The Aftermath of Apple’s iOS14 Update And the Impact on Digital Marketers

In January 2021, Apple began rolling out its iOS 14 update to iPhones across the world. This update came with some stringent new restrictions around privacy and tracking, which caused a stir amongst Facebook advertisers and the digital marketing industry.

Since then Apple has announced that its next update – iOS 15, will include even more privacy features and, to add to the chaos, other key players like Google have announced their own similar privacy updates.

Apple iPhone iOS14

Now that we’re a few months on, let’s take a look at the impact of the iOS 14 update on digital marketers, what’s coming next, and how we can prepare for the future.

What Was The Apple iOS 14 Update?

The iOS 14.5 update had a significant impact on the way iPhone user’s data could be tracked, which in turn had some major implications for platforms using this data for advertising purposes, including Facebook.

Prior to iOS 14, Apple used something called Identifier for Advertisers (IDFA) to track user behaviour across apps and websites – it was automatic. This rich behavioural data could then be leveraged by advertisers like Facebook to target users based on their interests, demographics, which websites they’d visited and more. 

In April 2021, Apple’s iOS 14.5 update came into effect, which turned off IDFA by default. As a result, users now have to “opt in” to have their data tracked by apps like Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, TikTok and more. The idea was to give consumers more control over the data they share (usually unknowingly) with advertisers and publishers like Facebook.

If you’re an iPhone user, you’ve probably noticed a prompt like this one showing up when using certain apps: 

This is known as Apple’s App Tracking Transparency (ATT) prompt, which is what iOS app developers are now required to display to comply with Apple’s AppTracking Transparency framework. Essentially, apps are required to obtain permission to “track” users across apps and websites owned by third parties for advertising and measurement purposes. 

Users can opt in to have their data and behaviour tracked by tapping the “Allow” option, or they can opt out by selecting “Ask App Not to Track.” They can also deny tracking for all apps at once by going to their iOS privacy settings.

What Was Facebook’s Response?

With less visibility over iOS user data, platforms like Facebook were naturally concerned about the impact this was going to have on ad personalisation and the overall effectiveness of digital ad campaigns. 

Since Facebook is primarily a mobile-centric advertising platform, this update also posed huge concerns to the digital marketing community, which now faced the likelihood of losing the ability to track a huge portion of their target audience. 

Facebook tracking

In an effort to combat the impact of these enhanced privacy restrictions, Facebook implemented new “ad measurement protocols”, including Aggregated Event Measurement. This was designed to support the tracking of web events from iOS 14 users once Apple’s updates came into effect. Facebook’s Aggregated Event Measurement can be used to process Facebook Pixel conversion events on iOS devices, so advertisers can track the actions people are taking on their website. 

Facebook asserts these measures were designed to help “measure campaign performance in a way that is consistent with consumers’ decisions about their data”. Essentially, it supports marketers so they can continue running effective digital campaigns, while preserving the privacy of Facebook users. 

Businesses who advertise on Facebook will need to set up Aggregated Event Measurement through Facebook Business Manager in order to track conversion events from iOS devices. Advertisers are restricted to using 8 conversion events per domain, and the domain needs to be verified with Facebook Ads Manager. If you’re not sure how to do this, you may need to consider engaging a web developer or digital agency (like Springboard Digital) to assist you. 

How Did iOS 14 Impact Advertisers? 

Despite Facebook’s efforts to minimise disruption to businesses who advertise on its platform, Apple’s changes have had an undeniable impact on the performance of Facebook campaigns.

Following the initial launch of iOS 14.5 in April, mobile analytics company Flurry revealed the global opt-in rate for data collection was 11%. Since then, this rate has steadily increased to around 20% worldwide, but this number is still concerning for marketers. 

So, how exactly has the iOS 14 update impacted advertisers? 

With the vast majority of iOS users currently opting out of having their data tracked, Facebook ads have been impacted in three key areas: audience targeting, reporting and optimisation. Let’s take a closer look. 

1. Retargeting and Lookalike Audiences Are Less Effective

Prior to the iOS 14 update, retargeting audiences who had previously engaged with your business was an extremely effective and reliable way to get your ads in front of high-intent users. Similarly, targeting a “lookalike” audience would ensure your ads were shown to people who were highly likely to be interested in what you were offering, based on their online behaviour.

Since the majority of iPhone users have not “opted in,” we no longer have visibility over this information like we used to, so retargeting and lookalike audiences have reduced in size and quality. This has had a noticeable impact on their effectiveness and, therefore, overall ad performance. 

2. Reporting Is Delayed and Less Precise

Under Apple’s new policies, real-time reporting was no longer supported on iOS 14 devices, with conversion reporting now being delayed by up to three days. This has restricted advertisers’ abilities to optimise campaigns in real time and has skewed campaign data by causing advertisers to see fewer reported conversions than there might have actually been.

Along with the iOS update, Facebook reduced their attribution windows from 28 days to 7 days. What does this mean exactly? 

Previously, the default attribution window for Facebook Ads was 28-Day Click, 1-Day View, which meant marketers had visibility on any action a user took 28 days after clicking an ad, or 1 day after viewing an ad. The new default attribution window is 7-Day Click, 1-Day View, which means marketers have significantly less visibility over how many people “converted” after interacting with an ad. 

Agin, this has had an impact on reported conversions as Facebook no longer has visibility on users who convert after the 7-day timeframe. This also poses a significant challenge for businesses that offer products or services where the purchase consideration period is generally longer than one week, as their ability to measure the success of Facebook campaigns will be extremely limited. 

3. Optimising Is More Challenging, With Less Visibility Over Performance Data

With the enhanced privacy restrictions that came with iOS 14, advertisers no longer have access to reporting breakdowns of key demographic data, such as performance by age, gender, religion and ad placement. 

Advertisers are now also limited to tracking a maximum of 8 conversion events per ad account. These two restrictions combined means there’s now much less data to work with when optimising campaigns, which will have further impacts on overall campaign performance. 

What Does This Mean For the Future of Facebook Ads?

While there’s no doubt Apple’s iOS 14 update has struck a heavy blow for digital marketers, Facebook still remains a viable and effective channel for brand promotion and driving business success.

Digital marketers around the world have come out with various strategies to ensure businesses can continue to get value out of paid social campaigns, and Facebook has also brought out its own solutions to continue to support advertisers, such as the Conversions API

What Can We Expect Next?

It’s clear that iOS 14 was just the first in a series of updates being rolled out by Apple in an effort to emphasise user privacy and data protection. In June this year, the tech giant announced that more privacy features will be coming into effect with their iOS 15 update, which is set to be released in September 2021. This update is expected to further reduce tracking capabilities, which means even less data and visibility for marketers. 

Furthermore, Google has recently announced they will also be taking steps to enhance user privacy by rolling out similar tracking restrictions across their app ecosystem. Google’s Android 12 update is scheduled to start rolling out in late 2021.

Google and Facebook newspaper article

How Can Businesses Prepare for the Future?

If you already advertise on Facebook, or are planning to in the near future, we would recommend reading up on the resources provided in this article to ensure your ad account and campaigns are set up to give you the best possible chance of success.

If you’re not sure how to do this, you might want to consider reaching out to a digital marketing agency like Springboard Digital to help you navigate the Facebook Ads platform and get the most effective and efficient use out of your ad spend. As digital marketers, it’s our job to adapt to the ever-changing digital landscape and help our clients prepare for whatever comes next.