Apple's Safari Browser Gives Search Marketers Headaches


Apple's dominance on tablets and smartphones presents a threat to accurately measure and optimize the performance of paid-search marketing campaigns.

Search firm Marin Software published a white paper Tuesday based on findings and unanswered questions surrounding Apple's iOS platform. The report identifies Safari, the primary browser for iOS devices, as a major challenge because it blocks third-party cookies by default, making it difficult for ad servers, tracking systems, and ad management tools to link visitors to ads that brought them to the Web site.

Piper Jaffray Analyst Gene Munster estimates Apple will sell 1 million iPad 2s faster than the 28 days it took to sell 1 million of the first-generation iPad. And more people continue to adopt Apple products. During the first weekend of sales, the analyst firm found that 70% of iPad 2 buyers were new to the iPad, compared with 23% of iPhone 4 buyers who were new to the iPhone at launch.



While Mac users also rely on other browsers, Safari remains the dominant search browser used on the iPhone and the iPad, which results in higher rates of undercounted conversions on Apple devices. All browsers can present challenges for advertisers, but Apple's focus on consumer privacy limits the viability of third-party cookie-based tracking systems.

Marin's research also suggests that the conversion tracking issue is a much bigger problem than previously thought. On average, advertisers using third-party cookie-based tracking systems are undercounting conversions by 38%, severely limiting visibility into campaign performance. The white paper, however, does provide somewhat of a workaround.

Blocking third-party cookies can make iOS conversion rates appear lower than conversion rates on Windows, but the study found that the actual conversion rates for iOS, minus for the third-party cookie based undercounting, were on average 23% higher than on Windows.

To demonstrate the point, Marin "indexed paid-search conversion rates to a baseline value of 100 for the Windows platform. For the same dataset, the company analyzed iOS conversion rates when third-party cookies were blocked and when they were accepted."

Marin estimates that its clients contribute about 5% of converting traffic originating from an iOS device. While that's not significant today, the search marketing firm points to growing demand for the iPad and its "high-quality browsing experience."

Nonetheless, more consumers continue to adopt Apple products, and this poses challenges for advertisers when users search the Web using the Safari browser.


4 comments about "Apple's Safari Browser Gives Search Marketers Headaches".
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  1. Eric Lopkin from The Modern Observer Group, March 16, 2011 at 5:16 p.m.

    Safari blocking third-party cookies is not a problem. It's a feature. Marketers are going to have to get used to the fact that consumers don't want to be tracked. Firefox is adding do not track features. Internet Explorer won't be far behind. That's why you need an overall strategy to marketing that respects the consumers privacy.

    Eric Lopkin
    The Modern Observer Group

  2. Andrew Gansler from Market Horizons, March 17, 2011 at 3:37 p.m.

    Why is it that millions of consumers don't seem to mind that supermarkets can track their buying habits -- by NAME and a address, yet they mind when anonymous cookies and similar tracking formats monitor their behavior. Do these methods 'follow' them? Yes, but they are (usually) not personally identifiable. The Goal? To spy on the consumer? To blackmail the consumer? Puh-lease! The goal is to provide targeted and measurable marketing, which is what makes the Internet so much more effective than other mediums.

    It's also, BTW, the reason why so much content on the Internet is FREE. People are being asked the wrong question. It's not "Do you want your activities to be tracked on the Internet?"; What it should be is,
    Given the choice, would you choose a) or b)

    a) An anonymous cookie is placed on your browser that allows marketers to associate and show offerings (hopefully relevant to you) based on your Internet behavior, or

    b) You PAY to access content on the Internet, because no advertiser is going to subsidize your experience (well, brand advertisers excluded) if they can't target, measure, and optimize the results of their ad spending.

    Wake up folks. Econ 101 - "There's no such thing as a free lunch"

  3. Pandora Dogg, March 19, 2011 at 8:38 p.m.

    @ Andrew Gansler: What you and so many other marketing minions really don't get is that we consumers simply don't want to be tracked. Using the argument that we don't mind supermarkets tracking or buying habits is specious at best. The reason why many of us sign up for Kroger cards is to get the discounts - which can mean a lot when buying gasoline these days. Please note that these are "opt-in" programs where we choose to do this. so-called anonymous cookies are not opt-in and are certainly not anonymous, despite what you write. If you believe that they're anonymous, then you're not only easily duped, but you're wrong. Somebody's been feeding you a load of crap.

    Next: Don't give me that garbage about how we'll have to start paying for the Internet. I pay an ISP to access the Internet. If someone establishes a site that interests me, I go visit it for free unless they want to restrict access and ask me to subscribe to their content. Not allowing cookies will not change this. Again, I have no idea where you come up with such fantasies but your version of Econ 101 is not part of reality. If operators of individual sites feel that they're not getting the hits because we users are blocking cookies, then they'll simply have to figure out how to reach us in a less invasive manner.

    Finally, it is nobody's business what sites I or anyone else visit. Not yours, not the people who pay you to shill for them, not any advertiser or search firm. Period.

    @ Eric Lopkin: You've hit the nail on the head. Keep up the good work in spreading the word.

    Cookies are nothing but invasive leeches that compromise individual privacy. Cookies do NOT power or subsidize the Internet.

  4. Alex Cohn, March 21, 2011 at 10:11 a.m.

    I don't think cookies should be a technical problem with Mobile Safari. Simply use URL coding for campaign: on mobile device, it is very unlikely the user will type a URL instead of clicking on a carefully "cooked" link.

    Regarding consumers' benefit, I believe that most of us prefer to see relevant ads (well, it's not very easy to define the criteria). It would be better if I could opt out, like paying to receive Web pages w/o ads, or install an ad-blocker (which I have on my desktop).

    But if this [] is not an option, I would rather see adds that match my location, age, gender, and habits. The last thing I want to see on my screen is a campaign targeting teenage girls in China.

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