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What Apple's iOS 17 update means for marketing

What Apple’s iOS 17 update means for your marketing

Apple released its latest operating system update iOS 17 this month and while it came with some pretty cool features – including being able to create an AI replica of your voice – it also delivered another shake up on the tracking front.

True to their brand promise, Apple is going all in on privacy. Since its iOS 14 update, a big part of Apple’s marketing and product strategy has been focused on putting more control in the hands of device owners when it comes to transparency around data tracking and usage. This update is no different.

It’s a great marketing message. In reality, most of us have already left an unimaginably large amount of data all over the internet. So much, in fact, that it would be impossible to achieve a data ‘clean slate’ without going full spy movie and faking your own death. 

There’s a whole host of changes in the latest iOS 17 update, but the big one for marketing is with Link Tracking Protection in Messages, Mail, and Safari Private Browsing.

The short story: if you’re still relying on third-party data to measure marketing effectiveness then your heart is probably racing.

Don’t worry, we’ve done the heavy lifting, the testing, and the research and have As to your Qs.

Why is Apple doing this? 

Apple is an industry leader in data and technology, and they’re operating in a time of fractured trust in institutions, companies and government. Amplifying their privacy and data protection offering is a smart way for them to instil trust in their users that their privacy is protected. Classic Apple with their clever marketing and product strategy.

When iOS 17 was announced, Apple’s SVP of Software Engineering Craig Federighi, commented:  “Privacy is designed into every new Apple product and feature from the beginning. We are focused on keeping our users in the driver’s seat when it comes to their data by continuing to provide industry-leading privacy features and the best data security in the world.” 

Yep. They’re serious about this.

What is Linked Tracking Protection? 

According to Apple’s statement on the changes “Some websites add extra information to their URLs in order to track users across other websites. Now this information will be removed from the links users share in Messages and Mail, and the links will still work as expected. This information will also be removed from links in Safari Private Browsing.”

What they’re talking about here is the user-specific click ID tracking appended to the end of URLs used in advertising. These ClickIDs are used to attribute actions taken on a website (such as purchases, conversions, downloads, and interactions) back to the individual who clicked on the ad.

By implementing Link Tracking Protection, Apple is essentially removing tracking parameters from URLs and anonymising browsing behaviour which makes it more difficult to track behaviour and attribute performance.

Does iOS 17 automatically remove tracking parameters from links you click on?

Sure does.

Apple has shared this example of what an ad URL looks like before Link Tracking Protection:  

And after:

This update means saying ‘see ya’ to ad platform click IDs where the user is browsing in private mode on Safari. That being said, not all tracking parameters are affected. 


URL parameters affected by Apple's iOS 17 Link Tracking Protection

How does iOS 17 affect ads?

There are a bunch of implications for digital advertising that need to be considered: 

Ad tracking: Attribution of conversion actions back to specific ads, ad sets or ad groups, campaigns and audiences will become more challenging with the absence of CLID third-party cookies. Fortunately, UTM parameters are not being stripped from URLs by Safari Private Browsing mode so brands that have implemented a UTM tracking convention will be able to track clicks right down to ad level in their own analytics platforms.

Retargeting: All types of retargeting ads that rely on CLIDs (think: FBCLID, GCLID, TWCLID) will be affected by Link Tracking Protection. With these IDs stripped, it will be difficult for ad platforms to automatically detect if a user is qualified to be shown a retargeting ad. Instead, first-party data will need to be used to help define retargeting audiences. In addition, Apple is offering Private Click Measurement (PCM) as an alternative, allowing ad click measurement but without sending personally identifiable information (PII) to the advertisers.

Audiences: Building audiences based on browsing behaviour such as users that have seen or clicked on a specific ad or taken specific actions on a website will also become more difficult with the introduction of Link Tracking Protection. 

How does Link Tracking Protection affect email and SMS marketing?

Link Tracking Protection affects email and SMS marketing differently depending on which email service provider you use and how it processes clicks.

Open rates and click-through rates: The Mail Privacy Protection (MPP) feature, introduced by Apple in its iOS 15 update made a big impact on Open Rate tracking by preloading content. Now with Link Tracking Protection, click tracking may be impacted depending on how your email marketing platform handles links.

Website promotions: The removal of specific click IDs from URLs whether from ads or in emails opened in Apple Mail will also affect other integrations that rely on such information – such as whether pop-ups appear on websites based on the browser’s subscriber status in the CRM or if they visited the site before.

Personalisation: Similar to the impact on website promotion, Link Tracking Protection will make personalisation and segmentation based on individual behaviours more challenging. Brands will need to collect first-party and zero-party data to combat this.

Fortunately, the big players ActiveCampaign and Klaviyo utilise UTM tracking and Klaviyo’s own click tracking parameters haven’t been removed in test runs. MailChimp on the other hand appears to need to have UTM parameters added to ensure click tracking functions correctly.

Again, don’t get too comfortable. Rob Hand, SMS product marketing manager at Klaviyo has issued a stark warning to marketers: “We should recognize this as another update signalling the eventual phase-out of third-party cookies and cross-site tracking”.

Why are parameters like UTM allowed but CLIDs are not?

Link Tracking Protection is Apple’s way of coming down on third-party cookies that grab personally identifiable information (PII). Tracking parameters such as UTMs are not used to track individual user behaviour, but more so to help understand the effectiveness of various campaigns. Whereas CLIDs used by advertising platforms are attributed down to an individual level.

How does Link Tracking Protection affect marketing measurement?

Link Tracking Protection launched as part of iOS 17 primarily affects the Private Browsing Mode within Safari, along with users that have enabled this mode when sharing links in mail or messages. 

This means brands won’t be able to track users across platforms from ad campaigns when the user is browsing on Safari in Private Browsing Mode. However, where other browsers are used tracking would not be affected under iOS 17. 

In August 2023, 19.85% of all internet users browse using Safari and an even smaller portion use safari private browsing mode (around 20%). Which means the impact of iOS 17 Link Tracking Protection, while significant, is limited to a small cohort of internet browsers at the moment.

But don’t get too comfortable, because Google has announced its own version of Link Tracking Protection coming in 2024. And with Chrome being the browser of choice for 63.56% of all internet users, this is going to be another nail in the cookie-based tracking coffin.

What are the alternatives to third-party tracking?

There are loads of different ways to track and enhance advertising and email marketing performance. Here are a few favourites:

Zero-party data: This is a treasure trove of data that your customers and prospective customers willingly and deliberately share with you. Think: completing surveys and quizzes, sharing information in forms (and consenting to its capture and usage). 

First-party data: It’s the valuable data you collect directly from your customers or website visitors. With first-party data, you’re building a deeper understanding of your audience, which is crucial in the age of privacy-focused updates like iOS 17. And paired with zero-party data, it’s a goldmine of insights that you own and control.

Private Click Measurement: Apple knows that the introduction of Link Tracking Protection will throw a spanner in the works for marketing teams and has offered up its Private Click Measurement (PCM) as the solution. It’s designed to protect user privacy by ensuring that user-level data, such as personally identifiable information (PII), is not shared with advertisers or third parties. And at the same time, allowing advertisers to determine which digital ads led to user interactions by aggregating data in a way that groups user interactions together without identifying specific individuals. This protects user anonymity while still providing valuable insights to advertisers.

Google Topics API: Instead of tracking every website a user visits, this innovative mechanism lets browsers share user interests with third parties in a privacy-first way. Imagine interest-based advertising (IBA) that’s tailored to each user’s preferences without invading their privacy by snooping on their web history. It’s a game-changer in the world of digital advertising. With Google Topics API, it’s all about understanding what users are into, not where they’ve been.

Contextual advertising: This one has been around for a while and is big in display advertising. Think of contextual advertising as a clever strategy that serves ads based on the content of a web page, steering clear of personal data. While it doesn’t rely on your personal info, it may consider factors like your device and browsing time. This approach leverages machine learning to predict ideal pages and times for targeting users, making it especially powerful on content-rich websites with specific themes.

Universal identifiers: Like digital passports, universal identifiers enable brands to recognise them across different websites and devices, much like third-party cookies. They come with some perks, like seamless cross-device tracking and reduced data loss. Plus, they keep things tidy by eliminating duplicate data, leading to more precise insights. The best part? They can be crafted using first-party data, offering both precise targeting and privacy safeguards in one neat package.

How should marketing performance be measured in a post iOS 17 world? 

Brands will need to shift from simply using conversion tracking in Google Analytics or ROAS in digital advertising platforms to instead calculating their Marketing Effectiveness Rate (MER) using more comprehensive attribution modelling such as Marketing Mix Modelling (MMM).

Calculating the Marketing Effectiveness Rate (MER) can be super complex and sophisticated, but it doesn’t have to be. A simple approach to establishing a benchmark for this metric is to start by summing up all your marketing costs, from ad spend to creative expenses. Next, track the resulting revenue generated from these efforts. Divide your revenue by the total cost, and voila, you’ve got your MER. A MER above 1 means you’re reaping more than you’re sowing, and that’s the sweet spot for efficient marketing.

Marketers who want to dive deeper into which channels and campaigns are performing best will need to embrace Marketing Mix Modelling. AKA: the secret sauce for successful marketing campaigns. It’s a data-driven approach that dives deep into your marketing efforts to figure out what’s cooking and what’s not.

This method analyses various factors, from advertising spend to product pricing, to understand their impact on sales and customer behaviour. This, in turn, provides insights to help you allocate resources smartly, maximise MER and ROI, and cook up strategies that leave a lasting impression on your audience. With Marketing Mix Modeling, you’ll have the recipe for marketing success right at your fingertips.

Where to next? 

Time is running out for brands that haven’t yet invested in collecting first and zero-party data. Those who are taking the time to learn more about their subscribers through quizzes, surveys, email and by building this into their CRM will be in an enviable position as we head into 2024.

If you’re a client of Young Folks, we’ve got you covered. If you’re not and you would like support with defining a marketing strategy for a post-cookie world and a tailored marketing measurement approach, get in touch with our team today.

Written by

Erin Morris is the founder and director at Young Folks. Packing more than 10 years marketing experience, Erin has worked with start-ups, corporates and everything in between. She loves listening to audiobooks whilst running, oat milk flat whites, and scouring Marketplace for secondhand furniture finds.

Our Melbourne and Mornington Peninsula studios are open 9am – 5pm Monday to Friday. If you’re a brand in the business of doing good, we’d love to hear from you.

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