What is Intelligent Tracking Prevention (ITP) and what does it mean for marketers?


Paul Shearing

Head of Analytics and Data Science


Analytics and Data Science

For the last year or so Apple has been changing the way their browser works in terms of how it treats cookies.  Initially, it only deleted or blocked third-party cookies, but earlier last year it turned its focus to removing some first-party cookies if they are set within the browser using JavaScript.

Google Analytics uses a first-party cookie to set and store its unique identifier for a user – the client ID.  Under ITP 2.1 first-party cookies set in the browser were limited to expire after seven days, when the browser removes them.  With ITP 2.2 this became even harsher and, in some circumstances, it now limits cookies to only one day.  This can mean the whole customer journey is not recognised and tracked.

Podcast

If you prefer to listen than read, in our recent podcast episode, Search Laboratory’s Founder, Ian Harris, is joined by Paul Shearing, Head of Analytics and Data Science, Pete Whitmarsh, Head of Paid Media, and Jimmy McCann, Head of Digital Strategy, to cover the specific problems ITP and cookies are causing for marketers, some of the solutions to these problems and what the future will look like regarding this growing issue.

What ITP means for Google Analytics and ad platform tracking

The default expiry of the Google Analytics cookie is two years. This means that if a user returns to the site within this time then those sessions are all stitched together allowing us to understand an individual’s behaviour over time. This is particularly important for websites that have a longer conversion window and are using the tool to understand attribution.

Under the new ITP rules, if a visitor returns after seven days on Safari without visiting the site then they are given a new client ID and treated as a new user. This makes it impossible to stitch together the true conversion path of visits together when running attribution models. It also dramatically impacts the ability to use audiences to understand and activate users. 

Three key points:

  • It will penalise upper-funnel channels, campaigns and keywords as credit is seemingly taken from these and attributed to the lower-funnel channels, such as brand
  • It will impact your ability to run website optimisation tests longer than seven days as users will be randomly bucketed into different test versions
  • For companies with ongoing relationships with customers, it will be much harder to understand them as users may be treated as new anonymous users each time they return. 

What can we do?

Apple has stated that the reason for introducing these changes is primarily to target and prevent ad platforms that have started to implement methods to track users that use first-party cookies.  It seems that analytics tracking solutions are an unfortunate casualty in this change.

However, since the changes are only designed to restrict cookies set in the browser, this does leave open the option for a website owner to take ownership of setting their own cookie using a server-side method, and Search Laboratory is able to help implement this solution.

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