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How Apple’s iOS 14 release may affect your Facebook advertising performance

If you’re running ads on Facebook you’ll probably be familiar with the Facebook pixel, a piece of code that sits behind your website or mobile app and enables Facebook to track user events (conversions) such as contact form submissions, email newsletter signups, ecommerce sales revenue and mobile app installs. You are then able to review these events in your Facebook ads dashboard to see which of your campaigns and adverts are generating the best return for your ad spend.

For a Facebook pixel to work, operating systems and browsers need to allow the pixel code to track people’s actions as they browse websites and mobile apps. The default setting for most operating systems and browsers has been to allow this to happen, and Facebook advertisers have been able to see which of their campaigns lead to successful conversions from people who clicked or viewed their ads up to 28 days ago.

But wait… Apple’s new iOS 14 is about to kibosh Facebook’s ad tracking

Apple have recently announced upcoming changes to their operating system iOS version 14.5 which will allow people downloading apps from their App Store to opt out of being tracked by the app owner and any third party tracking tools like the Facebook pixel. Apple is requiring that all apps in the App Store show a prompt to it’s users on iOS devices asking the user for permission for the app to track them outside the platform.

Facebook advertising apple IOS14 tracking

For example, let’s say you’re a clothing brand with an iOS app and are running ads on Facebook to encourage customers to download the app. Traditionally they’d then be able to see how many app installs came from people clicking their ads, but Apple’s new AppTrackingTransparency framework is going to make that difficult as more people naturally opt out of being tracked. This is likely to result in fewer app installs being attributed to Facebook ads, and therefore causes Facebook a headache as advertisers start to question the effectiveness of their ad campaigns.

The same limitations will also apply on Safari, Apple’s website browser which is usually set as the default browser on the iPhone and iPad.

How have Facebook responded and how will it affect advertisers?

In response, Facebook have made some changes to the way they will now process pixel conversion events from iOS 14 devices using something they call Aggregated Event Measurement. This is designed to allow advertisers to comply with Apple’s new user privacy measures but also help advertisers run effective campaigns and still be able to track user events (conversions) from iOS 14 devices.

But if you’re a Facebook advertiser wanting to optimise your campaigns for conversions then there are also additional actions you’ll need to take to prepare for when Apple releases iOS 14.5.

  • If you’re running adverts on Facebook promoting mobile app installs then you’ll now need to update Facebook’s SDK for iOS to version 8.1 or above, which can be configured from with the Facebook Event Manager.
  • If you’re running adverts on Facebook to attract people to your website and want to track enquiries, downloads, sales orders etc then you’ll need to verify your website’s domain with Facebook, and then configure up to 8 preferred web conversion events that can be used to optimise your campaigns

A full set of instructions can be found in Facebook’s article How Apple’s iOS 14 release may affect your ads

Beware new reporting limitations in your Facebook ads dashboard too

Apple’s new iOS privacy policy now means Facebook advertisers will be limited in their ability to measure the performance of app install campaigns and some web conversion events, and have warned of:

Delayed reporting up to 3 days

For app installs will be reported at the time the SKAdNetwork API reports the conversion back to Facebook and not at the time they occur, and web conversion will be reported at the time the conversion occurs not when the ad was viewed or clicked.

Estimated results

Facebook have said they’ll now use “Statistical Modelling” to report results based on an aggregated model, at campaign, ad set and ad levels.

Lack of breakdown reporting

Delivery and action breakdowns such as age, gender, region and placement will not be available for conversions generated on devices with iOS 14.

New attribution window settings

Unlike Facebook’s traditional 28 day tracking attribution window the new default for all new and active campaigns will be a 7 day click attribution window, meaning anyone who clicks your ads need to ‘convert’ within 7 days for the conversion to be attributed to your Facebook ads (note advertisers can change the attribution window for each ad set to either 1 day click, 1 day click and 1 day view, 7 day click or 7 day and 1 day view).

What can you expect from these changes?

As a result of Apple’s new iOS ‘opt out’ feature, it’s inevitable that more and more people are going to do just that. The knock-on effect is likely to cause significant difficulties for Facebook as their advertisers struggle to get to grips with the new configurations and reporting measures.

As more people people opt out of being tracked by the pixel and other third party tracking software, the implications could mean:

  • The Facebook pixel as we know it becomes less effective in tracking user behaviour meaning fewer options to target specific audiences with super personalised ads

  • Custom and retargeting audiences may be reduced meaning less people for advertisers to target and fewer overall conversions from their ads

  • Less efficient and less effective advertising leading to wasted ad spend

  • A drop on revenue for app owners who are promoting their apps from Facebook all install ads

  • A drop in revenue from ecommerce store owners who reply on Facebook ads to drive sales

So what next?

Our team here at A Digital and the wider digital advertising community have pondered over these changes since they were announced, with many of us coming to a similar conclusion that in the short term Facebook advertisers are likely going to have to rely less on the pixel and explore other way to get more out of their ad campaigns, perhaps using ‘Link Clicks’ as the campaign goal rather than conversions.

Of course there are also other advertising channels like Google, Bing and Linkedin that you might want to start exploring, all of which A Digital are fully equipped to support you with our range of PPC advertising management services.

But let's not forget Facebook are a huge player in the tech world. Facebook advertising isn't going away and we're confident they'll muddle through and that there will be further announcements over the coming months, potentially with several workarounds for advertisers.

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Dean is our voice on digital marketing strategy, PPC, SEO, email, social media and website analytics.

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