How iOS 17 is Changing the Game for Web Traffic Attribution

Apple’s release of iOS 17 will deal another blow to web marketers’ ability to track web traffic attribution. 

Apple’s release of iOS 17 will deal another blow to web marketers’ ability to track web traffic attribution. This is because iOS 17 removes ad tracking parameters from links, making it much more challenging to track users across multi-touch environments. It will even remove the GCLID (Google Click Identifiers) in hyperlinks.

Link Tracking Protection:

Apple calls this new feature Link Tracking Protection. It will stop users from being tracked through hyperlinks while using Safari Private Browsing, Messages, and Mail. On Safari, by default, Link Tracking Protection will only limit data from Private Browsing, but users can opt to apply it to All Browsing if they choose to.

Impact on Google attribution:

A recent Merkle / Cardinal Path study showed that the iOS 17 update also blocks Google Tag Manager (GTM) entirely in Private Browsing (and when users opt into All Browsing). This means that ANY tag fired from GTM will be blocked, regardless of its source. Their tests concluded that other tag management systems (TMS) were not impacted as harshly.

Other limitations to tracking web attribution:

Other limitations to tracking web attribution are on their way, including the long-awaited depreciation of 3rd party cookie use in Google’s Chrome browser. It’s no wonder Google’s new GA4 is focused on Events on your website rather than tracking inbound traffic. It is de-prioritizing what it knows will be a less accurate set of metrics moving forward.

Implications for marketers:

These tracking limitations will make it more difficult for marketers to track the effectiveness of their marketing campaigns and attribute conversions to the correct channels. This could lead to less efficient marketing campaigns and lower ROI.

The slow death of attribution tracking will limit businesses’ view of what is working and what isn’t as far as marketing channels go. And it will require even more testing to find the perfect blend of channels to produce great results.

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Tim Grant