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All About Safari 11 Intelligent Tracking Prevention and Performance Horizon

Nov 02, 2017

Head of Deployment


Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you’ve probably heard about a feature in Safari V.11 called Intelligent Tracking Prevention (ITP). This post is designed to demystify the feature, outline its significance to partner marketing teams, and explain how to mitigate its impact on your data.

ITP Explained

ITP is a new feature released simultaneously with the launch of iOS 11 and Safari 11. The idea behind ITP is to limit the ability to track users across domains.

Data on Safari’s share of total browsing vary. Across our massive and global client footprint, Safari’s share is about 14.5%. There are a variety of Safari versions dating back as far as 2003. ITP is a feature for only the latest version of Safari.

In a nutshell, the feature is designed to improve the web experience for users by limiting the collection and usage of a user’s cross-site visitation data. This information is called “cross-site tracking ”

How it Works

To explain how this works, let’s use an example of a brand that offers a tracking cookie with a 30-day expiry/lookback window. Traditionally, such a cookie tracked relevant user activity for a full month before the cookie expired. It could be used to understand the impact of an ad or other marketing exposure throughout the 30-day period.

Under ITP, tracking cookies are evaluated using a proprietary algorithm. The stronger the consumer’s direct relationship with the domain associated with the cookie, the more leeway it is given to be used for tracking purposes. In ITP, cross-site tracking cookies are partitioned and some of their ability to deliver tracking data is suppressed after 24 hours. These cookies may still be able to serve functions like aiding a user login to a site that the user has visited, but cannot be used in a third-party cross-site tracking context.

The Declining Fortunes of Third-Party Cookies

For many of the early years of the web, third-party cookies reigned supreme as the tracking system for the PC web. For the first time, advertisers could develop a great understanding of consumer activity post-ad or post-site exposure. But over the past few years, advertisers have learned that such cookies, while still potent and valuable, are an imperfect way to capture the totality of customer data.

Here are a few of the market developments that have gradually reduced their ability to collect a comprehensive set of data.

  1. Consumers proactively clearing cookies from their devices
  2. Consumers turning on third-party cookie blockers or deciding to “Limit Ad Tracking” through browser and device settings
  3. In Europe and other regions, the requirement that websites disclose the possibility of cookie-based tracking and offer consumers a choice in whether they agree to such tracking
  4. In the US, the NAI opt-out mechanism and Ad Choices program

ITP can be seen as the latest such development in the slow but gradual long-term decline of cookies as a tracking mechanism. In summary, cookies of all types but especially third-party cookies do have some limitations or challenges, and that has been true for some time.

API versus Pixel-Based Integrations

For partner marketing, the most popular tracking methodologies are:

Cookie-based pixel tracking: Cookies reside in the user’s browser. When the consumer takes an action, the cookies on the devices are read and the data is passed to the entities that issued those cookies. ITP impacts the ability to track users using third-party cookies because it governs whether or not their presence in the browser is transmitted and for how long.

API-based tracking: With API-based integrations, consumer actions are noted by the client, and passed for tracking and measurement through a direct integration with the tracking partner. Because third party cookies are not part of this process, ITP and other cookie-limiting tactics have no effect on API-based data collection.

Performance Horizon and ITP: At Performance Horizon, our focus is to deliver the most accurate and comprehensive conversion data to clients. By ensuring the most complete dataset, we empower clients to:

  • Understand and prove the value of all of their partner marketing efforts
  • Fully understand the role that each of their partners plays in growing their businesses
  • Correctly compensate each partner so they are incented to grow and expand their programs and efficiency
  • Deliver actionable real-time insights to optimize programs and maximize effectiveness

Our extensive client list encompasses market leading businesses in a variety of sectors, and our solutions offer the flexibility to best meet the specific needs of each company.

As part of that flexibility, we offer several types of integrations, of which pixel-based and API-based are the most popular.

Why So Many Clients Choose API-Based Integrations

For some years, Performance Horizon has offered and recommended an API-based integration methodology that stores cross-site tracking data off the device.

With API, there are no deleterious data effects from actions that impact third-party cookies because the measurement information is stored in a client first-party cookie. API integrations thus are completely unaffected by any of the third-party cookie limitations imposed by the browser.

Another great advantage of API is that it allows for more precise attribution models. Since every consumer event is captured and stored at the server, you can understand the entire customer journey and develop specialized attribution/compensation models that reward contributing upstream partners in addition to the converting partner.

We prefer API-based integrations because they deliver the most accurate data possible. More accurate than any data set based on cookie data, whether first- or third-party cookies are utilized. Our pixel-based data are great, but API-based based data are greater.

Why Clients Choose Pixel-Based Tracking

That said, some of our clients have key business reasons to choose pixel-based tracking. For example, many use third-party ad servers that require third-party cookies for ad calls and measurement. In other instances, clients choose pixel-based tracking because it can be a bit easier to implement; marketing teams with access to the site’s tag manager can simply add the pixel tag in the tag container and then define rules for placement and firing. Others choose pixel-based because their businesses have severe tech resource shortages. It’s all about weighing the benefits versus the costs.  

Performance Horizon technology and team are constantly innovating to ensure our pixel-based tracking clients get the industry’s most accurate pixel-based data available. We have expected and responded to the gradual diminution of third-party cookie effectiveness, and have developed technological solutions to ensure that our platform captures as comprehensive a data set as is practicable with pixel tracking.

What to Do. What to Do.

If your org can do API-based (and it really is more straightforward than you might have thought) by all means do it. Our team will make it as easy as possible. Take it from me, as someone who has been responsible for integrations for more than ten years, the gap in implementation complexity is narrowing.

Our team has made great strides in streamlining API-based integrations so as to minimize engineer-hours required. These days, API integrations often take less than 7 days to complete. Extremely complex integrations, with lots of data flowing, can take a little more time.

If there are reasons why you cannot implement API-based right now, please be assured that PH delivers pixel-based tracking data that is unsurpassed in its comprehensiveness and accuracy. Understand, though, that there are other macro industry changes on the horizon that may limit the effectiveness of pixel-based tracking in the future, not least the news that some browsers may make ad blockers a standard or default element. The time is right to create a plan to improve your tracking once and for all, and take it out of the control of the browsers.

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