Combat ITP with CNAME. A Step by Step Guide for Adobe Analytics

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This post is designed to follow on from our previous ITP blog post from Tim Elleston which you can read here.

Now that you’re aware of the potential impacts of ITP, it’s time to protect your analytics from the unintentional consequences of ITP by leveraging Adobes managed certificate program. Following this process will allow your Adobe analytics implementation to operate across your site as 1st party, thus minimising the disruption to your analytics insights.

This post will give a brief overview of what a CNAME is and lead into a step by step guide on how to implement one for your site.

1.1 What Is a CNAME?

The simplest technical explanation is that a CNAME is a type of resource record in the Domain Name System (DNS) which maps one domain name (the “alias”) to another (the canonical name).

However, for the target audience of this post, we will take a more plain English approach followed by a relevant example of where you might use a CNAME.

1.2 In Plain English Please….

CNAMEs can be used to allow a platform / service / server to operate as if it was first party to your website. I.e. on the same domain as your website.

This is done by taking network requests which are made to a specific subdomain of your website, and “redirecting” (Technically, this is not true, but for descriptive purposes, it is accurate enough) them to the platform / service / server which you would like to operate as if it were 1st party to your website.

This is important and useful as it means any cookies which are set by this platform / service / server will be stored 1st party to your website, which brings with it a host of benefits.

1.3 Example

Let’s say that you own and operate a website called “site.com”. On this website you are using two outside services:

Z.COM

  • Does not have a CNAME set up and operates as third party
  • Any cookies which z.com sets will be written on the z.com domain

ANALYTICSPROVIDER.COM

  • Has a CNAME setup and operates on your website as first party
  • Any cookies which analyticsprovider.com sets will be written on to the site.com domain

Here is a visual representation of z.com, site.com and analyticsprovider.com all setting cookies on site.com:

Without a CNAME, the steps for your browser to connect to a web server are as follows:

Step Action Owner Description
1Customer Customer types the URL of your website into their browser and presses return
2Browser Browser takes the URL to a DNS server to ask where it can find the website
3DNS The DNS looks up the URL in its records and finds a matching IP address
4Browser Browser connects to the web server at that IP address and asks for some stuff (Like an html file)
5Web Server Web server sends over the requested content, along with extra information like cookies
6Browser Browser accepts the content, and any cookies, which are stored under the domain name of the URL in the original request

The existence of the CNAME record introduces an additional (but imperceptible) step in the process of the browser connecting to analyticsprovider.com:

Step Action Owner Description
1 Customer Customer types the URL of your website into their browser and presses return
2 Browser Browser takes the URL to a DNS server to ask where it can find the website
3 DNS The DNS looks up the URL in its records but doesn’t find a matching IP address. Instead it finds a CNAME record.
4 DNS DNS looks up the CNAME and finds a matching IP address
5 Browser Browser connects to the web server at that IP address and asks for some stuff (Like an image)
6 Web Server Web server sends over the requested content, along with extra information like cookies
7 Browser Browser accepts the content, and any cookies, which are stored under the domain name of the URL in the original request

2. Step By Step Guide

So you’ve decided to setup a CNAME, great!

Now comes the easy part. Follow these steps to get yourself set up:


Step 1: Fill Out The CNAME Request Form

Adobe provides a simple request form for you to fill out which will give permission to Adobe to purchase a certificate on your behalf.

The form can be found here:

https://marketing.adobe.com/resources/help/en_US/whitepapers/first_party_cookies/files/FPC_Request_Form.xlsx

There are 3 sections of the form to fill out:

Section 1: Company information

This is the specific information related to the existing certificates which are used by your website.

This can be found by reviewing the certificate details on the website for which you intend to have the CNAME created. You can use your browser to find this information:

1. Open your browser and navigate to the website

2. Click the padlock icon next to the URL:

3. Click on “Certificate”:

4. Expand the “Details” section:

5. Use the information shown under the “Subject” section to fill in the form:

Section 2: Tracking Information

This is information related to Adobe analytics account being used on the website you wish to apply the CNAME to.

  • Report Suite ID – This is name of the primary report suite ID used by Adobe analytics on the website you wish to apply the CNAME to
  • Estimated Daily Page Views For The Whole Site – Self explanatory

Section 3: Data Collection Hostnames

This will be your domain, and the subdomains you would like to use as the alias for the CNAME. Eg:

If you are not already familiar with these, please contact your Digital Balance consultant.

Once you have filled out the form, submit it to clientcare@adobe.com. They will typically take 3-5 working days to process the request and update internal configurations at their end. Once this is complete, it can take up to a further 7 days for your setup to become active.


Step 2: Create Your CNAME

After submitting the above form, Adobe will provide you with new hostnames. You will then need to create a CNAME record which points your chosen subdomain to these hostnames.

For example:

If your chosen 1st party subdomain (The “alias”) is:

smetrics.digitalbalance.com.au

and the hostname provided by Adobe (The CNAME) is:

digitalbalance.com.au.ssl.sc.omtrdc.net  

you would need to create a CNAME record which points all requests from “smetrics.digitalbalance.com.au” to “digitalbalance.com.au.ssl.sc.omtrdc.net.”

Once created, the above example would appear as follows, when using the “dig” command:

CNAMEs are created by your IT / security team. This document will be useful for them to understand why you are making a CNAME request.

Your business may already have a process in place for creating the CNAME, but your first point of call will be to speak with your IT team.


Step 3: Update Your Adobe Product Configurations

Adobe Reference Documentation:

https://docs.adobe.com/content/help/en/id-service/using/reference/ecid-library-methods.html

The following instructions are specific to the Adobe Experience Cloud and its Tag Management Systems (DTM & Launch). If you are using a different TMS or method to run your analytics, please contact your Digital Balance consultant.

The changes listed in this section will directly impact how your analytics data is captured and are intended for trained and authorised users only. If you have any questions about making these changes, please contact your Digital Balance consultant.

1. Experience Cloud ID Service

You must ensure you are using version 4.3.0 or higher in order for the CNAME to have the intended impact.

If you are using one of Adobes tag management systems (DTM or Launch) this is a simple upgrade to make within the UI:

Launch

1. Navigate to Extensions > Installed and locate the “Experience Cloud ID Service” extension. Note the Visitor version. If it is lower than 4.3.0, click “Upgrade” and follow your normal release and testing process.

2. Configure the extension and update trackingServer and marketingCloud server domains to reflect the alias you have created as part of the CNAME process.

Example:

smetrics.digitalbalance.com.au

DTM

1. Navigate to Overview > Installed Tools and locate the “Marketing Cloud ID Service” tool. Click the gear icon on the right hand side.

2. Expand the “General” tab and note the Library version. If it is lower than 4.3.0, click the drop down menu and select version 4.3.0 or higher.

3.Update the tracking and experience cloud fields to use the alias’ you created as part of the CNAME process. Example:

4. Then follow your normal release and testing process.

2. Adobe Analytics Library Configuration

You will need to update your analytics library configuration so that it makes use of the new tracking server domain (Ie The alias you created as part of the CNAME process).

How you achieve this will depend on how your analytics library is managed. The below two sections will describe how to make the change for the most commonly found methods of managing an Adobe Analytics library:

Managed By Adobe

This method means you are using a templatised version of the analytics platform, which makes this change very simple. Locate the tracking server field within the Analytics tool / extension and update the values to reflect your alias.

DTM

  • Overview > Tools > Adobe Analytics > General

Launch

  • Extensions > Installed > Adobe Analytics > Configure > General

Custom Library

This custom code can be found under the “Open Editor” button within the “Library Management” section of your analytics tool / extension.

This method is common for users with more advanced analytics tracking requirements and means that you have applied custom JavaScript to the base Adobe Analytics JS library. Due to this flexibility, there is no one size fits all set of instructions to make this change. However, a good starting point will be to locate the s.trackingServer and s.trackingServerSecure variables in your custom library and update their values to use the alias created in the CNAME process.

Example:


Step 4: Testing

Now that you’ve made your changes you are ready to test. There are two key items for you to check:

1. That analytics requests from your site are now successfully using the alias. Example:

2. You now see a cookie called “s_ecid” being set on your domain, which contains an ECID value, with an expiration date of 2 years:

You should now monitor your analytics reports to confirm that your metrics are still being populated as expected.


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