after 24 hours, and campaigns relying on first-party data for retargeting (e.g. a Google Analytics goal or auto-tagged AdWords pixel) will cease working for Safari users after 30 days.

The extent of how that may impact your bottom line will depend on the extent to which you leverage third party cookies in your marketing stack, the typical purchase cycle in your customer journey, and how much Safari users are contributing to your bottom line.

Factor 1: Your marketing stack

Put simply, do you use a lot of retargeting as part of your overall marketing tactics? The extent to which you depend on third party data to follow users around the web with nudging reminders to come back and purchase the products they have viewed will necessarily impact how important this update is going to be for your business.  Similarly, if you do use a lot of retargeting, how is the timing being managed?  If you run a lot of campaigns that target within a very short time window from the last time of visit, you probably will be seeing minimal impact to your typical data.  This update will tend to impact people who rely more heavily on longer-tail retargeting strategies.

Whether you’re using shorter or longer term strategies in your remarketing campaigns, this is a good time to check to make sure your retargeting traffic is tagged appropriately.

Many companies with significant retargeting efforts will choose to define these specifically in their Google Analytics custom channels to distinguish prospecting and retargeting traffic. Make sure you have a way of distinguishing retargeting and prospecting traffic either in your UTMs or ad groups, and consider creating custom default channels to be able to measure the ongoing impact of retargeting on your bottom line.

Factor 2: Length of your customer journey

As I alluded to in the section above, if your customers tend to close in a very short time window, you will see less impact on your ability to effectively retarget. If, however, you sell things with a much longer customer journey, this may have a more significant impact on your attribution data.

Don’t know which one applies to you? Here’s how you can tell in Google Analytics.

Length can be determined both by number of touches and by elapsed time. Here’s how to understand how customers interact with your site for both.

Top Conversion Paths report

In Google Analytics, navigate to the Top Conversion Paths report (Conversions>Multi-Channel-Funnels>Top Conversion Paths).  

This report will be as valuable as your marketing channels are specific and descriptive. Take the time to set these up carefully to match your marketing stack.  

From here, you will have a few settings you’ll need to use to make best use of this report.

  1. Set your conversion type – By default, this report looks at both goals and transactions. Be sure to select only the conversion you’re interested in — in most cases, that will be transaction.
  2. Set your path length to ‘All’ – By default, this report looks at 2 or more interactions only. But because we want to know how prevalent multi-touch conversions are, we want to use this drop-down to select ‘All’.
  3. Select your Interaction Type(s) – By default, this report counts impressions as an interaction. Make sure the setting here matches the attribution model for your advertising pixels as closely as possible.
  4. Set your Lookback – By default, this sets a 30 day lookback. As above, make sure this matches the credit rules of your pixels as closely as possible.

Interpreting this report: Path Length

Once you have the appropriate settings enabled, look at the table below. This will tell you how prevalent multi-touch conversions are in your customer journey, and how much money is associated with those paths.

In this case, we can see that for the top 10 paths overall, multi-touch interactions constitute a relatively small portion of overall conversions, and the channels that are contributing to multi-touch conversions are not retargeting-specific channels.

Interpreting this report: Time Length

Now you know how to see whether multi-touch activity is particularly prevalent in your customer journey. How do you understand whether the time constraints imposed by Intelligent Tracking Protevention are relevant to your business cycle?

To do this, start changing the lookback window setting described in (4) above. This will let you assess the impact to existing data of a smaller lookback window. As a general rule of thumb, if the number and value of conversions attributed to any paths that include channels using tactics that rely on third party data is radically diminished when this is set to 1 day lookback, you will see a more significant impact in the data available for these vendors.

Factor 3: Safari’s impact to your bottom line

The examples above have shown data for all devices. To provide more context, it is helpful to understand the overall impact that Safari has on your bottom line. This is easiest to do in the ‘Browser & OS Report’ (Audience>Technology>Browser & OS) Again, it’s important to make sure you are looking at the correct conversion type (eCommerce transactions).

Interpreting this report

In the example above, Safari users constitute 20% of users but only 1% of Revenue (this is not surprising, considering this is the Google Store data). Your data is probably a lot less skewed to traffic with a strong Google affinity.  In this example, this customer would see very little impact to their bottom line, both because they don’t rely heavily on multi-touch interactions using remarketing tactics, and because of the low amount of revenue coming from Safari users. To make this report more meaningful, you can add a segment that looks for users who have had an interaction with any of your remarketing traffic.

Conclusion

The extent to which Intelligent Tracking Prevention will impact your business will generally depend on the nature of your marketing tactics, the nature of your typical customer journey, and the impact that Safari has on your bottom line overall. However, I expect this to be the shape of things to come, and there are likely some interesting times ahead in the world of adops.

Have questions about what you just read? Drop us a line and we’ll be happy to help.

PS Here’s a simple segment we built that may help you isolate for safari versions starting with Safari 11.

 

Hollis Bowman

Senior Analyst and Google Analytics 360 Practice Lead

Hollis Bowman is Napkyn Analytics' Practice Lead for Google Analytics 360. As a senior member of our Analyst Team, Hollis' specialty is working with our clients to turn questions into data and data into answers.

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