If you work in paid digital marketing, you have been hearing about iOS 14 since before the start of the year. If you are a business that is advertising on Facebook, you likely didn’t hear about it until the end of February, when campaign performance started to rapidly decline. iOS 14 hasn’t been released yet, but the industry is already seeing the new software’s impacts. In this post, I will share what we have seen so far and what we expect to see long-term. Once the software is released, check back here for an update.
What Is iOS 14?
iOS 14.5 is an Apple software update planned for sometime during the Spring of 2021, which will introduce new user privacy and data use features. This software will enact two changes: additional descriptions on how apps use user data, and requiring apps to ask users for tracking permission prior to usage of said app. The latter change is the update that affects digital marketing, as users who opt-out will no longer be tracked for “the act of linking user or device data collected from your app with user or device data collected from other companies’ apps, websites, or offline properties for targeted advertising or advertising measurement purposes.”
For the purposes of this post, we are focusing specifically on Facebook, but Google released their communication on iOS 14 preparation at the end of January, and LinkedIn published some guidance in early March as well.
What Has Facebook Done to Prepare?
Like most platforms, Facebook confirmed that they would adopt Apple’s SKAdNetwork API for ad-driven app installations. What they did not implement is the Private Click Measurement (PCM) framework for campaigns that drive conversions. According to Facebook, PCM does not accurately anticipate the complexity of the user journey. For example, it does not support app-to-web conversion attribution. Instead, they developed what is called Aggregated Event Measurement (AEM), which also restricts, aggregates, and delays event attribution.
Even with the introduction of AEM, Facebook determined that there would need to be major changes to their operating system. Via a series of webinars, Facebook communicated that it would be proactively making these changes prior to the release of iOS 14. Some of the most impactful changes include:
- An 8-event limitation on each domain and a requirement that advertisers rank them in order of importance within Ads Manager.
- Deprecation of conversion optimization windows larger than 7-day click.
- Deprecation of reporting attribution windows larger than 7-day click.
These Ads Manager updates were implemented on January 19th, 2021.
In addition to platform changes, Facebook has been preparing for these updates by publicly sharing their gripes with Apple, even directly in Facebook Ads Manager:
How Will Campaign Performance Be Affected?
Before the release of Facebook Ads Manager updates in late January, Facebook communicated that there would be significant impacts to campaigns from both the preemptive platform changes, and the eventual release of the software update. The most significant of those being:
- Limits on conversion event data means less clarity on how our campaigns contribute to KPIs and decreased visibility for algorithms using machine learning.
- Limits on the attribution window means less clarity on how campaigns drive user behavior over time.
- Limits on the attribution window will increase the time campaigns spend in the learning phase.
- A decrease in overall custom audience sizes and accuracy of lookalike audiences.
- Some event data may be delayed up to three days.
Directly after the platform change, we saw an increase in both cost-per-click and cost-per-purchase across our client portfolio, regardless of industry. Looking at WoW performance for one e-commerce client, we saw a 14.25% increase in CPC and a 53.51% decrease in ROAS after the January 19th update. Costs have seemed to stabilize after a shock to the algorithm, and while click-costs have not recovered, our ROAS has increased significantly from the last days of January.
This is also the consensus on Reddit, where many social media managers have been sharing stories about the impacts of iOS 14.
In addition to a decrease in overall metrics, some SMM’s have been reporting a decline in the performance of lookalike audiences, which are typically our top performers. This was expected, as a decrease in attribution window decreases the data points that Facebook has to make connections between their users.
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Lastly, as Facebook reported, the initial update didn’t just affect iOS devices. We are seeing similar performance fluctuations across all devices and similar delays in reporting. Once the actual iOS 14 update is released, we may start to see the algorithm favor one type of device over another.
In the summer of 2020, Facebook released their Conversions API in hopes of solving for browsers that block cookie tracking (among other things). Recently, Facebook announced their Google Tag Manager + Conversions API integration, which should drastically reduce the time it takes to implement the tool. We recommend that our clients implement Conversions API since Google plans to phase out third party cookies by 2022. Although this tool will solve some of the future cookie tracking issues, it will not totally eliminate the gaps in tracking created by iOS 14.
Since I have been working with Facebook long enough to remember the algorithm change that killed organic reach, this is just another update in the long list of things that marketers will need to adapt to, as data usage and tracking continue to fall under more scrutiny (think CCPA in the summer of 2020). Facebook targeting capabilities have not always been as sophisticated as they are today, and our clients were still able to hit their performance KPIs. Over the next few months, social media marketers will need to focus on two things: 1) creating outstanding, relevant creative 2) continuously testing the new normal.
Hopefully all of this will be irrelevant after the iOS14 update is finally released. Maybe everyone will opt into tracking and Facebook will lose no visibility into ad performance. Personally, if I am going to be served an ad regardless, I would rather that it is for something that I am actually interested in buying.