I was going through my Google Ads reports the other day and was pleased to see a whole bunch of conversions on my site. Imagine my surprise when the total number of sales reported by my affiliate provider for the day remained pretty much unchanged! What was the problem? Was I targeting the wrong kind of individuals? But then I wouldn’t have registered the conversions in the first place!
So I dug a little deeper into the analytics, and found that the majority of my clicks came from tablets. And of course, tablets are dominated by one browser – Apple’s Safari. And a bit of research revealed the problem to me. For the past few years, starting with a blog post on June 5, 2017, Apple laid out its vision for preventing the tracking of users across websites.
That was ITP (Intelligent Tracking Prevention) version 1. Since then, there have been several iterations, and the current version sits at 2.2, with additional updates planned for the future. Since version 1, the restrictions have gotten tighter and tighter, to the point where many affiliate sales networks simply don’t register conversions on Safari browsers.
Here’s how it works.
Does your Affiliate Program do This?
To check if your affiliate program is in danger of being rendered useless by Safari, use a redirect tracker like this one. Plug in your affiliate link, and you’ll be able to see where it goes, and how long it takes to end up at the final destination.
Here’s an example of one type of affiliate link on my site:
You can see that it goes through not one, not two, but four different redirections! And before the final destination, it passes through an unrelated website called “ojrg.net” which sets its own cookie. The final “clickid” appended to the destination URL is unique for each visitor.
Why Does Safari’s ITP Block This?
The initial versions of ITP were much laxer. But later ones have cracked down on the kind of redirect chains shown above.
Specifically, Safari won’t allow cookies to be placed from domains that the user hasn’t meaningfully interacted with. So in the above image, the “ojrg.net” domain’s cookie will be blocked because the user rapidly cycles through it, and is not even aware of the redirect in the first place.
As a result, the referring website doesn’t get credit either for the visit, or the final sale.
Does Apple Hate Affiliate Networks?
I would say, no. What’s happening here is that the methods used for tracking affiliate sales are the same as those used for tracking specific users through a chain of sites. And when Apple blocks the latter, the former is blocked as well.
To be fair, this kind of affiliate tracking isn’t really necessary. We can see from the screenshot above, that the “clickid” is appended to the final URL. This is a unique identifier, and each visitor gets a different ID. Which means that we can perform detailed analytics about that specific user.
What Apple wants is to remove the personally identifiable IDs. Here’s a quote from their blog post on May 2019.
“Online ads and measurement of their effectiveness do not require Site A, where you clicked an ad, to learn that you purchased something on Site B. The only data needed for measurement is that someone who clicked an ad on Site A made a purchase on Site B.”
What they seem to be saying here, is that they’re objecting the practice of personal identifiers that change with each click. Instead, they want each affiliate or ad target to be a static URL that doesn’t allow personal tracking.
What Can You Do as an Affiliate?
Honestly, not much. You can speak to your network partner to see if they have a workaround for ITP. Or you could use customized coupons as much as possible to preserve attribution. Or you can see if you can link directly to the end URL. But that might affect how your sales are registered as the target site might think that everyone is coming from a single click.
This is an evolving field, and affiliate advertisers need to make sure that they’re up to date with the latest changes to ITP. Or risk losing ad attribution on Safari altogether!
I’m a NameHero team member, and an expert on WordPress and web hosting. I’ve been in this industry since 2008. I’ve also developed apps on Android and have written extensive tutorials on managing Linux servers. You can contact me on my website WP-Tweaks.com!