Man using an iPhone

Google's Response to Apple's New Intelligent Tracking Prevention

Apple’s Intelligent Tracking Prevention

Apple recently instituted a new tracking prevention measure in the newest release of Safari,  version 11. Their “Intelligent Tracking Prevention” (ITP) will cause any third-party cookies used for tracking users across sites to expire after 24 hours, and be expunged after 30 days. (Cookies used for logins are the only exception.)

This impact will affect all digital marketers who measure conversions via cookie tracking. Specifically, search marketers will need to address conversion look-back windows. With Doubleclick and AdWords conversion tags considered third-party, any of the conversions they measure that take place more than 24 hours after the ad click will no longer be counted for searchers utilizing the Safari browser.

Although this is a significant amount of traffic, the actual number of impacted conversions will be smaller and will vary by advertiser. According to StatCounter, Safari accounts for ~47% of mobile traffic in North America and ~10% on Desktop traffic as of August 2017. While the amount of traffic is initially concerning, the actual number of impacted conversions will be much smaller as it’s only conversions occurring within the first 24 hours after the click.

Changes to Conversion Tracking in Adwords and Doubleclick Search

Google is always concerned with user privacy, yet they also want to provide the most accurate measurement for advertisers. They have proactively addressed this tracking limitation by adding new functionality that estimates the number and amount of Safari conversions that are no longer counted.  As of September 20, this has been rolled out on Doubleclick Search (DS) and AdWords. In order to ensure that the conversion tracking will remain accurate, Google recommended a workaround to ensure that advertisers have Google Analytics tagged and running on their site, as well as Auto-Tagging enabled in their AdWords accounts. This recommended solution nullifies the tracking problem and ensures all conversions continue to be counted exactly as they have been historically.

If your brand does not have Google Analytics tags on your site, both AdWords and Doubleclick Search will automatically estimate the untracked conversions and include these estimates in conversion total. Before estimates are factored in, Google will also be able to report conversions from those who have recently interacted with Google services and domains, which should reduce the amount of further estimates needed.

Google reports that it will use machine learning and historical data to model the number of conversions, as well as the amount of conversion revenue that cannot be measured. The modeled conversions will be based off of historical data and will be active by default, with no universal opt-out feature for accounts. However, excluding the modeled conversions will be possible in both AdWords and DoubleClick Search, but will require adjustments to scheduled reports and reporting processes.

There is established precedent for the math Google is using.  These estimations are created in the same way DS and AdWords handle cross-device conversions as a part of Google’s tried and true Total Conversions calculations. Nonetheless, it is a less seamless solution for brands that do not want to opt into Google Analytics, especially if other browsers follow in Apple’s footsteps in the coming years. As it stands, the initial impact is small, but search marketing was founded on the benefit of incredibly accurate measurement in near-real-time.  Even though Google’s calculations have extremely high confidence levels and have been validated many times, some advertisers will still feel uncomfortable with a shift to estimated results when they’ve been able to measure actual conversions for so long.

What Marketers Should Do

While not all brands will include these modeled conversions in their reporting, they should all should take steps to monitor the modeled conversions effectively in order to understand the degree to which these estimates make up their total conversions. iProspect recommends creating two columns for each conversion action the advertiser is tracking in AdWords or DS, and have one exclude the estimated conversions, while the other does not.  By creating an “old vs. new” conversion measurement view, advertisers will be able to accurately measure the actual impact of this change and validate Google’s estimates for the untracked conversions firsthand.

Two things to consider while deciding whether to include these estimated conversions in reporting:

  • If your brand is using any model for attribution aside from last-click, consider how these conversions will be impacted.
  • Review how cross-device conversions are reported/leveraged in AdWords and/or DS right now. (The method of estimation for Safari conversions after 24 hours is very similar.  If an advertiser is already leveraging cross-device conversion numbers, they should feel completely comfortable with these new estimates.)

As these changes continue to be rolled out through September, advertisers should stay observant of changes within each platform and then decide how to react. In addition, advertisers discuss this change in data and what it means for their brand specifically with their partners. Here at iProspect, we will be sure to keep you informed as this situation develops in the future.