Ways to Minimize the Impact of ITP 2.1 on your Analytics Practice
Demystified Partner Tim Patten also contributed to this blog post.
Earlier this week, I shared our team’s thoughts about Apple’s Intelligent Tracking Protocol (ITP), specifically version 2.1 and its impact on digital analytics. These changes have been exhaustively covered, and we likely didn’t add anything new on the topic. But we thought those comments were important to lead into what I think is the tactical discussion that every company needs to have to ensure they deal with ITP 2.1 (or 2.2, or any future version as well) in a way that is appropriate for its business.
Admittedly, we haven’t done a ton of research on the impact of ITP to digital marketing in general – how it impacts paid search, or display, or social media marketing tools. I mostly work with clients on deploying analytics tools, and generally using either Adobe or Google Analytics – so that’s where most of our thoughts have been since Apple announced ITP 2.1. So most of what follows will focus on those 2 vendors. But since the impact of these changes is not limited to traditional “web analytics,” we’ll also share a few thoughts on a few more all-encompassing potential solutions.
Adobe Analytics (and other Adobe tools)
Omniture’s earliest implementation used a third-party cookie, set when analytics requests were sent to its servers (first using the 2o7.net domain, followed by omtrdc.net). The negative aspects of third-party cookies led Omniture to then introduce a new approach. For nearly a decade, the new best practices recommendation for implementing Omniture’s (and then Adobe’s) analytics tool was to work with them to make it appear as if your analytics data were being sent to your own servers. This would be done by creating a CNAME, and then specifying that subdomain as your tracking server (like metrics.example.com). The first request by a new visitor to your site would be sent to that subdomain, followed by a response with a “set cookie” header that would make your analytics visitor ID a first-party cookie. All analytics requests would be sent to that subdomain as well – without the header, since the cookie was already set.
As of May 15, Adobe now has a workaround in place for its customers that had been leveraging the Experience Cloud ID. Customers that already had a CNAME were immediately ready to use this solution, but the rest are required to introduce a CNAME to take advantage. In addition to the CNAME, you must update to the latest version of the Experience Cloud Visitor ID service (version 4.3). In most cases, this can be done through your tag management system – though not all TMS tools have offered this update yet.
It’s important to note that this solution acts like a workaround – it will set an additional cookie called “s_ecid” in the user’s browser using your CNAME tracking server. It does not reissue the older AMCV cookie that was previously used for visitor identification; instead, it uses the s_ecid cookie as a fallback in case the ACMV cookie has expired. The total number of cookies is frequently a concern for IT teams, so make sure you know this if you opt for this approach. You can read more about this implementation in Adobe’s help documentation.
Ummm…how do I put this nicely?
To this point, Google has offered very little in the way of a recommendation, solution, or anything else when it comes to ITP 2.1. Google’s stance has been that if you feel it’s a problem, you should figure out how to solve it yourself.
This may be somewhat unfortunate – but it makes sense when you think that not only is Google Chrome a competitor to Safari, but other tools in Google’s marketing suite have been heavily impacted each time ITP has introduced new restrictions – and Google didn’t do anything then, either. So this is not a new or unexpected development.
All of this leads to an interesting question: what do I do if I don’t use Adobe Analytics? Or if I use it without a CNAME? Or if I care about other vendors besides Adobe? Luckily there are a few options out there.
Roll Your Own
If you’re looking for a workaround to preserve your cookies, you could always build your own homegrown solution. Simo Ahava discussed several potential ideas here – many of which have real shortcomings. In my opinion, the most viable of these are a series of similar approaches that involve routing some traffic on each page through a type of server-side “gateway” that would “clean” all your cookies for you by re-issuing them with the Set-cookie header. This approach works regardless of how many domains and subdomains your site encompasses, which makes it a fairly robust approach.
It’s not without its challenges, however. The main challenge is that it requires at least some amount of development work and some long-term maintenance of whatever server-side tools you use – a server-side script, a custom CNAME, etc. You’ll encounter another challenge if your site is a single-page application or does any virtual page view tracking – because some vendors will continue to update their cookies as the user interacts with the page, and each cookie update re-corrupts the cookie. So your homegrown solution has to make sure that it continuously cleans the cookies for as long as the page is open in the browser. Another item that you will need to manage on your own is the ability to handle a user’s opt-out settings across all of the different cookies that you manage through this new “gateway.”
If building your own custom solution to solve the problems introduced by ITP 2.1 sounds tedious (at best) or a nightmare (at worst), as luck would have it, you have one last option to consider. There are a handful of companies that have decided to tackle the problem for you. The one I have the most experience with is called Accutics, and you may have seen them at Adobe Summit or heard them on a recent episode of the Digital Analytics Power Hour.
While Apple’s release of ITP 2.1 may feel a bit like someone tossed a smoke bomb into the entryway of your local grocery store, the good news is that you have options to deal with it. Some of these options are more cumbersome than others – but you don’t have to feel helpless. You can use the analysis of your data to determine the impact of ITP on your business, as well as the potential solutions out there, to identify what the right approach should be as you move forward. ITP won’t be the last – or most problematic – innovation in user privacy that poses a challenge for digital analytics. Luckily, there are workarounds available to you – you just need to decide which solution will allow you to best balance your customers’ privacy with your organization’s measurement goals.