February 20, 2023

How the Facebook iOS Update Will Impact Advertising

How the Facebook iOS Update Will Impact Advertising

Facebook Ads have several crucial advantages that make it such a powerful advertising platform: The retargeting options, the tracking capabilities, and the ad optimization potential. The platform’s deep machine learning and advanced algorithms can do a lot of the heavy lifting to get your ads to the right users at the right time.

Apple’s new iOS 14.5 update and the associated App Tracking Transparency feature is about to throw a huge spanner in the works. 

The ATT was just launched on April 26th, and it will likely directly impact advertisers’ ability to accurate track activity from, retarget to, and optimise for mobile users on Facebook Ads. 

In this post, we’re going to discuss what’s changing with IOS 14.5, how it’s impacting Facebook Ads and other retargeting-based paid social platforms, plus how advertisers can prepare and adapt.

How Facebook’s Ad System Worked Until Now 

When a Facebook user logged into Facebook and visited a third-party site like a favorite retailer, if that site had a tracking pixel enabled, it would fire when you visited specific pages or take actions like making a purchase. That data would be fed back to Facebook automatically, and it could be used by brands to show you relevant ad campaigns.

Facebook would then see which users clicked and converted, giving you an accurate look at how effective your campaigns were and what ROI they netted. Facebook would also learn from this, seeing what types of customers took the desired action on your ad; they would then shift who saw your ad in the future to optimise for better results at the best cost. 

This was possible due to off-site data tracking.

What’s Changing with iOS 14

Before now, the default status for most apps and desktop sites was that data-tracking was automatically enabled. 

Previously,  if users wanted to opt-out of this type of tracking, they’d need to go into Facebook’s settings to disable off-site tracking. It’s worth mentioning that this feature has only been available recently, it’s buried in people’s settings, and you need to know to go it’s there to go looking for it. Many users– even those who are gravely concerned about privacy and data tracking– don’t know it’s there.

Your Off-Facebook activity

The most recent iOS update, however, comes with a new feature that will automatically require users to opt-in to data sharing for each app they’re using. The new default isn’t to have data-sharing automatically enabled; it will be to have it disabled unless users opt-in.

This screen will pop-up before you use the app for the first time after updating:

iOS 14 prompt asking users whether or not they'll enable data tracking

Unlike with the GDPR, apps do not get to customize the messaging users see in the prompt. You can use pre-permission in-app prompts to explain why users should keep tracking enabled, which Facebook has locked and loaded, but the prompts themselves cannot be changed.

iOS 14.5 prompt

And the reality is that while many users may not go through the hassle of disabling it themselves, it’s pretty easy to click “no” to data-sharing and essentially do nothing, especially since it’s listed as the top option. This is true even for users who aren’t concerned, who would have almost never turned off data-tracking if they had to be proactive about it.

How This Will Impact Facebook Advertising & Other Paid Social Campaigns 

As more users update their devices, there’s likely going to be a big dropoff in mobile devices that will have activity Facebook can track. Facebook has been extremely vocal about this for months, citing that it will hurt small businesses and speaking out against it. 

Since so much social and online activity happens on mobile, this is significant; large portions of their audience may have data tracking disabled. 

A recent survey by Flurry Analytics found that a whopping 96% of users did not opt-in to mobile tracking. Said another, only 4% allowed Facebook to track them.

Here are the most significant impacts that we expect to see for iOS users that you need to know as a Facebook advertiser:

  • Facebook will not accurately be able to track any of their off-site behavior. They’ll know if a user clicks on an ad, but not if they convert or take any specific actions.
  • This means that Facebook’s reporting data will be impacted, so you may not know the true ROI or efficiency of your campaigns. You’ll need to piece together the evidence from a combination of Facebook and Google Analytics reporting as best you can. 
  • We’re going to need to rely on shorter attribution windows. This is the period of time that a conversion can be attributed back to the original Facebook ad. Many advertisers, particularly those selling higher priced items, rely on longer lookback windows to accurately assess longer buying and consideration cycles. There may be workarounds for this in the future, but in the meantime it will impact the efficacy of targeting. 
  • We’re also going to be limited in how much data we get from each campaigns. Facebook’s app will run through Apple’s SKAdNetwork API, which will limit or aggregate data. Event data will be limited to a total of nine campaigns, and five ad sets per campaign for every account. For accounts running dozens of campaigns or ad sets, this is really bad news. 
  • Data will be delayed up to three days after the app is installed.
  • With less accurate (or just less) information about how users are interacting with ads beyond an initial click, Facebook’s optimisation potential goes down. This could impact all users, not just iOS users. 
  • Targeting options will be impacted, particularly retargeting options based on off-site actions that are typically tracked through the pixel. Ultra-personalised ads may be harder to serve to your full audience on mobile.
  • As ads are less personalised and optimised automatically, the reality is that their efficacy could decrease, at least for iOS users and hopefully only temporarily. This does, unfortunately, mean there’s more room for wasted ad spend.

How You Can Adapt Right Now  

If you’re an everyday user on Facebook, you’re going to continue to see ads, but you get to choose whether Facebook can track which sites you visit and what actions you take on those websites. Your privacy rights have increased, which is good. 

If you’re an advertiser on Facebook, however, this update is not good. We’re not going to sugarcoat it. There’s a chance that Android might follow suit in the future.

Since the iOS 14.5 update is here now, you’re going to want to adapt now, too, if you haven’t already. While we may know more in the coming weeks as more substantial data starts rolling in, this is what we know you can do now.

Keep Your Campaigns Going… But Watch Them Closely 

Do you have an amazing retargeting campaign running right now that uses dynamic ads based off of on-site activity funnelled through the tracking pixel?

There’s no reason to stop it. Only iOS users will be impacted by retargeting delivery abilities on mobile, after all.

That being said, watch every single one of your existing campaigns like a hawk. Shifts in attribution windows alongside potentially increasing issues with measurement and optimisation could have a major impact on your winning campaigns.

Know that some of your conversions data may be off while you’re reviewing them; you can cross-reference activity with tools like Google Analytics to try to look for discrepancies so you can see how your campaigns are performing. 

Reorganise Your Campaign Structure 

If you can only track a total of nine campaigns, and five ad sets per campaign, it might make sense to reshuffle your campaigns’ structure.

Some clients we’ve seen will have new campaigns for each individual strategy they’re using, and a long number of ad sets. It may be easier to group more ads under a single ad set whenever possible without sacrificing optimisation results, and to place a full five ad sets under each existing campaign.

Make sure of the data that you can get, and prioritise the event types that you want to track for the best look at what’s happening with your ads. 

Set Up Facebook’s Conversions API 

If you don’t have Facebook’s Conversions API up and running, it’s something that you’ll want to look into promptly. 

Right now, a large number of advertisers are most familiar with Facebook’s tracking pixel. As we explained earlier in the post, you install this pixel on your site, it’s fired when users visit it, and Facebook automatically collects the data to be used as needed whether it’s for conversion tracking, optimisation, or retargeting later. 

Facebook’s Conversions API works differently, but can help yield some of those same results. You’ll collect the data on your own site and through your CRM, which you then send back to Facebook through an integration. They can then use this data without having to have tracked the user data themselves. 

You can see different options for installing the API here

different options for installing the API here

Consider Implementing Alternative Retargeting Options 

Retargeting is a force to be reckoned with on Facebook Ads, especially site-based retargeting. Having that take a hit is a big potential threat.

That being said, you can still use other retargeting-focused custom audiences that do not rely on off-site data tracking. 

Facebook ad manager showing custom audience lists

You can, for example, upload a customer list from your CRM or email subscriber base. Target new leads with great offers in the hopes of turning them into customers, share alerts about new products your different audience segments would love, and even send them reminders for your referral program. 

Since Facebook will be able to track what’s happening on their own app, you can also create retargeting campaigns from on-platform activity. Using a video ad to reach cold audiences is a great way to launch a sales funnel, for example, and you could show them a lead ad next. 

There are some great options and strategies you could test to keep the retargeting campaigns alive and well.

Test Proactive Strategies 

In an ideal world, we would not have to shift our high-performing, high-converting strategies due to a change in the app tracking transparency, but that’s not quite the case right now.

As more users start opting-out of data tracking, consider testing the following campaign strategies to see if it’s able to help increase performance and results:

  • Exclude iOS devices from conversions-based campaigns. You’ll still get tracking data, optimisation options, and full retargeting abilities with non-iOS users, so you can just exclude them if it starts to muddy the waters.
  • Test non-conversion objectives. Maybe optimising for clicks—which you can track through your Google Analytics by using identifiable unique, shortened URLs for each ad or ad set— can be easier to optimise for, as Facebook will gather that data. 
  • Opt for lead forms instead of landing pages. Lead forms ads already have great conversion rates compared to standard off-app landing pages, but now there’s more incentive than ever to use them. Lead form completions are a retargetable and tracked action on the platform, giving Facebook more data to work with.

Final Thoughts 

While major changes that could potentially threaten the efficacy of our favorite ad platforms isn’t the best news in the social media world, this is the reality. If you’re running campaigns for your business or for your clients’, it’s important to act now.

If you are doing client work, it’s also crucial that you give them a heads up if you haven’t already about what’s to come. Many would understandably be very upset to see a report where a significant chunk of conversions had dropped off, but if you warn them ahead of time that this is to be expected in the coming months it can help soften the blow. 

Keep in mind that this is a brand new, game-changing update. New solutions, strategies, and workarounds may emerge in the following months, along with new data about how advertising is being impacted. Stay tuned so you can stay up to date on this groundbreaking time in social media marketing.

Jonathon Tanner

Jonathon Tanner

Co-CEO and Co-Founder

Co-CEO and Co-Founder of SMC, earned Social Media Educator of the Year from SMMI. With vast experience in social media strategy and content marketing, he's also a co-founder of other businesses. Specialising in growth strategy, Jon has a background in management consulting specialising in M&A.

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