On April 16, 2021, Apple Inc. officially released iOS 14.5, which includes new app tracking transparency (ATT) policies, requiring app developers to ask for permission before accessing your advertising ID. This comes in the form of an opt-in prompt that allows users to choose whether or not to consent to third-party sites before any data is shared.
This will impact how our devices receive and process conversion events from digital tools such as Facebook and how businesses advertise using mobile apps. Essentially, any business that promotes mobile apps, in addition to those that optimize, target, and report on web conversion events, will be affected by this new update.[^1] However, according to an AdWeek article, the median opt-in rate is merely 32%![^2]
Facebook also warns that advertisers "can expect to see changes in Facebook’s business and advertising tools, including ad set up, audience selection, delivery, measurement, and reporting".[^3] So clearly, Apple’s new privacy update is going to cause problems for digital advertisers, making it more difficult to meaningfully link user behavior across apps and mobile websites on iOS devices. Smaller companies and mobile measurement providers, which collect and organize app data, will likely suffer the most- Facebook’s contention against this new policy update.
In this article, we will be discussing the impact of Apple’s latest update on Facebook advertisers, along with strategies and possible solutions, and tips to ensure that you are one step ahead. Let’s begin with the long-awaited changes that Apple recently released. This will require users to optimize Facebook Ads for IOS 14.
Apple Inc. introduced the SKAdNetwork API, a concept that would increase the privacy of mobile apps users and add random time delays in events performance; 3 years later, this has become a reality and will affect the way advertisers use Facebook Ads. According to Statista.com, 81% of Facebook users only use the app on their mobile devices![^4]
From here on, the SKAdNetwork API will be used by app advertising on all iOS 14 devices- essentially limiting the number and type of app events someone can send to Facebook. Moreover, this will restrict, aggregate, or delay all app event data.[^5] The company provides the following diagram to describe the install validation for an ad.[^6]
For example, to reach iOS 14.5+ users, advertisers will be required to create separate iOS 14 app install campaigns with one ad account per app, nine campaigns per app, and five ad sets per campaign of the same optimization type.[^7]
Furthermore, Lift Measurement will not be supported when optimizing Facebook Ads for iOS 14 or for the iOS 14 Mobile App Install and Mobile App Events campaigns. And last but not least, reporting of events will be delayed for up to three days after an app is installed.[^8]
Alongside the SKAdNetwork API, Apple also introduced the Private Click Measurement (PCM) protocol for web attribution, giving users more options to opt-out of the data-tracking methods that Facebook has been using to target audiences and restricting data that businesses and platforms can access. Facebook had already pointed out that this would cause a problem in determining app-to-web conversion and cross-domain measurements. This can become a huge issue if not properly addressed since performance will be harder to achieve due to a lack of data.
To better illustrate this, I’ll present an example. Suppose an iOS mobile user clicks on an ad in an app- let’s say, Facebook or Instagram. Typically, this would lead them to their web browser to complete a purchase within the application and the tracking would be recorded. With the new update, this will no longer be recorded because it’s within a different app.
Another example is URL redirect tracking. Essentially, if a user clicks on a link and it leads to another website, the tracking will end there. In other words, it cuts the linkage between the iOS user and the ad click event.
When it comes to optimization, iOS 14.5 implemented an 8-pixel event cap on each domain, meaning that a maximum of 8 conversion events will be allowed for this process. This also includes events across multiple pixel IDs. In other words, the new update can potentially slow the optimization process if there isn’t enough data to be collected.[^9] Therefore, digital advertisers need to prioritize the top 8 events.
If you didn't refine your conversion events prior to this update, Facebook will define them for you based on what it thinks is most relevant to your business.[^10] This update will probably affect small business owners more than big corporations because the former may not have as many data points as the latter.
Keep in mind that as more people update their operating systems, this remarketing audience can get smaller. Luckily, this process only affects Safari users; according to Apple, no changes will be made to Chrome or In-App browsers. They will have to independently implement PCM into their browser to do this.[^11]
The updated app policy will complicate the measurement process, possibly leading to underreporting when it comes to organic and paid channels. As of today, Facebook has updated the reporting window in the Facebook Ads Manager to the new default 7-day click and a limited 1-day view attribution window, the latter offered by Facebook; some sources are warning that you may see a 20% – 40% reduction in conversions with this change.[^12] The 28-day click and view option will no longer be available. Moreover, this may also lead to an increase in dark social traffic - when people privately share content on social media, which makes it harder to track.[^13]
However, probably the most notable feature of this update is the change to ad reporting data. When it comes to collecting data from iOS users, data can now be delayed by up to 72 hours before they are displayed. This is caused by Apple’s PCM (as explained above) since it’s able to restrict and delay data access; Facebook plans to add 24 hours for data processing due to the heavy statistical modeling happening in the background.[^14] A 24-72 hour delay in reporting and access of results means that timely follow-up on conversion is impossible.[^15] Undoubtedly, this will cause inconvenience for any digital marketer due to its limitations.
Luckily, Facebook presented a strategy to combat this, which I will be explaining later on!
Changes to Facebook Business Manager Tool can mostly be seen in its interface. Although a small change, it's important that this occurred because Facebook would have had to maintain two separate interfaces (iOS and Android), if not.[^16]
The first course of action, we suggest, is to verify your domains with Facebook to help avoid any future disruption to your website campaigns.[^17] This step will officially set you up on the platform to start optimizing Facebook Ads for iOS 14 and establish which Business Manager Account has the authority to configure and prioritize the available conversion events for a given domain.[^18] You can verify your domain in the Facebook Business Manager under Brand Safety > Domains.
There are a number of ways to get your domains verified, but the one recommended is adding a DNS TXT entry to your DNS record to confirm that you own the domain.[^19] Facebook also recommends uploading an HTML file provided by Facebook to your web directory and confirming domain ownership in Business Manager, as well as adding a meta tag to the <head> section of your domain home page to better optimize Facebook Ads for IOS 14.
Both methods can be found by following the steps in Facebook developer documentation on domain verification.
Merchants using a registered domain on the Public Suffix List will be able to use that domain for verifying and configuring their top 8 events on the domain.[^20] Keep in mind that these events will also be selected automatically by Facebook for your business if you don’t select them yourself.
Since Facebook's limitation is set to 8 events for optimization, prioritize 8 events you would like to track the conversions of, then rank them in your Events Manager. We strongly recommend an assessment of your current strategies to pivot towards your desired outcome. These events can be standard events such as purchase, add to cart, view content, etc., or more advanced events like website scroll depth. I recommend checking out the article Create Custom Facebook Events With Google Tag Manager to learn how to set up custom events using GTM. Bear in mind that, like domain verification, this task must be performed by the pixel owner, not the partner.
To learn more about this, we recommend you visit this Facebook guide to help you along the way. Keep in mind that only the highest priority events will be sent during a conversion event, meaning that the other numbers may be underreported. Even though these events within the 8 chosen and may be happening, they might not be reflected in the reports.
As established, the new iOS update will heavily affect Facebook marketers due to limited data and restricted data storing timeframes. This would mean that marketers would have to employ different tactics to determine if a sale or conversion occurred because of an ad. This will force marketers to revert back to a last-click model to determine which campaign, ad set, and ad that a conversion took place.[^21] Therefore, it's important that one assigns UTM to all their Facebook Ads.
Since Google Analytics operates on a last-click model, it's recommended that importing your Facebook data into Google Analytics can provide complete performance reporting outside of the Facebook Ads Manager.[^22] By comparing your Facebook data to that of Google Analytics, you’ll be able to identify the average delta between the two tracking methodologies while acquiring a point of reference to approximate expected under-reporting in the latter. You can use Supermetrics or Stiddle Analytics to report on historical data using legacy attribution windows.[^23] Lead Ad campaigns work too.
Beware that this isn’t a perfect fix to the problem. This is merely an indication that digital marketers will need to start getting creative in order to maximize their customer data collection. Furthermore, it's strongly advised that you analyze your Google Analytics or Stiddle Analytics Device Report to understand the percentage of traffic that’ll be affected by the new update.
Check out Google Analytics 4 (GA4) and Stiddle Analytics, which place a heavy focus on the event-driven data model and allow for seamless app and web tracking, compared to the older version.[^24] However, the key feature of GA4 is the ability to set default reporting to identify users across User-ID and device, using machine learning to close the gap for cross-browser and cross-device attribution.[^25]
Even though GA4 is currently in beta, we believe that it’s worth checking out as they are continuously adding new features. Adding GA4 alongside your standard Google Analytics will not only allow you to collect conversion events and leverage custom funnel reporting, but also reduce your dependency on Facebook.
We would recommend that you leverage other applications in order to learn about your customers rather than utilize custom events. Being able to have a direct conversation with your customers is extremely important, which is why we believe that using email and messengers can make the connection more personal. You will have to get creative to make this experience feel non-intrusive, but the sooner you capture and own the data (number, email, etc.), the better. You’ll have the opportunity to communicate with your customers and learn about their consumer journeys, such as finding out if their initial start point was from a paid or non-paid channel.
Developing customer “value exchange” strategies is a great way to improve your brand’s first-party data while offering your buyers a unique experience.[^26] Obviously, the best way to do this is to offer your customers an incentive to willingly participate in this process. Leveraging post-purchase surveys is a wonderful way to achieve this. We recommend that you install a post-purchase attribution survey tool, in order to understand the true impact of Facebook and Instagram ads on your sales funnel.[^27]
According to research done by Accenture Interactive, though 71% of 8,000 surveys believed that brands communicated in a way that was “too personal” and 69% of these consumers would stop doing business with a brand or reconsider their relationship, 9 out of 10 consumers (93%) agree it’s important that every interaction with a brand is “excellent.”[^28]
Therefore, indicating the need to collect customer’s data in a non-invasive manner and dig into their psyche- to better understand them. By serving consistent post-purchase surveys, you should be able to achieve that goal and obtain a good sense of which channel is working for your business.
However, due to the elimination of user tracking, it's imperative that you decrease your reliance on niche marketing. Rather, you need to shift to more holistic, macro-level models that require examination of different patterns and variations in ad revenue and cost over time to attribute efficiency to channel-specific ad campaigns.[^29]
Although these models may be difficult to tune properly and require data-science expertise, a solution that relies on statistical sophistication is more durable than those that rely on user identity. We think it's beneficial if you explore Mix Media Marketing. Not only does it provide insights from data that is readily available, such as digital ad revenue, but also takes into account more traditional advertising channels such as TV. We believe this will provide a more accurate picture of how your campaigns are doing, as everything is seemingly accommodated for in the measurement.
We believe that this step is a must-do for any business. Communicate with your customers and inform them how this iOS update has affected your business; this can be the best way to optimize Facebook Ads for IOS 14. Being transparent with your customers is one of the most important attributes of any business; the same research (from the last paragraph) also found that 73% of consumers are willing to share more personal information if brands are transparent.[^30]
By being transparent, you potentially open up an alternative method to cookie tracking. Consumers may be more likely to create an account on your website. You’ll have the chance to remarket to this audience by using user-specific identifiers to target individuals, such as phone numbers and email addresses - this can be done natively on Facebook or using tools like Stiddle. Therefore, to increase this volume, we recommend that you encourage site logins.
If you’re a Shopify user, we recommend that you install and set up the Facebook Channel App. Connect your accounts and the app will sync your products automatically, later, making it convenient for you to promote them on Facebook or Instagram. Another method is to connect Shopify to your Stiddle account. This will allow you to create specific single-product ad campaigns and track analytics (ROI/ROAS), as well as re-target.
Although Apple’s update may cause a hiccup, this is far from the end of Facebook Ads and digital marketers will find a way around this. Utilize the above to optimize Facebook Ads for iOS 14. Those businesses that are able to diversify and employ new methods of data collection will be one step ahead of the curve. Remember that these suggestions are merely temporary workarounds and shouldn’t be treated as long-term solutions. Every business should invest in finding a real solution that doesn’t depend on exploiting loopholes in regulations. We believe that these steps should maximize your results to some extent, but we also encourage you not to stop here. After all, digital marketing is mostly about trial and error.
Alleviating your dependency on Facebook pixel is definitely the first step and this is best done through experimenting and testing different ideas. With the right mindset and preparation, we believe that you will lessen the damage this new update will inevitably cause and ensure the effectiveness of your Facebook campaigns.
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