Expert Insights

ITP 2.1 Web Analytics Health Check

Step-by-step ITP 2.1 guide to finding out if & how Apple's anti-tracking update affects your web analytics and business

Sebastian Mørch
June 04 · 3 min 30 sec read

If you are reading this, you’ve probably heard of ITP 2.1, which has recently been rolled out on Safari browsers across all iOS and MacOS devices. But do you know if your website and web analytics are affected? Here's an easy step-by-step guide to help you find out.

Have you been seeing some unexpected changes in your website analytics? Has the number of new users visiting your website from Safari and iOS suddenly risen? Great right? Maybe not. If the number of recurring users have plummeted at the same time, it's probably because of ITP 2.1, due to the expiration of your Google Analytics or Adobe Analytics cookies.

Has the number of new users visiting your website from Safari and iOS suddenly risen? Great right? Maybe not.

Maybe your Facebook ads (or Twitter, LinkedIn etc.) have been performing poorly lately, not generating as many returning users or conversions. The ads are probably just as good as always, but because the Facebook cookie expires after a week, customer journeys longer than a week can no longer be attributed to the ad that caught the attention of the user. This limits the length of the attribution window to seven days, rather than the 90-day default for Facebook - note that this is further reduced once ITP 2.2 is implemented. This will also negatively impact your remarketing efforts.

ITP 2.1 can also impact things unrelated to marketing and analytics, though. You probably have a cookie consent popup on your site. Most of those, not unironically use a cookie to persist the choices a user has made. The cookie is usually set client-side, which means that it's affected by ITP 2.1 just like the tracking cookies, which are the intended targets. This means, that users will have to reaffirm or reconsider their choices every week.

What you need to get started

To know if you’re impacted by ITP 2.1, all you really need is a Mac with the Safari browser installed. However, if you have access to another browser like Chrome or Firefox, it becomes even more apparent. First, we'll establish a baseline of how things are supposed to be without ITP 2.1. Then, we'll look at how things differ in Safari.

It only takes a few minutes.

All you really need is a Mac with the Safari browser installed.
It only takes a few minutes.

The baseline

Let's take a look at the cookies on your website. First, open a browser not affected by ITP 2.1, e.g. Chrome or Firefox and navigate to your site. If you only have Safari, download Chrome or Firefox for free, or just skip to the next section. Once you're on your site, you need to access the development tool in your browser. The way to do this differs slightly from browser to browser. Steps for Chrome and Firefox are listed below.

Find your cookies in Chrome

1. Right-click anywhere on the page and click ‘Inspect’ in the context menu.

2. On the ribbon that shows up at the bottom of the window, click the 'Application' tab in the menu.

3. In the menu on the left-hand side, click the 'Cookies' option to expand it – you may have to scroll down to see it  (note that your list will be different).

4. On the list that appears up, find your website domain and click on it. If you don’t see it, make sure you are on the front page of your website.

5. In the main area to the right of the menu, you can now see a list of the cookies that are on your site.

6. Note that the names of the various cookies are in the leftmost column. Here, you can also find the ‘Expires / Max-Age’ column, where you can see when your cookies expire.

Find your cookies in Firefox

1. Right-click anywhere on the page and click ‘Inspect element’ in the context menu.

2. On the ribbon that shows up at the bottom of the window, select the ‘Storage’ tab in the menu.

3. In the menu on the left-hand side, click the ‘Cookies’ option to expand it. You may have to scroll down to see it (note that your list will be different).

4. On the list that appears, find your website domain and click on it. If you don’t see it, make sure you are on the front page of your website. In the example below, we are on the accutics.com site, so the ‘http://accutics.com’ option is chosen.

5. In the main area to the right of the menu, you can now see a list of the cookies that are on your website. Note that the screenshot only shows a single cookie. There will likely be more on your site.

6. The names of the various cookies are in the leftmost column. Also find ‘Expires on’ column, where you can see when your cookies expire. The screenshot above shows the cookie used by Google Analytics to identify recurring users and correlate tracking calls made during a session. The cookie is called _ga and expires approximately two years from now.

How your cookies look in Safari after ITP 2.1

Now let’s take a look at the difference in the Safari browser. If you skipped ahead to this part because you don’t have Chrome or Firefox, you’ll still be able to see the effect. But the difference will be less clear.

To find your cookies in Safari, follow the steps below after navigating to your website.

1. First you need to enable the development tools. To do this click the ‘Preferences…’ option in the ‘Safari’ tab in the menu in the top-left corner of the screen.

2. Select the ‘Advanced tab’ and check the ‘Show Develop menu in menu bar’ option. Then, close the pop-up window.

3. Right-click anywhere on the page and click ‘Inspect element’ in the context menu.

4. In the ribbon that shows up at the bottom of the window, select the ‘Storage’ tab in the menu.

5. In the menu on the left-hand side, find and expand the ‘Cookies’ folder. Find your website domain in the list that appears and click on it. If you don’t see it, make sure you are on the front page of your website. In the example below, we are on the accutics.com site, so the ‘accutics.com’ option is chosen.

6. In the main area to the right of the menu, you can now see a list of the cookies that are on your site. Note that the screenshot only shows a single cookie. There will likely be more on your website.

7. The names of the various cookies are in the leftmost column. In the‘Expires on’ column, you can easily see when your cookies expire. The screenshot above shows the cookie used by Google Analytics to identify recurring users and correlate tracking calls made during a session. The cookie is called _ga and expires approximately seven days from now. This is the impact of ITP 2.1, as the cookie is supposed to last for about two years.

The difference

Now that you got the overview of your cookies as they look both with and without the effects of ITP, we can take a look at the difference. If you only have the overview from Safari, you can still see the effect. Also note that you will probably see quite a few more cookies in Chrome due to the lack of third-party cookies in Firefox and Safari - that's a whole other story though.

The images below show a selection of relevant cookies from the accutics.com site from Chrome and Safari respectively. We don't have a lot of cookies, but they are indicative of the effect on most of the cookies you may have. The cookies were reset and the screenshots were taken on May 26, 2019.

Chrome

Safari

Consider the '_ga' cookie. In Chrome the cookie expires on May 25, 2021, which is approximately two years from when it was set on May 26, 2019. Now, take a look at the cookie in Safari: here it expires on June 2, 2019 - only seven days from when it was set.

For the Facebook cookie '_fbp' the situation is similar. In Chrome, the cookie expires on August 24, 2019, which is 90 days after it was set. In Safari, this cookie expires after seven days, namely on June 2, 2019.

The 'ARRAffinity' cookie is a session cookie, so it is unaffected by ITP 2.1. The same goes for the '_gid' cookie, which expires after 24 hours.

By now you can probably see the pattern. In Chrome or Firefox, the cookie has the desired expiration, while it is capped at seven days in Safari. Use Chrome or Firefox to tell the desired expiration of each of the cookies on your site and compare them to the same cookie in Safari to get a complete tally of how your site is affected. If you don't have the overview from Chrome or Firefox, the desired expiration for most cookies can relatively quickly be found with a Google search.

For more information about what this means for your digital marketing and analytics, take a look at this article, where we go into further details on the concrete consequences of ITP 2.1.

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