I’m sure by this point you’ve heard rumblings about the new iOS 14 update and how it might affect digital marketing. If you are in the world of digital marketing, it’s less a rumbling and more an earth shattering occurrence. While Facebook has taken most of the hit as far as the fallout from this release, Google is certainly affected as well, so without further ado, let’s jump right into what’s going on, what’s being done, and how this affects you.
What Changes With iOS 14?
First thing’s first, let’s talk about what this iOS 14 update is all about, because in order to understand its effects, we need to understand what has actually changed.
Alongside the standard updates that iPhone users get every now and then through this update, they will also be given a whole new option surrounding their digital privacy. Starting with iOS 14.5, every app must make users aware of what data and personal information it will track before installation. This means that every app must receive permission to track you upon installation. If that doesn’t sound so bad, just wait until we dive in a bit deeper into what app tracking really is.
From a technical standpoint, this new update will require developers to ask for your permission before they can track your digital activity across other apps and websites, even if they originally had this consent. Before this update, advertisers were able to use IDFA (Identifier for Advertisers) to track your digital activity. Your IDFA is essentially just an anonymous device ID, that doesn't track who you are, but what your habits are, so that you could receive tailored advertising based on this activity.
This ability to use this tracking data to provide you with recommendations and advertisements is incredibly important to digital advertisers. Gone are the days of delivering a high volume of ads to everyone hoping a small percentage of people will purchase your product. The last few years, both Facebook and Google started working smarter and not harder, and found ways to deliver a smaller number of ads but to a much more targeted group, based on this digital footprint each device had.
Those days are over. With iPhones making up a very large percentage of overall web traffic, this has severely hamstrung digital advertisers in the ability to target ads to specific people, and instead forced their hand to go back to more broad strokes advertising, with the now limited data about each device.
Now is this starting to sound more serious? It should.
How Will This Affect Google Ads?
While the brunt of this release has fallen on Facebook, Google advertising is undoubtedly affected as well, but in a slightly different way. While Facebook marketing is primarily outbound, showing ads to folks, and hoping they click, Google doesn’t have to target individuals because they are searching for these products by themselves. This allows Google to continue operating business as usual when it comes to search campaigns, but the rest of the Google advertising suite did not make it out unscated.
Here are some things you can expect with this new rollout...
- Expect reduced visibility into key metrics that show how ads drive conversions. Primarily on Google Display, YouTube, Discovery, and App campaigns. Essentially, we know when or if an ad has been clicked, but beyond that, the tracking has become more murky.
- Expect reduced delivery on campaigns using audience based targeting. In this scenario, we are relying on our profiling rather than their search, and the profiling data has become less robust, so the delivery has been throttled.
- Expect reduced delivery (and audience size) of campaigns using remarketing and customer match audiences. Similar to the prior point, remarketing takes a certain level of tracking which has now become more difficult.
- Expect reduced delivery / conversion metrics on campaigns that run on iOS. This one feels obvious, but iOS is why all of this is happening anyway, so it’s worth mentioning. Perhaps this is also a good time to remind you that Android, and desktop devices are not a part of this new tracking limitation.
It’s not all bad however. You have to expect that such a deed does not go unnoticed on the Google side of things, so Google has taken some steps to give digital marketers a chance in this new environment.
What Is Google Doing About It?
There are a few ways to, not necessarily avoid these tracking limitations, but find ways to track and model user behavior based on other methods still available to Google. This “workaround” on Google’s end, comes primarily in three different flavors…
- Using the latest SDK for Apple development
- Modeling user behavior
- Switching from third-party cookies to the privacy sandbox
Let’s investigate each a bit further…
Using the latest SDK for Apple development
Google is encouraging app developers to upgrade to their latest version of the mobile SDK which utilizes Apple’s SKAdNetwork. The SkAdNetwork is Apple’s method of tracking the success of ad campaigns while maintaining user privacy. Essentially, this is the, if you can’t beat them, join them method. Rather than trying to combat the user privacy rules, Google is just asking developers to develop within these privacy rules so that, in a way, it’s a win-win situation for Apple users and digital advertisers. Of course, this is difficult, because the effectiveness of this approach is dictated by developer adoption, and that’s something neither Google or digital marketers are able to control.
Modeling user behavior
Rather than trying to skirt around the limitation Google had this other idea of simply modeling conversion attributions and user behavior. From the unfathomable amount of Google traffic that comes through the site every single day, you’d have to expect that they know a thing or two about how humans use the internet. Google has, in turn, decided to start modeling whether or not an ad interaction left to an online conversion… NOT whether a conversion actually happened or not.
Let's say you clicked an ad on a non-observable browser. But later convert on an observable browser. The modeling is used to link the two events.
Of course, this isn’t the most foolproof and accurate system, there is a good chance that Google, on a long enough timeline with enough data points, is getting pretty darn close to what is actually happening. People are still seeing these ads, and still making buying decisions, it’s the visibility that’s impaired, so just like a Tesla can give you an idea of various objects around you without actually know exactly what they are or where they are going, there is enough data to approximate certain behavior that could be useful in strategic decision making.
Switching from third-party cookies to the privacy sandbox
While third-party cookies were an easy way to stick around on someone’s computer and get some extra information, it isn’t the only way to do it. As mentioned previously, if you can’t beat them, join them. If you can’t get around the limitations, work within them. In this vain, Google is switching from using these third-party cookies to using the privacy sandbox.
Within the privacy sandbox Google will use the FLoC (Federated Learning of Cohorts) to replace third-party cookies. The FLoC will allow Google to place people into “buckets” of interest instead of relying on specific tracking through third-party cookies. Although, just like modeling, this is not 100% accurate each time, internal testing from Google shows that the effectiveness of FLoC is roughly 95% compared to cookie-based advertising. That’s not too bad!
At this point, you must be thinking, okay, all of this seems to make sense, but what can I do on my end to maintain success in my digital marketing efforts. Glad you asked!
What Can You Do About It?
The easiest way to summarize this point is… start reframing the way you think about your digital marketing. Rather than expecting precise measurements about conversion data, you’ll have to accept approximations. Rather than focusing all of your efforts on direct targeting, you’ll have to rely on a more well-rounded mix of prospecting and precise outreach. Rather than thinning only in the frame of ROAS, you’ll have to start looking at other metrics that are more directly attributable, and thus more reliable.
On a more specific note, here are a few things you can do...
- Consolidate to 8 or fewer app install campaigns for each of your iOS apps to maintain optimal performance
- Implement SKAdnetwork by upgrading to the latest version of Google Analytics for Firebase
- Migrate App campaigns off tROAS to tCPA
- Ensure you have implemented a first-party tag, like gTag.js or Google Tag Manager, across your website
- Check to ensure that your website allows arbitrary URL parameters
- Enable Audience Expansion or targeting expansion on Remarketing and Customer Match campaigns and/or include Similar Audiences to recuperate any lost reach
As with anything else, we are discovering new methods everyday to work within this new ecosystem, so don’t let this be the last article you read. Keep searching for news and other digital marketers who have discovered new and interesting methods of dealing with this change to the digital marketing environment.
This might also be the best time to work with a digital strategy agency to get some help. Not only have we known about this release for almost a year before it actually went into effect, an agency gets the unique privilege of seeing the digital marketing landscape from every vertical. Tracking and analyzing the effects of this new iOS rollout across all industries, gives agencies a powerful position in understanding exactly how these new privacy changes affect the entire ecosystem rather than just one client. Give us a call, we’d love to hear from you!