Every year, consumers get more privacy-conscious – and for good reason.
Recent data scandals like Cambridge Analytica and high-profile Twitter hacks have thrust privacy into the forefront of our conversations about technology, and there’s little indication that a focus on privacy will ever go away.
In 2020, consumers want more control over their data than ever before – and companies like Apple are offering products that provide more privacy and data control to literally billions of people.
But what do these privacy measures mean for physicians and healthcare marketers who need some level of tracking and analytics to perform their jobs and grow their practices?
That’s what we’ll explore on this week’s episode of the Medical Marketing Podcast.
Hello everybody, and welcome to another episode of the Medical Marketing Podcast – the show where we give you actionable tips and insights to help improve your marketing, grow revenue, and take patient experience to the next level.
I’m your host, Crawford Ifland, and this week, we’re going to be exploring the relationship between Apple’s Intelligent Tracking Prevention and healthcare marketers: how does Intelligent Tracking Prevention work? What does it mean for healthcare? And how can savvy physicians and their marketing teams “roll with the punches” and strike the right balance between patient privacy and having valuable data to provide a better experience?
That’s all coming up on this episode of the Medical Marketing Podcast – stay with us.
What is Intelligent Tracking Prevention?
Ok, so before we explore what Intelligent Tracking Prevention means for the marketing industry, we have to answer some pretty important questions: what is it, and where did it come from?
Well, it all started with Apple and their Safari browser.
If you own or have used a Mac, iPhone, iPad, or even an Apple Watch, chances are you’ve used Safari.
Apple claims it built Safari to block unwanted cross-site tracking and minimize the amount of data passed to third parties like search engines and data brokers.
But Safari didn’t always work like this. In fact, its Intelligent Tracking Prevention features only debuted with iOS 11 in 2017.
With iOS 11 and the corresponding version of MacOS, Apple developed a system called Intelligent Tracking Prevention to limit the amount of data that third parties would receive when you browsed the Internet. Not only would its systems limit the amount of data that could be collected as you actively browsed the Internet, but it would prevent the passive collection of data, too.
Social widgets embedded on other websites, such as Like buttons, Share buttons, and comment fields, can be used to track users even if they don’t click them or use them.
If a website you visited had a social widget like this, a company like Facebook could be harvesting your data, even if – get this – you didn’t click on the widget, or even have a Facebook account!
But over the years as the privacy conversation has entered the mainstream, Apple kept adding features to its browser…and with its upcoming release of iOS 14 this fall, Apple is offering enhanced Intelligent Tracking Prevention and a Privacy Report that will affect the privacy of billions of users – and expose millions of websites.
Apple’s scale is so massive that just making a small tweak to the default settings of their operating systems will affect billions of people – and the changes they’ve made are actually pretty big.
So that’s a bit about what Intelligent Tracking Prevention does
But how does it actually work? That’s another question entirely.
How does Intelligent Tracking Prevention work?
Ok, so ITP sounds pretty great, right? A default option used by millions – even billions – of people that gives them more privacy and control over their data. Regardless of where you fall on the privacy spectrum, that sounds like a good thing on the surface.
But how does it work? And does it break any of the vital tools that marketers rely on to improve the performance of their websites?
Let’s take a look.
ITP limits the ability for advertisers and website owners to track users across domains. Any sites that load external scripts or images across domains are automatically sectioned off and prevented from tracking a user 24 hours after they have interacted with the site.
And those two words – across domains – are important.
Several articles were hastily written claiming that ITP on Safari would break things like Google Analytics and keep marketers in the dark about their website’s performance.
But this isn’t true. ITP only prevents what are called third-party cookies and cross-site scripting.
Let’s take a look at how third-party cookies and cross-site scripting work:
Imagine a user who visits a product website to look for a new gadget. Later in the day, they browse a recipe website to find something to make for dinner.
If both of those websites load the same script from exampletracker.com, that means that exampletracker.com would store a cookie in the user’s browser allowing them to be tracked.
That means that the tracker website would be able to know that…
- The user visited both websites
- What they did on those sites
- What browser was used
- Etc, etc…
This is what’s called cross-site tracking and the cookie used by exampletracker.com is called a third-party cookie.
If this sounds like Apple is taking a direct shot at Google and Facebook, you’d be right.
Google makes one of the most popular tracking softwares out there: Google Analytics. Installing Google Analytics is basically a pre-requisite for running a successful website. And now, Intelligent Tracking Prevention is a shot across the bow, a warning for Google to stop collecting so much data.
But data is valuable to many marketers who need to know how people use their websites! What can they do?
Does Intelligent Tracking Prevention Break Google Analytics?
When Apple took the stage at their Worldwide Developers Conference earlier this year and announced an expansion of Intelligent Tracking Prevention with iOS 14, there was an outcry from marketers around the world.
Marketers were panicking and thinking that ITP would completely break their ability to understand how people used their websites and how they could improve.
Fortunately, it’s not all bad news.
Importantly, ITP does not block Google Analytics’ first-party cookies, so it still functions just fine as an analytics platform – it just limits the ability of companies like Google to keep harvesting so much data.
iOS 14 and the newest version of MacOS add a Privacy Report that shows users which sites have been tracking them – and which sites Safari has blocked from doing so.
Previously, trackers could follow you across multiple websites and then be combined into a comprehensive “profile” that would be sold off to the highest bidder.
There’s big money in doing this – and data brokers make billions of dollars a year off this practice – so Apple’s move here to give users more privacy and more transparency is monumental.
In a sense, Apple is taking stab at what they think is wrong with the Internet – the prevalence of tracking.
But – and this is an important but – Apple is not kneecapping the marketing industry.
First-party analytics software like Google Analytics will continue to work and provide marketers valuable data that helps them build better websites and better online experiences.
Why does Intelligent Tracking Prevention matter for private practices?
Alright, so much of the panic about ITP was blown out of proportion.
But that doesn’t mean that practices are out of the woods – there are still some implications for your marketing and advertising.
Because it limits cross-site scripting and third-party cookies, Intelligent Tracking Prevention does limit the ability of practices to do remarketing well.
Google released a new tracking cookie a few years back that would supposedly circumvent Apple’s ITP, but this new release of ITP with iOS 14 likely blocks that as well. Unfortunately, it’s probably going to be a back-and-forth game of cat and mouse between these two giants for years to come.
But as a healthcare marketer, that’s all a moot point.
Because healthcare is in the YMYL space, Google removed the ability to do remarketing a few years back. You can still run display campaigns that approximate a remarketing campaign, but as a healthcare practice, you can’t explicitly show ads to people you know have interacted with your website or clicked on a search ad before.
ITP could also affect Google’s ability to collect valuable data it uses to form Audiences in Google Ads. That could mean that the effectiveness of adding audience targeting to your Google Ads campaigns, like Affinity or In-Market Audiences, could diminish over time.
And if you’re running ads on Facebook or other social networks with a pixel from your website, ITP is now blocking those as well. If remarketing is an important part of your marketing plan, you may need to adjust your expectations and find another avenue to reach patients.
But how should private practices respond to ITP?
What should healthcare practices do in response to ITP?
There’s no denying that privacy is more important today than it ever has been before – and there’s no denying that privacy will continue to be a battle between advertising giants like Google and device makers like Apple for years to come.
If you’re a physician or practice marketing manager running ads and evaluating your website’s analytics, you’re caught in the middle of it all. It seems that with every new software release, your hands are increasingly tied, limited in what you can do.
That highlights the importance of getting the fundamentals right. There’s never been a better time to focus on writing compelling copy. On making your website easy to use. On telling unique stories of your staff and satisfied patients, to let them help do your marketing for you.
Because at the end of the day, marketing is all about story.
Technologies may come and go, but stories sell.
So if you want to run the best practice you can, focus on the fundamentals – they’ll long outlast the technology anyway.
Well, that’s all for this week’s episode of the Medical Marketing Podcast – thanks for listening!
You can subscribe to The Medical Marketing Podcast for free on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or wherever you get your podcasts. And if you like the show, let us know by writing a review on Apple Podcasts – we’ll have a link in the show notes.
Next week, we’ll have a very special conversation with Stephanie Bradley, the marketing manager at Kugler Vision in Omaha, Nebraska. We’ll explore the practice’s unique “blue ocean” strategy to attract more patients, as well as talk about some challenges of marketing to various audiences amongst fierce competition.
If you want more practice marketing resources, check out our website at www.messenger.md. We’re always sharing helpful tips and know-how to help you improve your practice marketing, grow revenue, and take your patient experience to the next level.
That’s all for today’s episode – I’m Crawford Ifland. See you next week.