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Digital privacy is important, and you’d be hard-pressed to find anybody who thinks otherwise. 

That was the reason Apple rolled out the iOS 14 update—to give consumers more control over data they unknowingly share with advertisers and publishers.

They went all out marketing this update with a national ad campaign.  

The updates were great for iPhone users but were a different scenario for marketers. 

It meant a downturn in Facebook and Instagram ad campaign performance across the board. 

Specifically, Apple’s iOS 14 release negatively impacted Facebook ads in key areas such as targeting, reporting, and optimization.

Those are three aspects crucial to the success of your paid social campaigns.

In this post, we’re going to explain everything you need to know about the iOS 14 and iOS 14.5 updates.

More specifically, we’ll talk about:

  • What the updates did
  • How they have changed the Facebook ads landscape
  • How you can optimize your campaigns moving forward

Let’s dive right in! 

Table of Contents

What Did the iOS 14 Update Actually Do?

What About the iOS 14.5 Update?

How Does iOS 14 Impact Facebook and Instagram Ads?

iOS 14.5 and Facebook Campaign Tracking

How Much Did the iOS 14.5 Update Affect Facebook Campaigns? A YoY Comparison

7 Actions You Can Take to Combat iOS 14 & 14.5

What Did the iOS 14 Update Actually Do?

Aside from ensuring that users’ data is safe, let’s show you what else this update meant. 

Apple drastically limited what advertisers and app developers can track in terms of user activity. 

Now, mobile devices don’t use cookies the way desktop browsers do.

In the case of iOS devices, Apple provides something called IDFA. 

IDFA (Identifier for Advertisers) is a unique, totally random ID number assigned to Apple devices. 

It facilitates browser tracking—allowing you to track user behavior within applications

IDFA doesn’t collect any personally identifiable information (PII) and the user can reset it at any time. 

What About the iOs 14.5 Update?

On April 26, 2021, Apple released the iOS 14.5 update and turned off IDFA by default. 

They introduced the app-tracking transparency (ATT) prompt that allowed users to either opt in or out of data tracking. 

This means that each user will have to individually allow each app they use to turn on IDFA. 

Here’s a message pop-up users will see:

Facebook notification to track activities accross other companies



About 17% of people worldwide are opting into tracking and only 10% of U.S. users have opted in. 

Like it or not, this is the new reality for advertisers. 

So how does this affect your digital marketing campaigns?

How Does iOS 14 Impact Facebook and Instagram Ads?

Ever since the updates, ad performance has gone down when compared to times before the changes. 

And this has been a real issue for Facebook.

The social media network has since purchased several full-page advertisements in newspapers like The New York Times expressing their opposition to this move. 

Including adding a detailed help article on their site

As we mentioned, the Apple update affected three main areas of the Facebook ads platform: 

  • Targeting
  • Reporting
  • Optimization

Let’s dig into each issue one at a time. 

Targeting

Retargeting, remarketing, and lookalike audiences have long been a staple of advanced Facebook advertising and now they’re both largely unavailable or not performing well. 

Here’s the issue with retargeting: 

  1. The vast majority of iOS users are opting out of tracking. This means data collection will be reduced and your retargeting audiences are going to be a lot smaller.  

So, if your advertising strategy was hugely dependent on retargeting website visitors, you’ll likely have seen a significant performance decrease (more on this issue in the next section).

  1. Additionally, lookalike audiences that are based on a data source—pixel conversions such as purchases or leads—aren’t being tracked correctly anymore. 

As such, the data source for many of your lookalike audiences has degraded, reducing the quality of the audience and taking your ad performance down. 

Reporting

Advertisers have relied on Facebook pixel conversion metrics like ROAS and CPA to determine the success of their campaigns. 

With the release of iOS 14.5, most advertisers have seen wild inaccuracies in these metrics

Apple has also announced that the Private Click Measurement (PCM) protocol will create a three-day delay in attribution data for iOS 14.5 users. 

This causes advertisers to see fewer reported conversions with the Facebook Ads Manager, skewing their data. 

One media buyer, Zach Stuck of Homestead Studio, provides some detail on this point in this Bloomberg piece:

“Facebook used to capture around 95% of the sales data from clients. In one case now, there is a 57% gap between sales seen on Shopify and what Facebook is reporting.”

Optimization

As you probably know, advanced Facebook advertisers have relied on the algorithm to help optimize their campaigns

You feed the algorithm data—conversions from your ads—and it automatically serves ads to people who match those who’ve already converted. 

With the new updates, you will have already seen that this is no longer the case. 

Why?

Well, Apple now limits Facebook advertisers to eight “conversion events” per website.

What does that mean?

That means fewer data points for the algorithm to use in its optimization processes. 

This will significantly affect smaller advertisers who don’t have lots of data points from large budgets. 

So that’s the bad news, but you’re in luck—there is still plenty you can do to keep your campaigns on track. 

iOS 14.5 and Facebook Campaign Tracking

Now as you know, iOS users can now decide whether to share data or not.

If they decide to share their data, conversion tracking can still be done as usual. 

If they decide otherwise, Facebook will still allow you to track single conversion events and you can focus on purchase which is one of the most important events.

You will get data such as: 

  • How many purchases were made  
  • How profitable it was 
  • The number of purchases made 
  • Cost per purchase

What if you wanna track multiple events?

That leads us to talk about…

SKAdNetwork API

The SkAdNetwork API is a tool that allows marketers to keep track of campaigns while maintaining user privacy. 

This tool provides advertisers with accurate attribution for their campaigns to Apple users without data directly related to the user or their device. 

How does it work?

Ads are displayed on a publishing app which begins a 3-seconds timer. 

Then, the app notifies the SkAdNetwork.

If the ad is displayed for 3 seconds, the app notifies the tool and records it as a successful view.

The publisher will render the advertised app’s StoreKit if the user engages with the ad.

By engaging, we mean the user proceeds to make a purchase or install an app.

If the user buys or installs the app within the SkAdNetwork attribution window, the advertiser will get the necessary data such as install postback from the purchase or app installs they need to track their campaign. 

Aggregated event measurement (AEM)

AEM is another option for marketers to track campaigns without intruding on the user’s privacy.

Here’s how Facebook described it: it’s a protocol that allows for the measurement of web and app events from people using iOS 14.5 or later devices. 

AEM currently limits domains and mobile apps to 8 conversion events that can be configured and prioritized for AEM.

This would help advertisers optimize events that can give them the value they want.

How Much Did the iOS 14.5 Update Affect Facebook Campaigns? A YoY Comparison

In this section, we’re going to look at a year-over-year (YoY) comparison of how the iOS 14.5 update affected marketing campaigns on Facebook.

More specifically, how the updates have impacted some important metrics such as:

  • Return on ad spend (ROAS)
  • Conversion rates
  • Cost-per-mile (CPM)
  • Revenue
  • Marketing efficiency rating
  • ecommerce revenue

Here’s a breakdown of each metric.

 1. ROAS

Looking at data from the screenshot below, you can see there’s been a 1.69% decrease in Facebook’s ROAS within the last 28 days YoY.

Image Source: Common Thread Collective

However, the decrease took a turn in a positive direction in the last days of the period, resulting in a higher ROAS. 

2. Conversion Rates

Similarly, Facebook conversion rates saw a 5.87% decrease within the period.  

Image Source: Common Thread Collective

Nonetheless, there were a few peaks at different times within the month last year and this year.

3. CPM

Facebook’s cost-per-mile (CPM) rates went up by 21.94% within the last 28 days of YoY. 

Image Source: Common Thread Collective

There was a decrease in spending to make up for gaps in attribution post-iOS update. 

That led to less competition and a drop in CPM during the early stage of this period. 

4.  Revenue

The impact of the iOS update is still in effect and as such, Facebook revenue is down by 34.87%. 

commonthread infographic
Image Source: Common Thread Collective

If revenue is declining, how do you know if you’re making money or not?

To answer this question, let’s look at the marketing efficiency rating (MER).

5. Marketing efficiency rating

The MER has declined by 4.14% even though it’s this number that should tell you that you can spend on ads and still be profitable. 

commonthread infographic
Image Source: Common Thread CollectiveeCommerce

6. eCommerce revenue

ecommerce revenue has also gone down by 2.06% within the period. 

common thread infographic
Image Source: Common Thread Collective

7 Actions You Can Take to Combat iOS 14 & 14.5

As an advertiser, what can you do to work through the issues created by the iOS 14 and iOS 14.5 updates? 

Here are a few options to explore. 

1. Verify your domain

Domain verification is a way to show Facebook that you run a legitimate business. As such, they will help if you run into any account issues. 

Author’s Note: You can use this guide to verify all your domains within the Facebook Business Manager. 

2. Use re-engagement audiences

Since Facebook users must be logged in to use the platform, the network still has a wealth of data you can use for re-engagement audiences. 

So, you can target users who have: 

  • Engaged with your content or page in the past 
  • Watched one of your videos
  • Clicked on an ad

If third-party data is limited or unavailable, you can always try your luck with Facebook’s first-party data. 

3. Explore new audiences via whitelisting

If your lookalike audiences based on pixel data have stopped returning results, consider testing the audience based on your influencers’ followings. 

To have access to their audiences, you’ll need to enable creator licensing

There are other reasons why you should consider building creator-licensed campaigns and you can see them in this blog post

If you use a creator marketing platform like Insense you’ll be able to quickly connect with creators who allow whitelisting in a space that’s safe for the creator and marketers don’t have to worry about preparing the legal paperwork because the platform takes care of it all for you.

4. Develop fresh ad creative featuring UGC

If your targeting options are limited, one of the best ways to increase your performance is to use better ad creatives.

How do you do that? 

Feature user-generated content (UGC) in your ad creative. 

…and you will see a boost in your ROAS. 

Trying out different types of UGC such as unboxing videos and product reviews, will allow you to A/B test different concepts to see how your users respond

5. Implement the Conversions API

Since many of the reporting issues are occurring with the Facebook Pixel itself, the Conversions API allows you to track data directly from the server to Facebook. 

To implement the Facebook Conversions API, you can use this implementation guide to get started. 

6. Leverage Google Analytics

You can also leverage Google Analytics when combating the iOS updates. 

First, you need to ensure that the UTM parameter is used on your website’s URL.

This will allow any data being tracked by Facebook to reflect in your Google Analytics. 

UTM tracking further allows you to extract more user data from your audience such as:

  • Their location
  • Sites/links they click on

With the UTM tracking set up, you need to create goals for your Google Analytics campaign and ensure they’re in sync with conversion goals on Facebook.

You will then see when goals have been reached with your performance metrics, including any changes in conversions. 

This way, you can optimize your campaign to produce better results in the future. 

7. Target broad audiences

Targeting smaller audiences used to be profitable, but considering there is now limited demographic data, there’s a need for an alternative tactic.

That’s why you need to target a broader audience. 

How do you do that? 

Select interests that will bring in a large audience and if possible, merge interests when creating your ad sets for better output. 

So, what do you think?

Do you have the tools to develop new strategies to cope with the realities of advertising to iOS 14 and 14.5 users? 

Did we miss anything? 

If you're looking for an easy way to source high volumes of UGC feel free to book a free demo here

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