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June 3, 2019

Apple and Google Block Cross-Site Tracking Here’s What Marketers Need to Do


As agencies and marketers plan for Q4, there are radical changes brewing within the online advertising ecosystem. Privacy concerns are forcing profound changes to online tracking that will change the availability of targeted audiences for retargeting and other marketing.  The result is an industry shift that places greater focus on social marketing as well as first-party marketing tactics.

Apple and Google block fingerprinting and Cross-site tracking

Apple and Google are Blocking Third-Party Tracking

On April 24, Apple announced ITP 2.2, the latest update to its Intelligent Tracking Prevention.  Apple’s privacy technology for Safari prevents tracking methods designed to follow consumers from site-to-site to sell products and services they are likely to purchase. The latest version of ITP will further close loopholes and new innovations that still enable such tracking.

Not to be outdone, Google announced similar initiatives on May 7, 2019. The topic is a bit trickier for Google as the company relies heavily on cross-site data for its own advertising services. On Chrome, Google will now block cross-site tracking methods such as fingerprinting. In addition, the company will also make it easier for consumers to identify and delete those cookies designed for cross-site tracking while keeping more benign cookies such as those for site personalization and saving passwords.

What will be the impact of these changes?  For many advertisers, agencies and technology companies, the subject is being hotly debated or it’s the elephant in the room but the effects are now being felt.

Companies that rely on cross-site tracking suffer first

Retargeting companies like Criteo, for example, have forecasted revenue downward and the company’s stock price has followed suit. The vast pools of data that include pageviews and countless other consumer intent signals are changing and not for the better. Countless companies rely on this data to participate in the slicing and dicing of audience models in their efforts to help advertisers increase awareness and revenue. In the months ahead, there will be even less data to manipulate for retargeting and other purposes.

Marketers should keep asking their technology partners the tough questions. Which companies will innovate around Apple and Google tracking changes? Innovation will be a popular refrain for many AdTech companies but that remains to be seen. Companies focusing on attribution, for example, are likely to say they can innovate around the changes but for many marketers it is very difficult to know what exactly is under the hood for any given solution. Marketers should also be wary of spending money and resources on the installation of SDKs that are overly reliant on cookies, legacy tracking techniques or other tracking “innovations” that will be blocked or could be blocked in the future.

Social Marketing and First-Party Data Move Further into the Spotlight

Apple and Google are Blocking Fingerprinting and Third Party Tracking

What is a marketer to do?  The answer is to focus on your best sources of data: social and your own first-party-data.  

1) First consider the social networks. These privacy moves by Google and Apple will make walled garden strategies even stronger. First-party social data is already massive and only getting stronger. As traditional third-party data dwindles, advertising on Facebook, Instagram, YouTube and the other social will become increasingly important. Social networks will be every advertiser’s richest source of first-party data for the foreseeable future.

Marketers must link to social networks effectively from multi-channel marketing campaigns at every turn. Be aware, however, that if the link leads to the social network’s mobile web login, instead of opening the app, you risk losing not only followers but an unknown amount of consumer engagement. 

Deep linking to specific pages in the social apps is the best way to continuously enrich your social network engagement data which can be used in remarketing. Make sure to use a deep linking platform like URLgenius that that can link to a wide range of social apps and is designed for marketers and agencies This type of app deep linking doesn’t require SDKs or use fingerprinting or cross-site tracking methods.

2) Second, advertisers will need to invest in new marketing tactics that enhance their own first-party data. That means smarter email strategies, OTT, more in-app advertising, as well as taking down the silos between mobile apps and other marketing channels. This will enhance the consumer experience and the exchange of data between browsers and apps further contributing to first-party data.  Advertisers and agencies should expect greater innovation in first-party marketing tactics that do a better job of blending content with context, ad format while moving consumers more seamlessly between apps and websites.

What about attribution?

Attribution as we know it today will change. No more installing SDKs that use fingerprinting and cross-site tracking. Instead, Apple and Google both advocate the same best practice when it comes to attribution: appending parameters to pass data from one destination to the website or mobile app. 

Apple calls this “link decoration” which is a fancy word for appending URL parameters to campaign links. Most marketers are aware of appending parameters for Google Analytics, search marketing and email but the concept also applies to mobile apps. Google is now promoting the practice other ways. At a recent search marketing conference deep linking to mobile apps from Google Ads was highlighted as the best way to provide a superior customer experience while measuring in-app event information.

Marketers can also append parameters to smart campaign links that pass information to your website and your app at the same time. Deep linking platforms like URLgenius can do that while giving marketers more control over routing visitors to websites, apps or the app store. This will help marketers break down those silos between the traditional marketing channels and the app team. Privacy and consumer choice will continue to drive the debate about online tracking and the result will be further changes in technology.  Marketers can stay one step ahead by focusing on their best data sources now and putting less emphasis on retargeting and other tactics that rely on cross-site tracking.