How will Apple’s ITP 2.0 affect your affiliate marketing strategy?

4-MINUTE READ - 6th September 2018

Emily Park
Emily ParkSenior Content Executive

In September 2017, Apple released an update for its Safari browser, which included Intelligent Tracking Prevention (ITP). This meant that third-party tracking providers no longer had the ability to read cookies on a brand’s site after 24 hours.

With the release of iOS 12 and macOS Mojave in Q4, the tech giant is expected to introduce ITP 2.0, which will prevent third-party cookie tracking altogether.

Of course, affiliate marketing (aka performance marketing) currently relies heavily on the use of cookies, which means many marketers are wondering how their work is going to be affected by the impending update. Here, we’re going to explain everything we know so far and what steps you can take in the lead-up to the release to ensure you’re prepared.

What’s going to change when Apple’s Safari ITP 2.0 is released?

As a result of Apple’s first ITP update, any third-party cookies that don’t contain login information are removed from Safari after 24 hours. This means these internet users can’t be remarketed to and, crucially for affiliate marketing, any conversions that are generated outside of the 24-hour window won’t be tracked.

Once ITP 2.0 is released, the 24-hour window will be removed, making it impossible to track cookies, and only select users will be able to track their conversions using a complex API system.

How will this affect affiliate marketing?

Because the vast majority of conversions occur in the first 24 hours, the impact of Apple’s ITP 1.0 on affiliate tracking has been relatively small. But, when this 24-hour window disappears, cookies cannot be used to credit referrals on Safari at all.

This stricter approach to cookie handling, redirects, and the passing of HTTP referrer information means affiliate marketers who rely on cookies will need to look for an alternative tracking method. Otherwise, they won’t be able to keep track of conversions and claim commissions.

Alternative tracking methods

To ensure your affiliate marketing techniques are as robust as possible, it’s a good idea to devise a complete tracking suite that uses a variety of methods. Here are just some of the techniques you can use that don’t involve tracking cookies.

URL tracking

The URL tracking method uses specially generated links that contain certain parameters or IDs. So, when a consumer visits a retailer’s website via an affiliate link, it’s easy to identify the source. A major benefit of the URL-tracking method is its consistency: sessions can be tracked regardless of what browser or browser settings a website visitor might be using. So, even if they’re using Safari after the ITP update is released, or they have incognito mode switched on, it’s possible to track a conversion.

However, URL-tracking does have its downsides, which is why it isn’t as popular as the cookie tracking method. The main con is that the conversion is only registered by an affiliate platform if a purchase is made directly after being sent to the merchant’s website. So, if someone is inspired to make a purchase but they visit the retailer’s website of their own accord later and they don’t use the special URL, this won’t be logged, and the affiliate partner won’t receive any commission. Therefore, URL-tracking should only be used in conjunction with other methods.

Fingerprint tracking

Fingerprint tracking is a relatively new method that creates a unique digital signature for each user, made up of information such as the browser type and version, the operating system, the language, and any add-ons that are being used.

Of course, if someone is inspired to make a purchase, fingerprinting will only work if they make the transaction using the same browser and device. But, as long as this is the case, they can be recognised in different sessions, which is helpful if a purchase isn’t made straight away.

Database tracking

Database tracking is also a relatively new method used in affiliate marketing. With this technique, a partner ID is stored from a URL or cookies, along with a respective customer ID. This means any transactions a retailer receives from a single customer can be tracked and assigned to the affiliate partner accordingly. Through this method, the affiliate will receive commission for the initial purchase they inspire, and then for all transactions received from the same customer after that. The downside of this technique is that, if a consumer has already been registered in a database, new affiliates won’t be rewarded for directing them to that website.

Apple’s ITP 2.0 is set to shake things up in the world of affiliate marketing, so it’s vital that you’re prepared. The best way to protect yourself against these changes and ensure all referrals are credited is to test new cookieless tracking techniques. If you have a brand and would like help with your performance marketing strategy, check out our affiliate marketing service, and get in touch now to discuss what we can do for you.