Google and iOS14.5 – What it means for advertisers

Because running profitable ads isn’t challenging enough, Apple has got the marketing world in a spin with the App Tracking Transparency (ATT) frame. It requires any applications that use cross-app tracking to show an opt-out prompt to the user, as well as limit the ways that websites can track people with cookies.

Advertising on Facebook’s mobile app was particularly affected (as we went into detail on here), leading to them announcing a set of changes.

As with any complex changes there are plenty of folk doomsaying that this is the end of online advertising as we know it, while others seem chill about the whole thing. So, in this article we will pick apart what the new changes mean for businesses using Google Ads. We’ll break it down into:

  • Search ad targeting
  • Display ad targeting
  • Basic conversion tracking
  • Advanced conversion tracking
  • Impact on SegMetrics

All the changes will ONLY apply to iOS traffic from apps with ATT turned on. Normal web traffic (even on mobile) will not be affected.

(SPOILER: You’ll be ok, it might just require some changes)

In a nutshell

If you just want the quick answer of how iOS traffic will be affected, then here you go:

  • Targeting search ads with keywords will (mostly) work as usual
  • Display ads will target groups not individuals
  • Basic same-visit attribution will be slightly affected
  • Some changes are required for offline conversion tracking
  • SegMetrics uses its own conversion tracking which is unaffected by ATT
  • SegMetrics can still report offline conversions back to Google Ads

So if you’re running simple search ads with people converting during that visit you’ll be fine, but for anything else it’s best you know the details.

NOTE: There are other impacts such as on deep-linking apps and app install campaigns, but we won’t be covering those

How will iOS 14.5 affect search ad targeting?

Search ads don’t rely on the ad platform knowing your personal data. So, if someone searches for one of your keywords while using iOS, the auction will run as usual.

Click prices might fluctuate in the short term as advertisers get used to the new attribution data (more on that below), but the basic functionality of search ads won’t be any different.

You will also still be able to use the basic refinements, such as demographics and interest groups

The only big change in targeting search ads is with remarketing lists for search ads (RLSA). If someone visited your site while using iOS 14 they will not be individually identified on your remarketing list, but instead grouped into part of a FLOC (more on that below). So your RLSA will still be relevant, but might miss those users who came to your site on an iPhone.

How will iOS 14.5 affect display ad targeting?

Normally when someone visits an ad that shows display ads, Google looks at all the personal data they have about them and runs the auction to choose what to show them.

But that will now change for iPhone users.

Techniques are being developed that will identify someone as part of a closely defined group instead of as a known individual. So an ad will be chosen that fits the shared set of traits.

Google is developing ways to serve relevant adverts while protecting people’s privacy and personal data. Two methods in development are Federated Learning of Cohorts (FLoC) and First “Locally-Executed Decision over Groups” Experiment (FLEDGE).

FLOC aims to group people into tightly defined cohorts based on their browsing history. Advertisers can then bid based on FLOC IDs, but not on a personal behaviour level.

FLEDGE is about having a new trusted server designed purely to give limited data to bidding algorithms. The user’s data will remain shielded within the device, keeping control in their hands.

This means that there may be teething problems for tactics such as remarketing campaigns, but personalized ads will still be possible.

How will iOS 14.5 affect basic conversion tracking?

First let’s look at the simple scenario. Plenty of businesses only track conversions that happen on your website immediately after they click a link or ad (or shortly after), that are picked up by Google Analytics or the conversion tag.

The core change is that affected iOS traffic will no longer have a Google click identifier (GLID).

Instead, iOS users will be assigned a WBRAID or GBRAID. These new parameters will be saved with a 1st party cookie in a similar way to the GCLID. 

Google will use the parameters to tie conversion back to an advert, but not to an individual. This should not lead to a major change in recorded conversions or in the running of adverts.

In a way, this is a good change — because it lets us know immediately if we’re dealing with an iOS user, and what level of data protection they’re applying.

Savvy marketers are probably already thinking of interesting ways to use this for their own internal segmentation.

How will iOS 14.5 affect advanced conversion tracking?

The key difference will be if you have been processing the GCLID as part of your conversion tracking or passing it across to a system such as your CRM.

Because iOS users won’t have a GCLID, it is currently unclear what the impact will be on offline conversion tracking.

Offline conversion might start accepting the WBRAID as an identifier, but Google’s documentation still only states that a GCLID is required. 

Advanced conversion tracking that have relied on GCLIDs will hopefully be updated to use these new parameters, but we can’t say for sure.

How will SegMetrics be affected?

SegMetrics does not rely on the GCLID, so will work as usual including in our offline conversion tracking.

We track our attribution separately from Google (and Facebook)which is still relevant and unaffected by iOS as it’s tied back to users in your email marketing platform, and thus follows all of the ATT guidelines for privacy tracking.

SegMetrics only saves someone’s personal data when they enter it into your database, whether it’s a purchase, trial signup or lead magnet download. This is completely allowed in iOS, GDPR, CCPA  and other rules which are aiming to protect people’s privacy online.

That means SegMetrics users can build up a comprehensive database about their leads and customers while still keeping everyone happy.

What’s next in the privacy wars?

Between GDPR, CCPA, ATT and dropping support for 3rd party cookies…it’s clear that privacy protection is a growing movement.

The built in conversion tracking from Facebook and Google are going to be two key battlegrounds. Their current approach of gobbling up every ounce of possible data about every website visitor is going to be steadily cut down.

Unlike those ad platforms, SegMetrics reports on people who intentionally gave you their data. That means our tracking is not affected by any of the changes in iOS14, iOS14.5 or Facebook.

SegMetrics is always marketer-first, and always transparent about how we collect and report on your data. Because if you can’t trust the data, you can’t trust your marketing.

Zach Goldie

Zach is lead copywriter for SegMetrics. As a former engineer, he loves the puzzle of how to best write a piece that matches the prospect's priorities.