The iOS14 Update – What it means for digital marketers

As if 2020 wasn’t crazy enough, last June Apple announced that iOS14 would include a new App Tracking Transparency framework — requiring any apps that use cross-app tracking to show an opt-out prompt to the user, as well as limit the ways that apps can use tracking data internally.

The biggest impact of these changes are how it affects tracking and ad performance through Facebook’s mobile app, which is the number one way that most users consume Facebook content. In December, Facebook announced changes to their ad platform, which will take effect in early 2021, together with the “App Tracking Transparency (ATT)” prompt.

With any major change to the digital marketing landscape, there is a lot of hand-wringing and sky-is-falling rhetoric about what this means for the industry. 

But let’s take a closer look at what this means, not for Facebook, but for digital advertisers like us.

In a nutshell…

If you don’t want to read any further, here’s what you need to know:

  • This is a bigger deal for Facebook (the company) and ad-supported apps than it is for digital marketers. Apps (especially free apps) have been quietly supplying Facebook with demographic information for years. Those apps will now have to show what data they’re sending.
  • Facebook attribution windows will be limited to 7-day click. No more view attribution, no more 28-day attribution.
  • Facebook is limiting your conversion events to 8 events per domain. You’ll also need to verify your domains for those events before the switchover.
  • Facebook will be introducing a 3-day delay for all event data and metrics from iOS devices.
  • SegMetrics uses 1st party cookies and has our own lifetime attribution window. Our analytics data is not affected by any of the changes in iOS14, iOS14.5 or Facebook.

There will definitely be long-term effects to these changes in the advertising industry, especially around targeted advertisement. However, the most immediate need is to fix your short-term attribution ASAP. If you’ve been delaying implementing attribution outside of Facebook, now’s the time to do it.

So, let’s look at what this all means, and especially what you need to do next.

Impact on SegMetrics

First, the big question we’re getting asked is “How does this affect SegMetrics?” — and that’s a very good question.

Not to be flippant, while these changes are a pain in the tuchus, this solidifies the importance of third-party tracking and analytics tools like SegMetrics.

Because SegMetrics uses our own 1st party proprietary tracking pixel, we’re not blocked by the majority of ad blockers, and aren’t affected by iOS’s 3rd-party cookie filters. And because our ad tracking uses our own data in addition to Facebook’s internal user identification, we aren’t limited by Facebook’s changes to their attribution window, conversion event limitations or delays in metric reporting.

That means that SegMetrics:

  1. Is not affected by any updates in iOS14
  2. Continues to track the entire lifetime conversions of your ads, not limited by the 7 day click window
  3. Has no additional delay in reporting
  4. Shows you every lead, click and customer that comes through your ads. Even months or years later.

Impacts on Tracking & Changes in the Facebook Algorithm

While ATT doesn’t affect many of us directly, what’s bad for Facebook can be bad for us, and in order to stay compliant (or just to mess with us — you can never be too sure), Facebook has made a number of changes to the ad platform that you’ll need to keep in mind.

Reducing Tracking Attribution Window

This change came into effect in late 2020, and reduces the attribution window of user tracking from 28 days to a maximum of 7. That means that the 28-day click-through, 28-day view-through, and 7-day view-through attribution windows are no-longer supported, but historical data will be retained.

This is definitely a challenge for Facebook advertisers, as the already considerably short 28-day window is now being reduced even more, which lowers the effectiveness of our advertising. However, as this is only for event tracking, using the offline conversion tracking features of systems like ActiveCampaign and SegMetrics, still lets you attribute purchases to users, even well after the 7-day attribution period.

In addition to shortening the attribution window, real-time reporting from the iOS app will no longer be supported, and data may be delayed up to 3 days. Fortunately, this applies only to Facebook’s internal tracking and attribution, and doesn’t affect any 3rd party click tracking systems like Google Analytics and SegMetrics that use their own non-app based tracking systems.

Reduction to 8 Conversion Events per Domain

In addition to the reduced Tracking Attribution Window, the reduction in number of valid events probably has the biggest impact on most advertisers. Starting in early 2021, you’ll be limited to configuring up to 8 unique conversion events per website domain, and any ad sets that you’re currently using that are optimized for events not in those 8 will be paused.

Companies that use more than 8 conversion events per domain should create a plan on how to work within the 8 event maximum. While many smaller companies use only a handful of events based on their conversion funnel, this creates an optimization issue for larger companies, as well as smaller companies that use the “one event per landing page” strategy of ad optimization.

Fortunately, this only affects Facebook’s internal reporting, and so by combining your ad performance with page views and other analytics data, you can still attribute multiple conversion events throughout the customer journey, and push that conversion data back into Facebook through offline conversion events.

If you have more than 8 conversion events, or need to specify which custom events are given priority when the switchover happens, you’ll want to verify your domain ownership in Business Manager. That will allow you to choose which conversion events are eligible for your domains, and make changes on the fly.

How iOS14 will impact advertising on mobile

The good news is that for most digital marketers, this is not an overall ban on cross-device tracking, and while we’re losing some features that have been useful in the past, the overall impact is much worse for Facebook than it is for advertisers.

> The biggest impact will definitely be on Google and Facebook. Ad-supported apps might be affected in that they presumably can’t target their ads as well.
John Knox, Principal Engineer ShiraTronics

What does ATT Do?

While it’s not commonly known to end-users, the majority of apps on the AppStore include the Facebook SDK. This is a major monetization vector for many apps — like those wonderful “de-aging photo apps” or the “weiner dog alarm clocks.” This gives app creators an additional revenue stream, and allows Facebook to track users as they move from one app to another, and also see what apps users have installed on their phones, increasing the amount of information in their Facebook advertising profiles.

In iOS14, when these apps include the Facebook SDK (or any other tracking system), users will get notified about how their data is being used, and what data the app is reading from the phone, including Contact Info, Browsing History, Identifiers, Purchases, etc.

At this point, nothing has changed about the ability of apps to track users — it’s simply notifying users of what data the apps are sending to Facebook or other corporate overlords.

The second limitation of ATT is that users will be shown a prompt the first time an app tries to  access the device’s internal advertising identifier. This will show up for apps that are displaying targeted advertising based on 3rd party data, when sharing your email with a data broker or any 3rd party advertising networks, or when you include a 3rd party advertising SDK in your app.

As we can see, the majority of changes are targeted at the advertising companies themselves, as well as apps that leverage those advertising SDKs as a revenue stream. If you’re an app developer who relies on that sweet, sweet in-app advertising — you’re going to have a rough time. However, for the majority of digital advertisers, there doesn’t seem to be a huge impact for us.

Going forward with iOS14

One of SegMetrics’ core beliefs is that your marketing data shouldn’t be controlled by a single black box, and you should always have access to the data that makes up your marketing reporting. Much like when Facebook single-handedly destroyed the digital video industry, relying on the data of the company selling you the ads is never a good long-term goal.

SegMetrics uses 1st party cookies and has our own lifetime attribution window. Our analytics data 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.

Keith Perhac