Extreme Marketing Agency

By Extreme

Email, SEO, Social Media, Strategy, PPC

A comprehensive guide to iOS, cookies & privacy changes in 2021

As the world of privacy settings continues to evolve, marketers and brands face ongoing challenges in creating and tracking tailored advertising campaigns. We’ll be exploring the latest updates, why they’re being introduced, who they’ll impact most and how businesses can overcome this new set of challenges.

A comprehensive guide to iOS, cookies & privacy changes in 2021

Throughout the evolution of digital, brands have been running targeted ad campaigns across multiple channels, positioning themselves directly in front of their target audiences at every possible opportunity.

From search engines and social networks to apps and streaming services, the digital landscape presents hundreds, if not thousands of opportunities for businesses to connect with new and existing customers, both building their brand and ultimately driving sales; though the parameters through which they can do so are changing.

Advertisers rely heavily on data gathered, stored, procured and shared via first, second and third party cookies when developing and tracking campaigns. In-depth audience data allows them to get in front of those who are most likely to be interested in what they’re promoting, maximising the impact and return of investment (ROI) of their marketing activity and budgets.

Changes to the way data is captured, used and shared due to new privacy-first policies implemented by governments, companies, networks and operating systems alike means marketers will need to adapt their strategies in order to position themselves in front of customers.

In this blog, we’ll explore the latest changes to privacy policies, why they’ve been introduced and how your business can overcome these new challenges.

What are the recent changes to privacy policies?


First on the list, updates to iOS 14 earlier this year meant that Apple limited apps’ access to their Identifier for Advertisers. This meant instead of opting out of tracking, iPhone users needed to opt in. Prior to iOS14, iPhone owners were able to restrict tracking, with approximately 20% of users doing so.

However, since the iOS 14.5 update rolled out in April, this number has increased to 87% globally. With Apple holding over half of the UK smartphone market, and internet usage on mobile devices being at an all time high, you don’t even have to do the exact maths to realise that you’re missing out on a huge amount of people!


That’s not all. Their iOS 15 update (released in September) includes a feature called mail privacy protection, which enables users to hide their IP address and prevent senders from seeing if and when they have opened their email. For email marketers, this has the potential to change the game completely.

Google Chrome

Finally, Google has announced that from 2023, Google Chrome would be turning its back on third party tracking through cookies completely, following in the footsteps of other browsers like FireFox and Safari who already block third-party cookies by default.

However, unlike other browsers, Chrome is looking to roll out new systems which allow businesses to continue to gather data via websites, albeit in a much more controlled way. They plan to introduce a new system for targeting, called Federated Learning of Cohorts (FLoC), ushering in the end of personalised advertising as we know it. While marketers have time before this comes into place, they should be preparing now.

A graphic of a lap top with security icons around it, including a key and padlock

Why are new privacy-first policies being introduced?

Following significant data breaches across major platforms over the years, plus recent documentaries such as The Great Hack and The Social Dilemma opening viewers’ eyes to the implications of unregulated data protection policies, people are much more conscious about their data, and what is done with it - sparking demand for tighter regulations.

A 2019 Tealium Consumer Data Privacy Report found that 97% of respondents were somewhat or very concerned about protecting their personal data. From a brand trust and customer safety point of view, we’ve reached a point in time where tighter regulations and policies are no longer an option, but a must-have.

And yet a global survey found that 87% of consumers believe that it’s important to purchase from brands that understand “the real me”. A major obstacle marketers across all industries are now having to tackle is balancing customers opting for increased privacy settings, limiting how much data we can access, while still expecting brands and marketers to be able to provide relevant advertising.

It’s important to remember that non-marketers aren't necessarily going to understand the technical intricacies that we encounter every day - GDPR, cookies, cache, personalisation to name a few - they, understandably, just see their personal data being used by companies. Despite this, they still want to see tailored ads, bespoke to them and their lifestyle, shopping habits and budget. Wouldn’t it be great if we could have the best of both worlds?

When it comes to the world of e-commerce, nearly 70% of respondents in a Wyngg study said they have abandoned purchases because they didn’t trust the way their data would be handled. However, more than 60% of respondents said they would be willing to share more personal data with an e-commerce site if it made it easy for them to see the data they’ve shared, and allowed them to update or revoke it whenever they want.

A bar chart to show what conditions people prefer when sharing information with brands online.

While changes in privacy policies are great steps for individual privacy, it’s throwing a spanner in the works for digital marketers across the globe.

What’s the impact of these new privacy-first policies? (and on who)

In short, anyone and everyone is being impacted in some way by the changes in privacy settings. You, your competitors and every other business who relies on customer data to create targeted marketing campaigns, whether that be across social media, paid media, email or organic.

Across the board we are seeing discrepancies in reporting, meaning it’s difficult to gain an accurate depiction of where conversions are coming from. But the good news is you’re probably getting better results than what you’re seeing! In the past there’s always been the odd difference between the reporting of results across ad platforms, Analytics, and in other sources like Shopify. However, in 2021, these disparities have become even larger, making the lives of marketers’ more difficult as they struggle to quantify their return on investment to clients.

The impact on Google Analytics’ traffic tracking

For example, brands are likely already seeing an increase in the amount of website traffic being tagged as ‘direct’ in Google Analytics (GA). Any traffic or conversions that cannot be specifically tied to a channel will be grouped under ‘direct.’ Moreover, any users who have not accepted cookies on your site will not be tracked on Google Analytics at all!

At Extreme, we’ve been testing a tool called Plausible, a lightweight, cookieless, open source analytics platform that lets you collect top level insights and data about your website and its visitors. Because this tool does not require cookies, by comparing the data it had collated with that housed in GA, we were able to discover that Google Analytics is currently underreporting traffic volume by roughly 50% - a huge difference!

The impact on single-window attribution

The parameters of a single-window attribution is becoming more and more of an issue. If an iPhone user opts out of tracking but then clicks on an ad, we can only track the event that we prioritise highest as we now rely on Aggregated Event Measurement.

As well as this, if they for example opened an Instagram story link, then opted to open the web page in a browser (as opposed to locally in Instagram) then we'd lose them again. We are now also limited in our ability to track people who visit a web page more than once before converting.

What can businesses do to understand and target customers under new privacy settings?

Navigating the new digital landscape as a business can seem overwhelming. How can you get to understand who your customers are if changes to the online world mean you’re being blocked from learning more about them?

Not to worry, there are still plenty of opportunities to get to know your target audiences, and a wealth of tactics you can use to combat some of the obstacles.

Here are some of our top tips to help with your targeting, tracking and overall marketing strategy under the new wave of privacy regulations.

How to better understand and target customers on social media

Prioritise adding Facebook’s Conversions API to your website

If you’re only using Facebook Pixel, your business is more vulnerable to losing data due to privacy updates, as it’s a third party cookie. Facebook’s Conversion API works higher up at a server level, and can help return the data lost by browsers, meaning you can preserve the effectiveness of your Facebook and Instagram advertising in spite of these industry changes. It works by providing data from your website to Facebook, rather than Facebook collecting it itself.

However, it’s important to note that while the Conversions API can help improve your attribution and the effectiveness of your ads, if an iOS user has opted out of being tracked, they will not be able to be monitored. Unfortunately, this isn’t a workaround, just a way to ensure what you are able to track is as accurate as possible.

Refine your strategy for each social platform

With social channels releasing their own privacy guidelines, it’s important you develop your strategy in line with each to maximise your presence on the platform. Marketers have had to re-learn each channel’s best practices, and adjust our strategies to accommodate the ever-changing landscape.

New Facebook privacy policies have arguably had the biggest impact on the industry (because of their share of the market, holding an estimated 56%) but each social channel has enacted its own guidelines.

Pinterest has launched Enhanced Match, which is its own version of Facebook’s Conversion API. While they’ve identified that customer lists, dynamic retargeting and customer retargeting will be affected, this channel is particularly effective in targeting users’ search queries and keywords, which will allow us to still effectively use Pinterest to reach customers with higher relevancy than on other platforms.

TikTok’s Ads Manager has rapidly evolved over the past six months to make its self-serve ads more accessible to others, outside of big businesses with large budgets. The video-based platform has been launching new features each month, meaning that it’s starting to catch up with competitors like Facebook in terms of audience sizes and ad formats. That being said, their team is still working “to evaluate the development of first-party solutions and a data strategy that supports our advertisers' needs.

We’ll keep looking to them for updates, but as a starting point, they’re recommending that advertisers scale budgets and set up separate campaigns to accommodate those opting in, and those opting out. Wondering if your business should be on TikTok? Check out our blog to discover how you can connect with your audiences and build your brand on one of the fastest-growing platforms in the world.

Meanwhile, Twitter has released its official advice, but has identified that it will primarily impact those advertising Apps, which means the larger majority of advertisers will “only” see an impact on their measurement.

How to better understand and reach customers when creating audience targeting campaigns

Use more contextual targeting

Contextual targeting places ads on websites depending on the content of the page, allowing you to reach users based on the information they are consuming in real time. By focusing on the content of the site rather than the audience, you bypass any privacy concerns and, if done right, you can reach users when they are in a hyper-relevant frame of mind.

Consolidate campaigns to get out of learning phases quicker

In the past, we’ve always recommended separating out your audiences into their own ad sets within social media ad managers, so that you can ascertain which is performing best and balance your budgets accordingly.

However, with audience sizes becoming increasingly restricted, we now pivot to consolidating similar ad sets to ensure that there is no fragmentation. The larger the audience, the more people you can reach, the faster you can get out of the learning phase.

It’s important to note that this only works on social media platforms, and not with search engines such as Google.

Opt for broader audiences on social media (as they’re getting smaller!)

It’s time to think higher up the sales funnel when trying to drive conversions. To do this, increase your investment in Interest, Lookalike and Actalike audiences, and get creative with your targeting criteria.

Update: Since this blog was written, we now prefer to use the 'messy hexagon' model when describing a typical customer journey. Whilst the traditional 'AIDA' sales funnel stills holds value in some circumstances, we believe the messy hexagon provides an alternative and more realistic view of the customer's path to purchase

Hone in on your customer personas and test targeting interests that your customers may have outside of your brand. This will broaden your pool of potential. For example, consider what sort of media they consume, or what clothing brands they might wear. Often, thinking beyond the obvious may help you find untapped audiences.

The more people you reach and send to your website, the greater the potential size of the retargeting audiences across your wider market efforts - whether that be on social media, through email or via display ads. Though it’s important to note that you’ll be unable to reach those who opt out of any marketing preferences, so that’s something to bear in mind when looking at your analytics and retargeting strategy.

Don’t give up on dynamic advertising on social media

Dynamic retargeting is often seen as an effective way to show customers products or services that they’ve already viewed. With retargeting being the most affected by recent privacy updates, you’d think that this format would become a redundant tool, right?


Thanks to machine learning, platforms such as Facebook can use their own data to predict what a customer might be interested in, and match them with the right product in your catalogue. This increased liquidity (broader parameters, such as budget, creative, audience and placement) will facilitate more space for our ads to learn from users’ behaviour.

“Machine learning uses serial algorithms and predictive analytics to find the right audiences at the right time, at the best price.”

Facebook Business

All you need to do is change your approach: instead of running dynamic retargeting ads to abandoned baskets, try running dynamic formats to broader audiences to understand what your customers are looking for. Strong reporting and ongoing optimisation will be needed to make this work, but once executed, your product will be finding its customers, rather than the other way around!

Other tactics you can use to understand and target customers under new privacy settings

Increase your reliance on zero and first-party data

The most powerful tool you have at your disposal as a business owner is zero and first-party data.

Zero-party data is any information a customer proactively and intentionally shares with a business, for example personal context, communication preferences, purchase intentions and how the individual wants the business to recognise them. This could include a survey, poll or a lead generation form in exchange for something of value to the customer, like a free resource or discount code.

Whereas first-party data is collected directly from your audience, as opposed to being acquired and sent to you by a third-party, providing insights from on-site and in-app analytics and user behaviours. This would include your website analytics, CRM data, surveys, feedback, and social media followers. Purchase history and downloads amongst other transactional information is also considered first-party data and allows brands to recommend tailored communications to inspire future purchases based on what the user likes.

Using insights from both, you can learn about who your customers are, what they’re interested in and how they interact with your brand, helping you to refine your marketing tactics and targeting options to best suit your audiences.

But how do brands increase the amount of zero and first-party data they hold?

Here are some actionable tactics you can utilise across your marketing activity and boost your data-gathering knowledge:

  • Use lead generation forms, surveys, polls and competitions to gather insightful qualitative data, though be careful not to overwhelm them with too many questions all at once. Space this out across different mediums, for example on-site, in the app and across social media.

  • Offer value in exchange for data by incentivising a newsletter sign up, introducing a loyalty scheme or offering a membership discount. Customers are more likely to spend time filling in a form or survey if they know they’re getting something in return.

  • Offer a transparent exchange of customer data to help leverage brand trust, reassuring customers that this data will not be shared (or sold). Transparency is key to building trust and customer relationships with longevity, with Inc.com reporting that 94% of all consumers are more likely to be loyal to a brand when it commits to full transparency.

Review your email marketing goals

For email marketers, the reduction of visibility of email open rates could be seen as truly panic inducing. But in reality, what is the value of tracking open rates as the main metric of success?

In light of the changes, Klaviyo - marketing automation software and customer data specialists - has come out and urged email marketers not to panic, indicating that open rates are simply a ‘vanity metric’ and not a true indicator of user engagement. Their advice is to review the goals of your email marketing, and establish the best success metric according to this.

For example, if the goal is customer retention, you should be looking at lifetime value and purchase frequency. Perhaps iOS 15 will be the metaphorical kick we all needed to redefine how we measure email marketing and its contribution to the bigger picture!

Increase your budget

They say throwing money at a problem won’t make it go away, but if you’re looking higher up the sales funnel, so will your competitors. With “owned” audiences, such as website retargeting, you’re only bidding for space within a users’ feed, but for interest-based audiences you’re competing against a whole host of others who are also bidding on that niche.

You will therefore need to monitor your campaign progress and make the call on whether more investment is needed in order to outperform competition and connect with wider audiences.

Explore some alternative paid media platforms

There are now a plethora of platforms that advertisers can use to get their message in front of their target audiences. From other search engines like Bing and DuckDuckGo, the latter of whom has a heavy focus one protecting searchers' privacy, to Youtube, Spotify, Quora and Reddit.

The most important consideration when deciding on your marketing strategy is to pinpoint where your customers are - what do they read? What do they listen to? How do they search for their next purchase? For help on navigating the world of Paid Media, and deciphering what could work best for you and your business, check out our blog on alternative paid media platforms, written by our in-house specialist.

Get your Google Analytics set up correctly

Be sure you’ve got Google Analytics 4 properties set up for all of your existing accounts. GA4 is the latest iteration of Google’s Analytics software, and is designed to assist you in a cookieless world. It follows an event-based structure, tracking all interactions as a single entity, as opposed to splitting it out into page views, transactions, sessions, etc. as traditional Google Analytics does.

There is a more heavy focus on the user’s journey, which means GA4 allows you to stitch together activity from an individual customer across multiple events. For example, if they visit your website and sign up to your email on their desktop, but then download the app and make a purchase on their mobile, GA4 can link those events under one unique customer ID code, meaning you can report on it more accurately.

It also provides you with predictive analysis capabilities via its learning algorithms. This means you’ll be able to identify users and actions that are likely to result in a conversion or sale in the near future. Over time, it will allow you to gather a really clear picture of users’ journeys to making a purchase, meaning you can fine tune your UX to best suit your customers’ needs.

With a whole host of other benefits, like data visualisation, analysis and reporting, GA4 is most certainly worth incorporating into your marketing toolbox.

Consider incorporating offline ad formats into your strategy

A recent Kantar report into media reactions highlighted that 9 of the 22 channels measured in their ad equity ranking are offline.

As such, it’s important to consider including offline as well as online advertising activity in your marketing strategy in order to connect with potential customers across multiple media. This is of course dependent on your target audiences, but as always, knowledge is power and so building a broader understanding of who you’re trying to engage with and how they interact with different advertising mediums can only strengthen your chances of success.

Readdress your KPI priorities

Over the past few months, these privacy changes have made one thing clear: we can’t continue working the way we did previously. So if our approach is changing, so must the way we measure the results. With an estimated 15% of iOS web conversions being underreported in aggregate by Facebook, digital marketers will be selling themselves short when reporting on their KPIs. We need to start looking at the bigger picture…

What’s next?

We’re moving into a new era of digital marketing, one where marketers must navigate a more privacy-led landscape and get creative in the ways they get in front of potential customers throughout their path to purchase.

In the past, we’ve been able to provide in-depth insights on what users are doing and how they’re engaging with our brand. But now we must readdress and reinvent how we measure performance and success.

For this reason it is important not to just analyse a platform or campaign’s results in silo. We will always be looking at the bigger picture, analysing how your digital marketing activity has contributed to your business goals as a whole.

Over the coming months and years, we expect to see third party tracking become entirely outdated and even obsolete, with the ever-evolving privacy laws further enveloping customer data. Watch this space, we’ll be sure to update you with any new or relevant information as and when it becomes available.


  • Cookie - a code used to identify you as you browse a website. They can be used for:
    • Improving customer experience, such as remembering log in details.

    • Personalisation, such as tailoring your experience to your location or, using eCommerce for example, discovering what products interest you.

    • Retargeting you elsewhere by picking up which pages of a website you have visited so that Paid Media can serve you with relevant content.

  • Zero-party data - any information a customer proactively and intentionally shares with a business, for example personal context, communication preferences, purchase intentions and how the individual wants the business to recognise them. This could include a survey, poll or a lead generation form in exchange for something of value to the customer, like a free resource or discount code.

  • First-party data - collected directly from your audience, as opposed to being acquired and sent to you by a third-party, providing insights from on-site and in-app analytics and user behaviours. This would include your website analytics, CRM data, surveys, feedback, and social media followers.

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