In June 2017, Apple announced a major update to its native desktop browser, effectively limiting the tracking of desktop Safari users with third-party cookies. Called Intelligent Tracking Prevention, Apple utilizes a machine learning algorithm to identify and block third-party cookies from tracking users after 24 hours.
In its effort to protect user privacy, Safari’s embargo on third-party cookies also significantly impacts conversion tracking for advertisers. Without the ability to track users across multiple websites for more than 24 hours, marketers will be forced to rely on incomplete data sets when reporting on website and paid media campaign performance.
To alleviate the concerns of paid search advertisers, Google has implemented new conversion-counting methodology across browser types and has released a Conversion Linker tag that will help sync Safari user data with the AdWords pixel, ensuring better attribution for paid search campaigns. Similarly, Bing is recommending that advertisers using Universal Event Tracking (UET) tags enable auto-tagging for ad URLs. Auto-tagging will add a unique click ID that is captured when a user clicks a Bing ad, which can later be referenced for attribution outside of the 24-hour cookie window.
WHAT IS A COOKIE?
A cookie is packet of online data that records a user’s interaction with a website. With a first-party cookie, this data packet is stored on the user’s computer and can be accessed during future browsing sessions by the website that created it. This is often used to remember items in a shopping cart, save login information, or retain other site-specific settings.
A third-party cookie functions much like a first-party cookie, except that the data packet is sent to a third-party server where it can be later referenced for matches. Although cookie data is anonymous and non-identifiable to an individual, digital advertising often relies on third-party cookies to track and manage ads that are served to website visitors.
Google’s response for search advertisers
While AdWords will still be able to count conversions without making any updates, the data will be less accurate as Google will be forced to rely on algorithmic modeling and historical performance to estimate conversions from Safari users.
To improve data accuracy and quality, Google has developed three solutions to better attribute Safari user behavior with paid search advertising:
- If an advertiser’s website has a Google Analytics (GA) tag that has been connected to AdWords, then no change is needed as Google will be able to share data between AdWords and the Google Analytics platform
- If an advertiser’s website does not have Google Analytics, but does use Google Tag Manager (GTM) to implement the AdWords pixel, the site’s webmaster can add the new Conversion Linker tag via GTM, which requires minimal configuration and will allow existing AdWords pixels to function off first-party cookies
- If an advertiser’s website does not use Google Analytics and does not use Google Tag Manager, then the site’s webmaster will need to replace the existing AdWords tag with the new AdWords Global Site Tag to ensure accurate conversion counting
BING’s response for search advertisers
To ensure accurate conversion tracking from Safari users clicking on Bing ads, the company recommends simply enabling auto-tagging of the Microsoft Click ID within Bing Ads, located under Shared Library settings and URL options.
Advertisers utilizing Bing for paid search should see little change in reporting accuracy regardless of whether auto-tagging is enabled. As Microsoft noted in an email to Bing account administrators, “the majority of ad clicks and conversions across the Bing Network come from PC users, and reporting for those conversions will be unaffected by changes to Safari.”
WHAT THIS MEANS FOR MARKETERS
Despite Safari only accounting for 13% of global desktop browser usage, Apple’s move to limit third-party cookies could set a precedent for other browsers. Fortunately, because mobile advertising is already less reliant on cookies for tracking, many advertising platforms no longer rely on cookie data to administer ads. Mobile cookies have traditionally expired after browser applications are closed and mobile apps generally do not permit third-party cookies.
To account for incomplete data resulting from desktop Safari usage, Google and Bing’s solutions for paid search advertisers will ensure consistent campaign performance and reporting.
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