Apple IOS 17 - short term data slippage, long term upheaval


  • UTMs, Facebook click IDs, and Google click IDs are going to be stripped from IOS17 links - both iPhone and Mac
  • Tracking and reporting solutions relying on link identification text are going to be impacted
  • Approaches on tracking and attribution post IOS 17 are given below
  • With our deep partnerships with Google and Facebook, we heard about Apple's work on removing link IDs and UTMS (they call it "link decoration") back in Spring 2022.
  • It took all 13 years of our experience in tracking & attribution - but Wicked Reports users will still have accurate marketing attribution and optimization
The Scoop on IOS 17 and Link Tracking:
Apple has announced IOS 17, and it's causing some marketing world drama.

In particular, this paragraph has thrown us digital marketers into an uproar:

Link Tracking Protection in Messages, Mail, and Safari Private Browsing
Some websites add extra information to their URLs in order to track users across other websites. Now this information will be removed from the links users share in Messages and Mail, and the links will still work as expected. This information will also be removed from links in Safari Private Browsing.

This means users can select a setting that will strip all UTMs, variables, and click IDs from Facebook, Google, TikTok, Microsoft, et al.  

With Google Analytics 4 being pushed onto everyone, it's divine timing that Apple drops a bomb on GA4's potential data accuracy.

On the surface, you hear it's for private browsing mode, and relax - that's similar to incognito mode in Chrome, which people generally only use to snoop around or visit certain late night sites...right?

But then I was shared this video from Travis Ketchum, and this might be a bigger deal than I thought.  The video goes right to the time stamp that has the Link Tracking Protection settings - and it sure seems easy to turn this on for ALL browsing.

Google Analytics, membership sites, analytics sites, heck, even us at Wicked Reports - we really, really like having UTMs.   Without them, it ups the ante on the skill required to ID the link that caused a prospect to click on your marketing and come to your site.  And the Google Analytics acquisition reports that you've come to rely on, using your hand-crafted UTM schemes, are now going to be a lot more challenging to get the full picture.

Google Analytics Acquisition report – show the sources of revenue for a given day.  (this is Google Analytics' version of marketing attribution - which, by the way, they are getting rid of popular attribution models in May 2023). 

The source, medium, and campaign values below all come from UTM values.  For example, that first row of data showing email-broadcast / email, wednesday, that came from a link such as, you send an email to your list with those UTMs on it (like I did today, to you, to understand if my list cares about IOS 17 at all).

All Apple IOS 17 traffic, with link tracking protection turned on, will strip the data that leads to that report above.  Additionally, any tracking site, CRM, Shopify, or marketing attribution solution that relies on these UTMs to report back results will be missing IOS 17 data.

This level of panic has not been seen since IOS 14. 


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With the benefit of time, we've been able to revisit what happened when IOS 14 rolled out. 90% of people ended up selecting "do not track" and that caused the following:

  1. Denial that it is affecting anything.  People would post their accounts were fine.
  2. Panic that it is affecting everything.  Many posts that Facebook is OVER, Apple sucks, and the entire digital marketing industry's fate was at stake.
  3. Snake Oil posts on Social Media saying they "fix Facebook" by pushing conversions into the platform (from the same people that were quitting jobs to trade Crypto, making millions on Clubhouse, sharing viral hacks on going viral on Tiktok ... those types).

After the initial hysteria, when the dust settled, Facebook metric accuracy did suffer tremendously.  And smart advertisers do push conversion data into Facebook because it helps drive better results.  

There was finally the realization that an independent source of marketing truth was needed, and marketing attribution finally became a thing people added to their toolbox.

So with IOS 17, how will it play out and how should we deal with it?

"Segment IOS 17 Traffic in non-Search paid campaigns"

Segment marketing to IOS 17+ devices so all your other data is clean and accurate (it is already clean and accurate, correct?)  This keeps your marketing attribution visibility for all non IOS 17 devices unaffected.

  1. Facebook - Segment Apple Device specific campaigns so you can keep your UTMs, IDs, and data clean and accurate for all non-IOS 17 traffic (this screenshot setting in Facebook ads is buried deep in the ad set parameters, but you can find it)

  2. Google Video & Display Campaigns - Segment Apple IOS 17+ device traffic into specific campaigns also.

  3. Google Search Campaigns - unfortunately, there is no way to segment these campaigns by device.  So you still need to find something to fix this.  Keep reading...
  4. Email campaigns - I have not seen a way to segment by device inside of any CRMs I have access to.
  5. SMS campaigns - In theory your SMS provider is going to be able to know which device they are sending to, and allow that data to be used to filter your campaigns.
  6. Other ad platforms - Depends on the ability to segment by device as Facebook & Google allow. If so, follow along below.
  7. Organic Social Posts - Redirect links can work here when done correctly.


"Double down on UTM traffic that still tracks when ROAS is decent" 

A majority of advertisers probably won't segment their campaigns as I suggested.  Which then means they will be acting on incomplete data, and miss opportunities that your unaffected UTM tagged links do not miss, when having success on non-IOS 17 devices (such as Windows PCs and Android Phones).

Here's my thinking on this.  UTM links, FB click ID, and Google click ID get stripped and everyone's data goes to hell.  Bad data causes reported ROAS to plummet.  Brands spending $10k-$250k/month don't have a dedicated tracking specialist, or a solution, or the ability to spend without verified ROAS, all have to cut ad spend.

But the people that have tracking on non-Apple devices, and can see the ROAS lift in their successful non-Apple segmented campaigns, now will have less competition for those audiences because the advertisers that did not segment on IOS 17 traffic will spend less due to lower reported ROAS. Lower cost per conversion might happen, or at least higher volume of revenue for the existing ad spend and thus higher ROAS can happen.

"Educated Blind Guess by Proxy"

By segmenting out IOS 17 vs non IOS 17 traffic, you can use the performance of non IOS 17 traffic as a proxy for the IOS 17 traffic. (better idea below, but this is an option)

Consider this scenario:

Spend $10,000 on non IOS 17 traffic.  1% conversion rate, converted 100 customers, revenue $20,000, ROAS 2.0, and thanks to your current tracking solution, you know where the ROAS came from and can optimize ad spend to increase it.

Spent $10,000 on IOS 17 traffic.  Flying blind, but your landing page conversation stats show 200 sales conversions, so you "know" 100 came from IOS 17 traffic since you've tracked the other 100 from above.  You can't really optimize the ROAS, but can still spend blindly, because of the implied ROAS.

The example above might be easy to follow, or not.  I've been doing marketing analytics for 13 years, attribution for 9, so it's easier for me to see how this would work.

If your eyes are glazing over, well, you could hire someone to sort this out for you. 

"Drive traffic from IOS 17 traffic to dedicated URLs per campaign"  

This works, but is time-consuming, fraught with risk, and will prevent deep optimization.  And it doesn't work for search that great unless you are going to have 1 campaign for each tightly bound keyword group and be willing to live with the less precise results.

"MER, LTV, Conversion Times, and blind faith"

Give up and run everything based on MER, and for advanced readers, add in projected LTV based on initial AOV, product bundle, and average conversion times.

I hate giving up and running everything by MER, but it is an option.  With this idea, you spend more when MER is good, and spend less when it isn't.  

You also run cohort reports to see the anticipated lift from future conversions and factor that into your strategy (At Wicked we do this as a standard thing).

Then you also run conversion time analysis based on CRM & Cart data to see if a so-so MER has reason to achieve higher lift from delayed conversions (Another standard thing for us).

When MER is OK + Cohort indicates future LTV + Conversion Time says more conversions are coming, then raise ad spend.

"Redirect links become a way of life"

This is not a great solution because many ad destination URLs do not allow redirect links.  But for social posts and earned media it has a shot.

Yes, Wicked has redirect links, and has had them for about 4 years.

"Pass the buck to AI"

A solid AI solution could help *some* use cases.  If the algos are properly trained on LTV, and can cross-reference pre IOS 17 traffic and non IOS 17 traffic to create accurate models, you could make the case that it can help.

My concern on this approach, as someone who is knee deep in AI right now (Q3 arrival), is that AI means Intelligence. It does not mean "More Intelligent", and it does not mean "Can Magically Create Missing Data and Solve All Your Problems that Apple is Creating to Crush it's Competitors and Drive Up It's Revenue, While Pretending It Cares About Us."

Also - if AdTech AI meant it always worked, we would already all be rich from the AI in the ad platforms already.

AI can be great.  But it does not solve this.  I'd place money on many people claiming to solve IOS 17 with AI however.  I am hopeful we can say that and look you in the eye when we do.

"Update ROAS using UTM results + % of ad spend "

This is similar to above but a slightly different approach.  You do absolutely nothing new for tracking,  just keep putting tracking on your links.

Then you check the breakdown of traffic IOS 17 vs non IOS 17.

Then you extrapolate out that IOS 17 traffic likely converts at the same rate.

Then you update your tracked revenue with "estimated likely IOS 17 revenue" and use the updated ROAS number to optimize.

For example:

You spend $10,000.  Your tracked traffic shows $10,000 in attributed revenue. This is a ROAS of 1. You have broken even before other costs.

However, the device traffic breakdown indicates 50% of your traffic is from Apple Devices with IOS 17 (a pain but possible to get this).

So you add $10,000 to your attributed revenue from these "phantom untrackable clicks" to show a ROAS of 2.

Not sure how I feel about this one. It's not terrible.

"Other Skunk Work Ideas that solves for all of this with less work"

With our deep partnerships with Google and Facebook, we heard about Apple's work on removing link IDs and UTMS (they call it "link decoration") back in Spring 2022.  We then developed a risk mitigation plan on the various ways to solve for this.

There are a few breadcrumbs above, but I can't give away all my secrets...they took 13 years to develop!

But Wicked Reports users will get the benefits, and still have accurate ROAS, come IOS 17.


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