If you’re a startup founder, there’s a pretty good chance you’re using Google Ads, Facebook Ads or Linkedin Ads to help grow your business.
But if you’re relying on the built-in reporting tools within those ad platforms to track how many clicks and conversions you are getting, that data is about to get a lot less accurate thanks to a new feature being released with iOS 17 called Link Tracking Protection.
This is a problem because if you can’t accurately track the performance of your advertising spend, you won’t actually know which campaigns are delivering leads or customers. And, in a time where funding is getting harder to come by, extending your runway and ensuring your precious marketing budget is working hard for you, is more important than ever.
Read on to learn more about this new release, how it works and what you need to ensure you can accurately track how many leads and customers you are getting from your ads.
What is Apple’s Link Tracking Protection?
When you advertise on ad networks like Google Ads or Facebook Ads, they ask you to place a snippet of code on your website so they can track how many visits and conversions you get from your ads.
But what you don’t see is that when someone clicks on one of your ads, the ad network (I.e. Google Ads) places a unique ID (known as the click ID) in the URL they send people to.
The snippet of code you placed on your website then reads this data and uses it to help determine which campaign, ad group, ad, etc the visitor clicked, and then if they convert (by making a purchase or filling out a form for instance) it uses this track conversions and sends the data back to the reporting tools in the ad platform so you can see how many conversions you got.
With Apple’s new Link Tracking Protection feature, these little click ID’s that Google and Facebook put behind each click get removed before the visitor lands on your site.
This means that those little snippets of code that you placed on your site to track conversions won’t actually know where that particular visitor has come from, and so their ability to track conversions and attribute them back to individual campaigns and ads will be significantly hindered, ultimately meaning the reports they provide you will be less accurate.
Does this release mark the end of tracking? How do you ensure accurate analytics in a privacy-led world?
What you need to do to prepare
Even though Apple announced the feature, the company has remained very tight-lipped about what click ID’s and other tracking parameters this new feature will block.
So to find out, we downloaded the beta version of iOS17 and ran a series of tests to see what click ID’s get blocked and which one’s still make it through.
As you can see from the table above, click IDs from all the major search engines and social media ad networks get blocked. UTM parameters, on the other hand, do not get blocked.
So what do you need to do to ensure you can still accurately report on your advertising?
Firstly, you need to stop relying on the built-in reporting tools in the various ad platforms. The effectiveness of those has been diminishing for years (through the blocking of third-party cookies and various other changes) and this will be a further blow to those.
To manage this change, you need to start using UTM parameters behind each of your ads.
If you’re not familiar with them, they are basically extra bits of text that you add to the end of the URL you are sending people to from your campaigns that tell analytics tools where the person has come from.
So if the page you are sending someone to is attributer.io then your final URL (with UTM parameters) might look a bit like this:
This essentially tells analytics tools that this visitor came from a paid search ad, that it was on Google, and that they came from your brand campaign.
Finally, instead of relying on the ad platforms to tell you how many conversions you got, you need to run reports out of an analytics tool that can capture and interpret these UTM parameters (which is virtually all of them).
If you run a business where people purchase directly off your website (like an eCommerce store), you can use tools like Google Analytics to see exactly how many visits and conversions you’ve had from people coming to your site with these different UTM parameters.
Alternatively, if you run the kind of business where people complete a form on your website, become a lead and then get followed up by someone to close the sale, you’ll want to use tools like Attributer to capture the UTM parameters with each new lead and send them through to your CRM. You can then run reports in your CRM to see how many leads and customers you got from each of your campaigns.
If you are just relying on the reporting within each ad network to understand how many clicks and conversions you are getting from your ad campaigns, then Apple’s new Link Tracking Protection will, unfortunately, make those reports less accurate.
To solve this, you need to switch to placing UTM parameters behind your ads and using tools like Google Analytics or Attributer to report on how many visitors, leads and customers you are getting from your various ad campaigns.