What is ITP and how does it affect your paid media strategy?

Pete Whitmarsh

Head of Paid Media


Whenever ITP is mentioned in marketing, it is usually referring to the three latest versions (ITP 2.1, 2.2 and 2.3) of Safari’s Intelligent Tracking Prevention, a privacy feature used in Safari to block cookies and local data storage used in website browsers and limit web tracking.


ITP 2.1 was released with Safari 12.1 in 2019, and with it came a whole new set of challenges. Prior to this update, Google analytics was able to track users for up to 30 days through the use of cookies. ITP 2.1 reduced this to just one week by implementing a seven-day expiration period, meaning anyone who returns to the website after the seven days would be classed as a new, rather than returning, user.


ITP 2.2 narrowed this period down to just one day, and ITP 2.3 shutdown a workaround which some marketers used by limiting the ability to use local storage for cross-website tracking.


You can find out more about ITP in our blog and podcast, which can both be found here.

What is the problem with ITP?


ITP affects how traffic and conversions are attributed in Google Analytics and other analytics platforms. There are many types of attribution models, all of which rely on some form of website tracking to follow the customer journey and understand how each channel plays into the final conversion.


Usually, the entire user journey is taken into consideration when attributing these metrics; for example, if a user clicks on an ad for trainers, leaves without converting and then later goes directly to the website to purchase the trainers they saw on their previous visit, Google Analytics will recognize that the ad played a role in this purchase. With cookies no longer enabled past 24 hours, the user will be seen as ‘new’ and the credit for conversion will go to direct traffic, rather than to the ad.


With analytics no longer able to track the user, previous interactions with the website are not taken into consideration if they fall outside of the timeframe which ITP deletes data. This impacts both the channel traffic is attributed to, and whether users are recorded as new or returning.

Want to know the impact ITP is having? Our downloadable Data Studio dashboard connects with your Google Analytics to tell you the following:


  • New vs returning users
  • Length of sales cycle
  • Attribution of revenue to new users
  • Conversion rate by user type.

What about the effect of ITP on paid media campaigns?


Paid advertising relies on the ability to track and target audiences across the user journey. ITP can impact this in two ways:


  • Users are removed from remarketing audiences faster than before
  • Paid media may appear less effective in reports.

Users are removed from remarketing audiences faster than before


When a user’s cookie data is cleared, they are removed from remarketing audiences. For those using the latest version of Safari, this means they may only be on remarketing lists for as little as 24 hours. These users will therefore not be targeted with ads and messaging aimed at users who are further down the sales cycle, as they will continually be seen as a new user.

Paid media may appear less effective in reports


By default, Google Ads attribute a conversion back to Google Ads if a user revisits the website within 30 days of clicking on the ad, although this period can be changed manually. ITP deletes the cookies after 24 hours, which means any conversions made after this period of time will not be attributed back to the initial advert – or any paid campaign unless it was clicked in the last 24 hours.


Conversions made in Safari are more likely to now be attributed to direct traffic, with any previous website visits from different sources being discounted.

ITP also affects CRO


ITP also impacts any CRO tests you are carrying out, as optimization tools need to identify if a user has previously visited the website to ensure they are shown the same version of the site that they were shown previously.


With no cookies to tell the optimization tool that a user is returning, they may be shown different variants with each visit – leading to a confusing user experience, which may damage conversation rates and affect the test results.

What to do moving forward?


The first thing to note is that the impact of ITP will differ depending on the industry you are in, as some industries receive a higher proportion of traffic from mobile users than others. For example, B2B websites typically get more traffic from desktops, which means a much smaller proportion of users will be from Safari than industries like retail, which have a higher number of mobile visitors.


The amount of Safari users will also vary by country; in the UK, Apple holds just 46.6% of the mobile operating system market whereas in the US this jumps to 60%.


The second thing to note is that lower reported performance doesn’t mean poorer performance – a good ad campaign will always lead to conversions, even if those conversions aren’t now attributed to the campaign. Looking at performance as a whole in addition to monitoring channel performance can help you to identify whether conversions are down overall or if paid conversions have been attributed to a different channel.


In order to measure the impact that ITP is having on your specific campaigns, we have built a Data Studio Dashboard. This will help you to understand what proportion of the traffic is being misattributed so that you can correct this in your targeting and reporting.


There is also Google Tag Manager solution which can be used to mitigate the effects of ITP, which we will cover at a later date.

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