Apple’s Worldwide Developers Conference unveils the latest tech every year, but there’s always something extra for marketers to look for. This year, the buzz was all about the new feature in the iOS17 update: Link Tracking Protection. It automatically detects user-identifiable tracking parameters in URLs. It removes them when you’re in Safari’s Private Browsing, Apple Messages or Mail while allowing the links to remain functional for consumers.
An Apple statement read: “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.”
The first developer beta of iOS 17 was released in June 2023, the first public beta was released in July 2023, and it was officially released to all users on September 18, 2023 — though not all users update their phones immediately.
To understand the magnitude of this update, consider this: As of June 2023, Apple dominates the U.S. smartphone scene, capturing 56.9% of the market. That translates to around 124.7 million users. Given the massive popularity of iPhones, it’s no surprise that Safari is the preferred mobile browser in the U.S., with usage rates over 55.85%.
Marketers often work with UTMs (Urchin Tracking Modules) as platforms like Facebook, Google and various affiliate networks use them in links to trace a user’s path during their buying process. But with the new update typical UTMs — which cover details like source, medium and campaign — won’t be touched.
These UTM parameters don’t function like unique personal identifiers. They give a broad view of how a user gets to a website. However, specifics like Facebook click IDs, Google Click Identifiers (GLICDs), Mailchimp email IDs and similar identifiers will be removed from the links. This transition directly impacts marketing efforts and attribution strategies in several key areas:
Apple has integrated its Private Click Measurement (PCM) tool into Safari’s Private Browsing to help advertisers adjust to these shifts. PCM values user privacy, aiming to track click-through conversions without revealing personal user data.
Initially, it was only accessible in Safari’s non-private browser and iOS/iPadOS apps for devices using iOS 14.5 or later, supporting both web-to-web and app-to-web attributions. But with the debut of iOS 17, PCM’s reach now includes Safari Private Browsing.
Apple’s Link Tracking Protection feature is set to have consequences for a range of marketing channels. Understanding the changes and their impact will allow marketers to make changes to their approach to the following channels:
Email Marketing & SMS
The introduction of Link Tracking Protection means that user-specific tracking parameters in links opened through Messages and Mail will automatically be eliminated. This presents a challenge for email and SMS channels. Carla Donahue, the Lifecycle Director at WITHIN, offers these key insights for email and SMS marketers to protect their tracking and attribution:
Affiliate Marketing Campaigns
Many advertisers and social media affiliates depend on URL tracking data for accurate attribution and commission calculations. With the implementation of Link Tracking Protection, affiliate link tracking will become more challenging. In response, WITHIN’s Affiliate Account Manager, Angela Liu, has put together some valuable tips:
At WITHIN, we are dedicated to helping our clients adapt to changes in the affiliate industry and maintain their success. Contact us today to learn more.
Link Tracking Protection is designed to remove tracking parameters like Google click IDs and Facebook click IDs. This means Google Analytics might face challenges tracking your Google Ads and Meta could have issues tracking Facebook Ads.
However, it’s crucial to understand that this change will only affect users on Safari Private Browsing. Those using the Facebook app or seeing Google Ads outside Safari’s private mode won’t experience any difference.
While this update might not drastically alter these channels, it serves as a reminder for marketers to reevaluate their current methods and gauge their reliance on third-party data across different platforms. Marketers should double down on collecting and using first-party data. This can be done by engaging with customers who willingly share their information. Valuable insights like website visits, mobile app interactions, browsing patterns, and purchase behaviors remain unaffected by the iOS17 update and can offer a goldmine of information.
Apple’s latest update emphasizes the need for marketers to pivot toward collecting and using data with user permission. This strategy gives consumers the reins, letting them choose how and when brands interact with them, building a foundation of trust. Marketers who rely on third-party tracking will be more vulnerable to updates like iOS17 and evolving consumer privacy trends.