The tracking of personal data on the internet is common worldwide and an important part of marketing measures. However, some companies collect considerably more data than is necessary. Apple now wants to decisively counter this phenomenon and will therefore introduce a new function with iOS 17 that will significantly strengthen data protection. Advertisers might not be happy about this development at first glance. We say: Keep calm! In this blog post, we show you what these changes mean for (email) marketing and how advertisers can prepare for the arrival without marketing cookies to minimise the impact on marketing strategies.
How does tracking work and what exactly does link tracking mean in email marketing?
Collecting user data and activity means cash. Marketing teams and analytics companies add tracking parameters to their links to track their users’ activities on different websites. Instead of storing third-party cookies, they simply append a tracking identifier to the end of the page URL. Invoking this URL allows an analytics or advertising service to read the URL, extract the same unique parameters and link them to their backend user profile. In this way, analysis of user behaviour and enrichment of the user profile can take place.
Email tracking is specifically about the click behaviour in the mailing. Link tracking is crucial for the evaluation of online campaigns, because it allows the success or failure of a newsletter campaign to be measured in retrospect. With the help of this information, subsequent campaigns can be adjusted and optimised. Before data on click behaviour can be collected, the consent of the recipients for tracking must be obtained. This is required by the General Data Protection Regulation. Once this has been done, you can find out quite specifically which links were clicked on. You insert normal links in your newsletter; your newsletter software provider takes care of the tracking automatically. You can then find out which links were clicked on by whom and how many conversions resulted. In other words, who bought what, registered or downloaded something.
Apple provides more privacy with update
Apple has once again caused a stir in the marketing industry with its announcement of more “privacy while surfing”. With the update to iOS 17, iPadOS 17 and macOS Sonoma planned for September, Safari will be able to remove tracking parameters from URLs in Safari, Messages and email through the “Advanced Tracking and Fingerprinting Protection” function. Apple has demonstrated how this looks in a video. This development has significant implications for tracking and analysis of marketing activity on iOS devices.
To illustrate this, Apple showed a URL before and after removing the tracking parameters as an example during the development conference. The click_ID parameter of the source URL helps advertisers track a user’s activity on different websites. Safari automatically removes this parameter to protect the privacy of the users, the rest of the URL remains intact so that you can still get to the desired website.
Tracking protection only in private mode, mail and messages
But, as always, the devil is in the details and now comes the good news for all marketing teams! According to Apple’s announcement, the extended tracking and identification protection will initially only take effect automatically in Safari’s “Private Browsing” mode, but users can also activate the function permanently for normal browsing mode or deactivate it completely if they wish. The function should also work in the Apple apps “Messages” and “Mail”. Tracking parameters will also be detected and removed when users click on shared links in one of the apps.
The following functions will not be affected by iOS 17, at least at this stage:
- Chrome or Firefox
- Standard Safari browsing
- Standard utm parameters ( e.g. utm_source and utm_medium)
- Custom parameters such as “tw_source”.
Apple is also giving marketing teams an alternative way to measure campaign success with Private Click Measurement ad mapping now available in Safari Private Browsing mode. Private Click Measurement allows marketing teams to track conversion data from ad campaigns, but does not provide insight into individual usage activity.
Effects on (email) marketing
The IOS17 update is currently being discussed controversially in various forums, groups, etc. and opinions currently differ widely. Some experts assume that the iOS 17 update will restrict the use of UTM tags. However, there are also voices – which we agree with at the moment – that see a clear reference to private surfing in the announcement.
Basically, of course, without full tracking parameters, it is more difficult to attribute the exact traffic sources and measure the success of certain marketing channels. This can limit the ability to evaluate campaign effectiveness, analyse customer behaviour and allocate budgets effectively.
What impact Apple’s browser update will have on (email) marketing and whether other browsers like Chrome will eventually follow suit remains to be seen. The fact is, marketing teams need to fundamentally adapt and find alternative solutions to continue making data-driven decisions. Here are some tips:
- Switch to other tracking methods: Instead of relying solely on tracking parameters, consider alternative methods such as UTM parameters combined with server-side tracking or cross-device tracking. These approaches help you better track the origin of traffic, whether tracking parameters are removed or not.
- Work with third parties: Work closely with your third party partners to find and implement alternative tracking solutions. Many companies are already developing tools and technologies that can mitigate the impact of the iOS 17 update. Use these resources to close the tracking gap.
- Focus on first-party data: Invest more in building a robust database of first-party data. Through direct contact with your clientele, you can gather valuable information and develop personalised marketing strategies that are less dependent on tracking parameters. For more information on first-party data, read our blog post.
With the help of these measures, advertisers can best prepare for a future without marketing cookies, improve marketing approaches and find new ways to measure the success of campaigns.
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