How Will iOS 14+ Affect Advertising?
iOS 14+ will greatly affect advertising across all digital platforms, so to properly assess, let’s cast our minds back to a time before it was a problem.
Before iOS 14, marketers had a lot of freedom in terms of digital advertising. They could freely set up tracking and measure just about anything they wanted on their users. With the combination of Cambridge Analytica, GDPR and an increased public interest in data privacy, Apple has released an App Tracking Transparency Policy. The App Tracking Transparency Policy was introduced in the May 2021 iOS 14 rollout and has further enforcement in the September 2021 iOS 14+ update.
Tracking Data: The Basics
So, in the world of digital advertising, there are two main methods to track data: first and third-party cookies.
First-party cookies are created and stored by the website you are visiting directly. They allow site owners to collect customer analytics data, remember language settings, and carry out other useful functions that help provide a better user experience.
Third-party cookies are created by domains that are not the website (or domain) that you are visiting. These are usually used for online advertising purposes and placed on a website through a script or tag. A third-party cookie is accessible on any website that loads the third-party server’s code.
Third-party cookies involve the sharing of data in a less desirable way, for consumers anyway. When tracking valuable actions on Facebook, be it email signups or specific page loads, you can either track using the Pixel. A Pixel is a section of code that is similar to a cookie, that collects information about users behaviour on websites, passing it back to Facebook and allowing us to use it in advertising. Otherwise, there are conversions API (application programming interface), which is the same essentially, but without the middle management of the Pixel, instead, servers directly fire ‘events’ into Facebook without storing data in a file.
While the methods of tracking for all major platforms remain the same, how they measure these valuable interactions and feed information back to the relevant platforms has changed. Thanks to an increased interest in privacy and companies striving to reduce the amount of identifiable information shared with companies to keep their customers happy, iOS 14+ users are now able to opt out of certain types of tracking.
What Does This Mean For Marketing Managers?
With Facebook being required to ask users to opt in to tracking, marketeers will receive fewer data to inform their decisions and are likely to see a drop in the number of key performance metrics. This will lead to shrinking audiences, reduced reporting features and reduced targeting options. Apple’s upcoming App Tracking Transparency (ATT) policy affects any company or agency that uses conversion tracking or apps as part of their marketing efforts.
Google is one of the most unaffected platforms. Campaign managers who run universal app campaigns and app publishers may see a significant decline in revenue from Google Ads. Outside of this, most campaign managers who rely on tracking to measure campaign performance will likely see a decline in the recorded conversions from iOS 14+ devices, as well as an increased delay in the data show. This means you may see leads or sales generated in your CRM or CMS that take a day or so to show in the ad centre.
LinkedIn is similar to Google, with limited features being affected. Those that use the audience network may see a shift in audience sizes as more people opt out of tracking. Additionally, as advertisers will no longer be able to gather information about iOS 14+ users behaviours, those using matched audiences will see a reduction in the number of matched ID’s. The same will be true of those who use website retargeting – with people rejecting tracking, we may not be able to get a full and holistic view of all those visiting websites and therefore be unable to serve those that opt-out, adverts encouraging repeat visits. The biggest change will be that of conversion tracking though, something which will affect an enormous section of these advertisers on LinkedIn. Those using tracking will likely see a reduction in conversions. We may also see a reduction in the number of ‘member traits’ we can target as some of these rely on tracking behaviour from apps and other third parties.
The most affected platform of all will be Facebook as it relies heavily on third party tracking information. Much of the changes that we see will be similar to those on LinkedIn. Facebook differs from the other providers though in that they have done much more to combat the changes than the other providers. There will be targeting limitations and implications for retargeting audience sizes for the same reasons as we covered for LinkedIn. Additionally, we may also be unable to target any specific characteristics or demographics that are created using third party information. All audiences are likely to be smaller in number than before the iOS 14+ rollout.
What Steps Can You Take?
- Domain verification – Domain verification helps us ensure that only the rightful parties can edit link previews that direct to your content, essentially preventing data misuse and ensuring accountability. This involves the webmaster uploading a file to the root directory of the website, which establishes this connection, a bit like when you sign up for a new website and you have to enter a code that they send via email, which adds an extra layer of security and lets the website know you are who you say. Looking at the slides, you can see in the dropdown there are 3 key ways that this can be achieved. However, before we can verify there are 2 key things we need to ensure are set up correctly.
- Business Manager – A business manager account is required to accommodate these new changes and the domain, the pixel and/or the conversion API need to be configured in the same business manager – again just ensuring cohesiveness and security. If you don’t have a business manager, you’ll need to set one up and once that’s complete, you can see where to add in existing/create new pixels on the slide.
- Ads Manager – The final component you need to advertise on Facebook, is an ads manager, where you will set up targeting, ads and tracking. This also needs to belong to the same business manager and again looking at the slide, you can see where this can be added in.
- Configuring your events – So, pre-iOS 14, you could track as many events as needed. There is now a limit of eight events and you must order them in order of importance. When optimising campaigns to deliver conversions, it’s only the one in the top spot that the algorithm will work towards. We’ll still be able to measure those in slots 1 – 7, but it won’t be seen as paramount.
- Create events – You will then need to either create events or order your existing events in terms of priority by dragging and dropping them into order. However, you’ll need to bear in mind that changing the order of these events at any point, will result in a 72-hour delay in data. If you change the priority of events, adding new events, replacing events or deleting events will result in a delay in data while the ad sets pause.
Say you’ve been optimising for sales on an e-commerce site and your top-level conversion event is ‘purchases’. But, your manager wants to run a promotional sale for the next 6 weeks, driving as much traffic as possible to a landing page that applies a discount at check out. Not only do you need to make changes to the landing page and the URL, you then need to input these changes into Facebook and reorder your events resulting in a potential 72 hour pause while the algorithm catches up. Then, once the sale is over, we need to revert to our old tracking. Two lots of 72 hours pause in ads, is up to 6 days lost – which could be the difference between hitting sales targets or not – a big problem.
Future Of Reporting
Despite Facebook’s mitigation attempts, there are still going to be reporting limitations that cannot be avoided. As we are unable to accurately count conversions or track app campaigns on Facebook, we won’t see a true reflective value when reporting either, instead of using modelled conversion data to estimate conversions from iOS 14+ users.
- Targeting Limitations – With Facebook less able to collect information about iOS 14+ users, the size of our audiences is likely to decrease.
- Delayed Reporting – With ads pausing for 72 hours in some cases and statistical modelling used to account for conversions, there is likely to be a delay in the metrics we see. Instead of reporting the time of the impression which led to a conversion, Facebook will now just measure the time the conversion occurred.
- Estimated results – Now, we’ve touched on this a little bit, but essentially the Facebook algorithms are going to take an ‘educated guess’ about conversions from iOS 14+ devices – whether or not this is reflective and accurate remains to be seen.
- Reduced metrics – To stop advertisers from honing in on individuals and gathering key data, Facebook is scrapping reporting on metrics such as age, gender, region and placement.
After the rollout, campaigns will only use the following attribution windows:
- 1-day click
- 7-day click
- 1-day click and 1-day view
- 7-day click and 1-day view
Removing 28-day windows to better inform statistical modelling, to account for delays in reporting and lost data as a result of the rollout.
However, removing 28-day windows can cause us a headache. Currently, having 28 days to measure and attribute our conversions gives us three times more time and data as a 7-day window does, giving us larger audiences and more data. This will lead to less precision reporting, smaller audiences, a reduction in conversions and return on ad spend (ROAS).
What Can We Do To Limit The Impact Of iOS 14+?
- You should be able to account for some lost conversions using first-party information. This means you will need to rely on your website analytics more.
- Carefully consider which events you want to optimise for and set up your Aggregated Event Management (AEM).
- Focus more on the nurturing of your existing database. It’s time to look at your inbound marketing strategy and find opportunities to improve the messages to your leads.