The Death Of Ad Tracking

Online advertising as we know it is about to change forever. I know you've probably heard dramatic headlines like that before but in this case, it’s the literal truth. And if you’re an advertiser, a publisher, or an affiliate marketer than 2021 may dramatically change how you run your business.

So what’s going on? What’s with all the “sky is falling” fear mongering? First I’m going to preface this by saying that no, this is not the “death of advertising.” This isn’t the end of the world. We will get through this, but we’ve got a storm ahead.

In a nutshell, cookie tracking as we know it as about to disappear.

This is going to directly affect how much your ads cost, your ability to split test, all affiliate marketing, publishers, content creators and essentially anything that relies on tracking cookies.

if you’re not familiar with tracking cookies already, they're the little bits of code that website owners put on their website to tell advertisers when a specific event has taken place. Sometimes that event can be reading an article, it can be opting in to an email list, or it can be purchasing something. But these little bits of code have been the Internets foundational tracking tool for the past 30 years. And by the end of this year, they’re all going to be gone.

The sky is falling.🙂

So how did this come to be? Why are we losing the single most valuable tracking tool we have and what can we do about it?

Well, unless you’ve been living under a cave for the past decade you've probably noticed the ads that follow you around the web. And while this can be incredibly helpful as an advertiser, it can make customers uncomfortable. Imagine shopping online for an item that you might not want others to know about and then visiting a popular website and seeing that item advertised all over where anybody else who uses that computer can see? Yikes!

And that’s why so many people have started implementing ad blocker‘s. How do ad blockers work? They block ads from being displayed, and they block tracking cookies from being loaded. And over the past 10 years as advertising automation has evolved people have become more and more wary about what they share online and how their data is used.

So to address those concerns in 2017 Apple came out with this new technology called ITP. It stands for Intelligent Tracking Prevention. It was designed to address users privacy concerns by limiting cookie tracking on Safari on desktop and mobile.

Apple’s Safari accounts for 10% usage on Desktop and 50% usage on Mobile. So while not a huge deal for Desktop, this is a MASSIVE problem for mobile. Literally half the people that visit your websites are not being tracked!

Since 2017 the restrictions have only gotten tighter to the point where Facebook Tracking Pixels are no longer firing at all. Go ahead, check it out yourself. Visit a website on your iPhone (this one!) that you know has a FB pixel on it. Click the “AA” in the menu bar and go to “Privacy Report”. You’ll see FB, Google Analytics and all other tracking pixels blocked.

Firefox already blocks all third party cookies (tracking, etc). And Google is scheduled to block them all in 2022 due to privacy concerns.

This is a HUGE deal.

This means unless someone finds a solution things like affiliate marketing may not work as well anymore. It means ad costs will go up significantly. It makes split testing nearly impossible. It essentially sends us back to 1990 where all advertisers relied on keyed advertising. It’s a slow, laborious process I’m not terribly looking forward to going back to it. That being said, since FB is poised to take a 40-50% revenue hit unless they solve this, they’ve been highly motivated to find a solution. And they have… kind of (see below)

Now here’s where the dramatic headline comes in. Apple has already told Facebook to stop tracking users. Apple does not want anyone tracking it's users activity. Period. In fact, Apple has gone so far as to tell Facebook that if they continue to find workarounds they’ll be removed from the App store. And when Apple flexes their muscle the entire industry changes (see: floppy drives, cd drives, headphone jacks, etc)

And that is exactly why Facebook has taken out giant full page ads in WSJ trying to get the public to side with them. But it ‘aint happening. And I don’t blame either party! As an advertiser, this is not gonna be fun. As a privacy consciencious citizen, I do appreciate it.

The Times They Are A Changin’
-Bob Dylan

So what can we do? Nobody is 100% sure yet. I’m not heavily involved in the affiliate or CPA marketing circles. I’m not a publisher, so I can’t comment on that. But I do advertise – a lot. And here is how advertisers are preparing on Facebook.

1 – Accept That This Is Happening. There is nothing we can do to change it. We can either adapt or die. Sticking your head in the sand and pretending this won’t happen won’t make it go away. So you need to act.

2 – Setup Facebook Conversions API. This is Facebooks response to the “No More Tracking Pixel” problem. It doesn’t track every event (page views, etc) but it does track conversion events – which is mostly what we want anyways. Whenever a conversion event (opt-in, purchase, etc) happens your website speaks directly with Facebooks servers and says “Hey, Bob bought something!” and credits the sale accordingly. Explaining this setup is a bit beyond the scope of this article, but I’ll put references and further reading below. Bottom line – get this setup ASAP.

3 – Verify Your Domain! Yup! This one’s brand new. In the future you’ll only be able to associate conversions with domains that are verified in your business manager account. So make sure you do that sooner rather than later.

4 – Enable Advanced Matching. When going through the ads setup process, make sure to enable Advanced Matching. This increases accuracy so Facebook is able to identify users. The more data you can pass back to Facebook, the more accurate your analytics will be, and the cheaper your advertising will be.

5 – Verify Business (Optional). If you’ve found that you’ve had problems in the past with ads getting denied or account shutdowns (that were reversed) this may help. It’s another “verification” tool that Facebook is using to make sure only high quality advertisers use their platform. All you have to do is send them identification / business registration papers and it may save you a few headaches.

If you’re using WordPress to manage your site, I highly recommend the PixelYourSite plugin as it takes care of both the cookie and the API. There are also native integrations built into the Facebook ads manager for things like WooCommerce, Shopify, BigCommerce, and yes Zapier. So for anything else that doesn’t connect directly to Facebook, (like ClickFunnels) we can still pass the information we need.

There’s a lot going on. And I’m sure this is just as overwhelming for you as it was for me when I first saw it. When the “realization” first hit me a few weeks ago I spent 3 full days researching all of this. There is a lot of confusion out there and it’s only going to get worse. So the sooner you get on top of this, the easier it will be. 🙂

So here is what I would do going forward.

1 – Read the articles linked below so you have a more thorough understanding of what is happening. Start with the “Further Reading” and then move on to the Official Documentation if you’re interested. Reason: FB Official Documentation is much more technical.

2 – Setup your Conversion API’s, verify your domain and business and enable Advanced Matching when running ads.

3 – Tell EVERY advertiser, publisher and affiliate marketer you know. The longer our friends have to wait to find out about this, the more painful the process is going to be!

Well… that’s it for me. I hope this answers more questions than it raises. 🙂 I know reading all of this stuff can be a bit like trying to take a drink from a water hose. But at the very least I’m glad I got to pass on the message. 🙂

Take care and chat soon.

-Adam Nolan

Resources / Further Reading:

FB Official Documentation

About domain name verification:

What happens when Apple implements ATT prompt in 2021:

Ad Reporting and attribution insights:

iOS14 Reporting limitations:

{"email":"Email address invalid","url":"Website address invalid","required":"Required field missing"}

Adam Nolan

Adam Nolan is a direct response marketing consultant from Ottawa, Ontario, Canada. For nearly 20 years he's sold millions of dollars of products & services for clients all around the world, written a handful of books, and personally helped hundreds of people start or grow their businesses.

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