Why Tracking Is Not Dead Just Yet

Why Tracking Is Not Dead Just Yet

Written by Kevin Breslin

June 28, 2022

Why Tracking Is Not Dead Just Yet

There is a lot of talk about dark social, Apple’s iOS privacy changes and Google's impending cookie-less future and the impact it will have on marketing and sales efforts for websites across the world. 


The cost of digital advertising is going up, conversions are going down and true traceability of where your successful customers are coming from is getting harder and harder to confidently pinpoint. 


Scary? Yes, it is, and it’s causing serious problems in the industry. Those that follow the metrics feel like we are returning to department stores kingpin John Wanamaker’s famous phrase, “Half the money I spend on advertising is wasted; the trouble is I don't know which half”.


If we cannot properly track where our customers are really coming from, how can we make budgetary decisions regarding what platforms, campaigns or even which ads to allocate the most budget to?


What is Dark Social and how is that affecting my tracking?


Dark social refers to all of the events which happen beyond marketing's eyes which are almost impossible to track. 


Examples would be a prospect seeing your ad and engaging with it, going to your website but not taking any action. They pass it to their colleagues in a messaging app like Slack or WhatsApp. When that colleague comes to your site and takes whatever your goal action is, be it booking a demo or buying an item, etc., your marketing team and data might tell you it's showing up as organic or direct source without any context as to how they got there. Another example would be your CEO appearing on a popular podcast or Youtube and this prompting the user to search the company afterwards. 


All these invisible shares and actions mean such tracking is becoming harder and the data is getting weaker. I’ll talk about how to mitigate this later. 


Why will Apple’s iOS privacy changes affect my tracking?

Facebook and Apple have been at war ever since Apple announced these privacy changes. Facebook was worried from a long way back, and for good reason, as Apple users will most likely not allow any third party companies to track them off their website/app. 


Latest research shows that at least 62% of iPhone users are opting out. Where does this end? Expect Apple to release their own ad platform to rival Google, Meta and Amazon, but for now it means blind spots. 


It also means that you need to audit your tracking and, most importantly, your campaigns to ensure you are giving yourself the very best opportunity not to miss out and plug those leaks.

This will give more certainly to advertising campaigns and ensure your budget is being maximized and optimized to the campaigns that are working. 




Preparing For the Cookie-Less Future

Google will phase out the cookie entirely, potentially as early as 2023. How will the world cope? The sky will not fall down and marketers will not lose their eyesight as long as they have put the work in and optimized their site. 


Sure, Google will phase out, but they are just going to replace one piece of technology with a shinier, newer piece of technology that already exists. Reverse engineering IP addresses and devices will unlock the user profile and, without doubt, Google is already there. 

With the launch of Google Analytics 4, talk centers on capturing attributes, such as acquisition channels, more effectively. Where a user used their phone and clicked an ad on Google search or shopping, then came back to their laptop to finish the purchase, GA4 expects to show that specific user linked together better so less percentages of organic or direct on your acquisition channels should highlight which campaigns are working.

It is in Google's interest to give you better, more reliable data, but the advice here would be to trust Google only so far, put in place mechanisms that double verify a source, and cross reference as much as possible. Google will often like to credit their organic or paid search as the source, when in truth the user may have discovered you on Facebook, LinkedIn, Reddit or wherever. 


The Steps You Need To Take To Improve Your Tracking

Although it can be easy for skeptics to write off tracking as a lost technology, the truth is that it's still very much relevant and essential to marketing campaigns. Marketing teams need to audit your existing and future campaigns and ensure you are set up correctly. 

  1. Set up all the campaigns to properly link sources and don’t just rely on Google and Meta to tell you the sources. For example, adding UTM tracking to all campaigns either automatically via the social channels or manually. 

  2. Add UTM tracking to other key assets you use, such as your website link on your social media bios or the email signature for your staff. If you are a B2B company, you could design specific UTMs for each user’s email signature so you can see which users are sending the most traffic to your site. You can build them here

  3. Configure your Google Analytics channels correctly. Using UTMs, you may see a channel as others appear or Google incorrectly attributing traffic to the wrong channels. 
    1. Review the traffic landing pages and sources/medium.

    2. Go to Settings>view all website data>channel settings>channel groupings>edit.

      Here you will be able to modify your channels to best reflect your own set up. For instance, breaking up branded paid search and generic paid search so you can see how much paid traffic was actually just users typing in your own branded keywords.

    3. You can also ensure that, if you used the UTM for email signatures, it is correctly attributing it as email. You can do this by choosing the source/medium you mapped in UTM and attributing that as email.

  4. Track the untrackable. Your company is just about to launch a TV advertisement or is featuring on a podcast. You need to map this on Google with annotations and then attribute any unusual spikes back to those campaigns for your reports.

    Did your direct acquisition jump 30% after your TV advert? If there were no noticeable graph increases from either generic organic, branded organic or direct traffic during these windows, these are the tell tale signs that strategy is being ignored by your customers.

  5. Always, always, always ask your customer where they heard about you. I recommend a blank box which you can retrospectively turn into tick boxes on your spreadsheet or CRM.

    Why? By choosing tick boxes, you miss out on nuggets of information because you are steering the user to tick social media, search (most users don’t know the difference between paid and organic) etc., without any context. You are sacrificing the opportunity to learn that they came from one specific podcast or one specific influencer on Instagram. There could be a wealth of information here.

  6. Keep checking, verifying and optimizing until your tracking is getting better. In the box, the user might say they came from Facebook, but the tracking is showing a Google Ads UTM. That’s vital information to know. Don’t just blindly trust Google, Facebook or your traffic user.

    Put the checks in place to verify it. Check your campaigns, check their location and check the source/medium for those by time, device, etc. Get into the weeds and you will see the true picture. This will help you become a better marketer and understand your audiences better.

  7. Install Google Analytics 4.0 now. Just install it and forget about it if you want.

    Right now, it's using AI and learning your traffic inside out. It needs a year's data to help it prepare, even if you keep using the existing Google Analytics- which is being phased out from July 2023- for now. When that happens, you will lose all your retrospective data. If it's vital, you will need to think about exporting it. We recommend looking at Google tagging and setting up your conversions correctly.

Are your conversions set up correctly? That's next week’s blog post, where we will show you how to make sure the goals of your website are captured correctly from Google, social and your CRM for more accurate analysis and reports.