Apple updates limit digital marketing retracking › Xumulus
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Apple updates limit digital marketing retracking

The internet provides businesses with several avenues for reaching potential customers. However, retargeting technologies on the rise permit previously unheard of and narrowly focused marketing strategies. With retargeting, a marketer can peek inside the mind of an ad viewer and tailor content based on browsing history and other user data. This useful technology, however, has raised privacy concerns for some, and is perceived as an annoyance by others. Apple has recently taken a strong stance to limit and block its use. What does this move mean for the future of digital marketing?

Retargeting basics

If you’ve been on a site and came across ads embedded in your content that related to a previous search or browsing, then you’ve experienced retargeting. A marketer’s goal in retargeting is to try to convert the large percentage of users who don’t make a purchase on their initial visit to a site. The intent is to remind users of their curiosities and hopefully steer them back to the site to turn the opportunity into a sale. Retargeting works by following website visitors as they travel through the web with the use of cookies that are “dropped” to site users by code on your site. These cookies are bits of data that tell a retargeting ad provider about the user’s prior browsing so that ads can be re-served to that user based on this information.

Apple’s take on retargeting

Apple clearly has taken a position of social responsibility regarding retargeting – that the solution to ad-based consumer frustration is not blocking ads but blocking certain aspects of user data collection. In its recent rollout of Mac High Sierra and iOS 11, Apple has changed how these cookies are to be used for Safari browser users, through what it calls Intelligent Tracking Prevention (ITP). Under ITP, a Safari browser user’s cookie experience remains the same for 24 hours from the time the user visits a site. During the first 24 hours, first-party cookies are treated as usual and can be used for conversion tracking and retargeting. After 24 hours, cookies that track behavior from one website to another become dormant and conversion tag activity is impossible.

What does this mean for businesses?

If you are engaged in digital marketing, you must be aware of these changes and adopt a dynamic response to these restrictions. In order to have a dynamic approach to digital ads, you have to know your audience and their technology, and adapt to platforms that are less reliant on first-party cookie tracking.

  • What browser is your audience using? For perspective, keep in mind that Apple’s ITP only applies to Safari users. Safari’s desktop browsing market share is small, with approximately six percent of global users compared to Chrome’s 64 percent. Although ITP affects a relatively small percentage of desktop users, note that iOS accounts for over 50 percent of users on mobile devices, and people are increasingly moving towards mobile as their primary internet use.
  • Embrace new ways to gather user data. One important takeaway from Apple’s changes is that they affect all digital marketers, not just a small group, so all businesses who are looking to target Safari users will have to find a better way. There already are options, and it is likely that Apple’s move will only spur innovations in targeting consumers. Advertising platforms that integrate with analytics platforms can provide methods to track conversions without using cookies, cross-domain. In fact, server-side tracking – where certain user information is collected by a server, not stored as a cookie in the user’s browser – has already been used prior to Apple’s ITP rollout. Apple’s move may simply nudge more companies into this technology and ultimately make the change moot.

What about Google?

Google’s Chrome browser is the most popular browser globally. Also, Google makes almost 70 percent of its revenue through ads. How is Google addressing the perceived consumer frustration about online advertising? Rather than standing with Apple in its privacy crusade, Google believes the browsing experience can be improved by blocking “bad” ads. Google has included ad blocking technology in Chrome that is effectively a quality filter. As a member of the Coalition for Better Ads, an industry association aimed at cleaning up online advertising and marketing, Google is seeking to continue collecting user data to better provide relevant and quality ads that are perceived as beneficial to the users. Ultimately, though, Apple’s Safari restrictions affect only advertisers who might need more than 24 hours to reconnect with users. Google enjoys daily participation from most of its users, so its ads will likely be minimally affected.


Apple’s privacy stance provides challenges to online marketers – not simply to circumvent but also to improve. Quality content should always be the goal, as obnoxious advertising prompted Apple’s tracking prevention and Google’s quality filtering. With a dynamic approach and by staying up-to-date on adtech innovations, businesses can continue to market products and services to Apple users.