The ITP effect, or where do strange statistics come from in Google Analytics from the Safari browser
Recently while browsing through the reports one could notice various turbulences in the collection of data by Google Analytics tool, and precisely experience a situation where data from Safari browsers are collected to a negligible degree, or on the contrary when they are collected it is with a considerable surplus. You can find the answer about why it happens in the further part of the article.
Apple has recently become more and more concerned about privacy and protection of its users who use their products with Mac OS and Safari browser. Continuous updates and improvements enable m.in. Hiding your IP address while browsing the web. However, it is worth mentioning the introduced ITP function, which resulted in the mentioned strange data in the reports.
What is ITP?
ITP from. Intelligent Tracking Prevention is a function responsible for complete blocking of third party cookies, the so called “smart cookies”. third-party tracking cookies . This solution restricts site owners and advertisers from tracking their users across multiple sites.
In the case of direct traffic, this mechanism significantly reduces the storage time of cookies. Cookies assigned by Google Analytics are only valid for 7 days after which they are deleted if there is no interaction with the website during this period that could prolong this period. What’s more, such cookie lifetime limitation can be even up to 24 hours, all depending on ITP version.
It is worth noting that the ITP function is automatically enabled in your browser. Whereas users can disable it at any time, but this can be considered unlikely.
ITP effect in Google Analytics reports
This effect depends on how the data is interpreted. Below I will discuss two situations where the data in the reports will be underestimated and overestimated.
Considering blocking tracking automatically this traffic from Safari browsers in GA will be underestimated than reality would normally indicate. This is due to a lack of data about the users visiting our site and their behaviour. They are on our site, they perform various actions, but unfortunately we can’t measure it, nor later reach these people. So in the end we have a hole in the data.
The second situation is users who have tracking enabled and we can track them, their movement on the site is collected by GA. The problem, however, turns out to be the above described cookies’ lifespan causing them to expire within 7 days or even up to 24 hours, which significantly inflates the collected data.
Example: The user enters our site, browses product categories, looks at a particular product and then leaves (cookie no. 1). Then for a few days he browses the offers of competitors, compares prices and comes back to us after a week, browses the product pages again, but finally does not buy, because he still has to think about it (cookie no. 2). In the meantime, he reads reviews, asks his friends, or looks at the product in a traditional store, until finally, after 7 days, he comes back to our website and makes a purchase (cookie no. 3).
In the situation presented, we have one user who, over a short period of time of about a month, came to our site every week on average and became a new user each time. In the period of up to 7 days he would be a returning user, while after 7 days he would be considered a new one, despite the fact that he is still the same customer. This situation causes that a given user can be counted several times as a new user, which in comparison to other browsers strongly distorts the data. As a result, we may have a small percentage of actual users on the site using the Safari browser, but their traffic may be inflated many times over, which is nowhere near reality.
This difference will be particularly noticeable in industries where the product offered is expensive and has a long decision-making period. Low-priced products are usually bought immediately or within a short period of time after the first visit to an online store. The more expensive the product, the longer this time increases and the number of visits to the site before purchase increases.
The end of tracking for Google, or a new reality?
Google as a global giant can not afford to be passive and will certainly look for other solutions to monitor Internet users in a safe way. It is worth mentioning that the world of cookies is slowly coming to an end, as they are soon to disappear completely. That’s why Google is already implementing Privacy Sanbox based on new web technologies that will adequately protect the privacy of internet users online, as well as provide new opportunities and tools for online business.
Another solution supporting tracking of users is Google Signals and FLoC. Federated Learning of Cohorts, which would consist in dividing, or more precisely grouping internet users according to similar behaviors resulting from their browsing history. This model would work on the basis of a cohort containing thousands of people with similar interests, while ads would be targeted not to individuals but to groups.
In conclusion, a world without cookies is a matter of time, and the new reality is getting closer.
Will the tracking blockade affect only Google Analytics?
Well, no, it will also affect other well-known tools for web analytics and activities based on tracking scripts. It is worth noting that blocking tracking by Safari does not affect another Google tool, which is Google Search Console, all because it does not use any tracking scripts.
The effects of ITP – tracking blocking
Unfortunately, the smaller amount of collected data and its poorer quality makes it much more difficult to conduct valuable data analysis and any actions related to optimization. Additionally, blocking tracking makes it impossible to set good targeting or to conduct remarketing and personalization activities. Ultimately, all this translates into lower profits.
Distribution of forces – popularity of browsers
Google Chrome is by far the most popular browser in the world and has a huge advantage over the competition. Currently, it results in 65.9% of Internet users. In second place is Safari with almost 17%. And in third place Firefox with just over 4% of users.
Numbers are numbers, but we should also pay attention to the region, because it is very differently distributed globally. For example, the popularity of Safari in Poland is only about 7% of internet users, so the blocking of tracking is not that much felt. It is definitely different in the USA and Canada, where Apple devices are more popular than here. There, making analytics more difficult will have a greater impact and effect.
In summary, ITP is evolving all the time in terms of protecting users and their privacy from tracking and new technologies. Increased privacy is certainly beneficial to internet users. The situation is worse for owners of websites and online stores, who have fewer opportunities to reach their potential customers with advertisements, and the whole thing ultimately translates into lower profits.
One thing is certain, everything has its beginning and end. When the era of cookies will come to an end then for sure “something” new will come. And this thing is coming soon.
Krystian Kubrak, Junior SEM Specialist at DevaGroup. Certified Specialist Google Ads and Google Analytics.