Google action prompts ease in tracking affiliate referrals on Apple devices

Limitations on advertisers using Google tools to track affiliate referrals on Apple devices have been lifted prompting reports of up to double-digit increase in iOS sales since the beginning of the year.

The changes affected Apple’s Safari browser across devices.

The resolution comes following months of unrest from the affiliate, or performance, marketing sector over the loss of of some affiliate tracking capabilities of Google’s Doubleclick tracking tools affecting some merchants’ ability to accurately attribute sales.

However, well-placed sources say the matter has since been resolved with online discussion boards discussing the matter and quoting Google itself reporting “fixes” dates back to last month.

The problem prompted the IAB to notify its performance marketing membership of its intention to pursue the matter via a memo dating back to January further stating that it understood the issue to be an “industry-wide issue”.

“The IAB has been made aware of the situation surrounding DoubleClick/Google and its management of 1st and 3rd party cookies on the Safari browser which has affected tracking of affiliate links and sales during that [sic] last 6 months or so,” reads the statement.

Sources within the affiliate marketing sector claimed that since Google’s Doubleclick stopped setting cookies on Safari browsers some were potentially losing out on commission payments as brands would find discrepancies in their referral data and be unable to properly reward referrals.

Several sources directly involved in the dispute, including Google, were contacted for comment on “the fix” but none were able to provide spokespeople by time of publication.

Although Marketing Week has been able to confirm Google has since restarted setting cookies on Safari browsers after suspending the practise for almost a year. The exact reason for this development remains unclear.

One online discussion forums debating the matter reports an 11 per cent increase in iOS sales from one merchant that used Doubleclick to track its affiliate referrals, plus brand-side sources are beginning to report a similar upswing in their referral data.

The issue began when Google stopped setting cookies on Safari browsers after a Wall Street Journal investigation, dating back to February 2012, revealed Google was able to ‘work around’ Safari’s default setting to block third party cookies, thus affecting brands’ ability to serve them with targeted ads.

Google claimed this was an inadvertent result of it integrating its Google+ data, meaning signed-in Google account users were able to be served with ads by third parties. “The Safari browser contained functionality that then enabled other Google advertising cookies to be set on the browser [by other advertising companies using the Doubleclick network],” read a statement.

“We didn’t anticipate this would happen, and we have now started removing these advertising cookies from Safari browsers. It’s important to stress that, just as on other browsers, these advertising cookies do not collect personal information.”

This created a situation meaning advertisers using the tools to track sales were potentially unable to properly attribute commissions to its marketing partners, namely affiliate publishers and networks such as Affiliate Window and Commission Junction.

Effect on iPhones and iPads

This was particularly a concern for mobile users as it blurred much iPhone and iPad data – since Safari is the default browser on these devices – with many complaining of Google’s lack of external communication over the issue as it stretched on over months.

David Fieldhouse, director at specialist affiliate firm Linking Mobile, confirms the earlier situation had resulted in discrepancies in analytics sourced using Google’s Doubleclick and that although a resolution may have been reached, it resulted in a serious disruption.

“When you’re a business such as ours that relies on accurate data, any type of discrepancy is concerning,” he adds.

Florian Gramshammer, UK country manager for Commission Junction, says: “The problem came from using Doubleclick tracking along side affiliate tracking. It may not have affected all advertisers but a lot more transparency from Google could have helped the matter get resolved sooner.”

Matt Bailey, commercial director at the Performance Horizon Group, says: “This has been seen as [the off-shoot of] a spat between Apple and Google and it will effect a lot of the tag management companies and brands who would have seen some big holes in their data.”

Earlier this year the IAB produced a report claim the performance marketing sector drove £8bn in sales last year with brands benefitting from an 11-1 return on every pound invested in the channel, this accounted for 5-6 per cent of all e-commerce sales in the UK last year.

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