The battle of the titans is upon us: Apple vs. Facebook - gloves off. Learn how iOS 14 might affect Facebook ad targeting and how you can prepare.
One day someone will make a movie about this clash of giants between Facebook and Apple. But for now, many Facebook advertisers worry about the upcoming privacy changes that Apple introduced on its iOS 14 updates. These changes will apply to all apps tracking user behavior starting from spring 2021.
Facebook advertisers now fear that they’ll lose access to valuable data, which will significantly hurt their ability to show targeted ads to potential customers. Is this the end of Facebook advertising? Not even close.
Although these changes will significantly affect Facebook, especially in the short term, the platform will adapt (and is already adapting). Facebook advertisers should learn to adapt to, and in this article, I’ll tell you how you can do it.
Apple vs. Facebook
Starting from spring 2021, every app on Apple’s App Store that wishes to track user activity on other websites and apps should ask users to actively opt-in for tracking. Every company that wishes to have its app available for iOS users must comply with this new policy - the App Tracking Transparency framework.
Although strongly objecting to these new changes, Facebook has announced that it will follow suit. Facebook is the first really big company to fall in line with Apple’s new policy, and this precedence may definitely encourage more app developers to do so.
However, this doesn’t mean that the war between the tech gods is over. Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg has publicly attacked Apple, claiming that its new policy will mainly harm small businesses. Facebook has also been preparing an antitrust lawsuit against Apple. In return, Apple CEO Tim Cook openly attacked Facebook, without mentioning its name, in a speech he delivered at a data protection conference.
Apple and the online advertising platforms have unwillingly coexisted next to each other for a while, but we might now enter a new era, in which these relationships will become even more complex. No one knows all the implications of these changes yet. However, in this article, I’ll do my best to give you the information that is currently available on this topic.
What will change exactly on iOS 14
Mainly, what changes for the user are the defaults. So far, when a user installed the Facebook or Instagram app on their phone, the default selection was allowing these apps to track the user's activity. However, starting from this spring, when users will install these apps on their iPhones, they will be asked whether they want to opt-in for tracking or not.
An example of an App Tracking Transparency prompt. Source: Adjust
Why are these changes so crucial?
Let’s say you have an activewear eCommerce store and you advertise on Facebook. We’ll start by describing what is currently happening, or what will happen if a user chooses to opt-in for tracking after the iOS 14 changes apply.
In this case, I, as a Facebook user, see your ad on Facebook and click on it. This leads me to your website, where I add a product to my cart, but exit without completing the purchase. Then, the Facebook pixel installed on your website reports this back to Facebook. Facebook’s algorithm adds me to a custom audience you had created, and the next time I open my Instagram app, for example, I will see an ad that encourages me to return to your website and complete the purchase.However, if I decided to out-out for tracking, things will look slightly different. After I see the ad, go to your website, add the item to my cart, and leave without purchasing, your Facebook pixel will still fire.
However, since I didn’t agree to be tracked, Facebook can not accept this data from your pixel. This will not allow you to show me dynamic product ads or add me to any custom audience for retargeting purposes.
What iOS 14 changes may mean for Facebook
The positive scenario
Of course, the App Tracking Transparency prompt, which users will receive when installing the app, includes an explanation that the data collected about them will be used to deliver personalized ads to them. Moreover, Facebook is deemed relatively trustworthy among many people in the world.
Therefore, many iOS users - maybe even the majority of them - may opt-in for tracking by Facebook and Instagram. There are some seniors in the industry and a few Facebook ad experts who believe that. This would mean that Facebook will be able to keep accumulating user data and its ad targeting capabilities will not be compromised.
Furthermore, since not every platform enjoys the same popularity and consumer trust that Facebook does, this change may actually help Facebook. IF iOS 14 users will opt-out for tracking by other apps, Facebook might gain an even bigger advantage in terms of data collection over its competitors.
The challenging scenario
On the other hand, one can never underestimate the power of defaults. Especially not when it goes hand in hand with the negative connotation of the verb “tracking”. For this reason, many people in the industry worry that the majority of iOS users will opt-out of activity tracking.
Since Apple users constitute a large portion of the American market, which is the main market for many advertisers, this may create a giant hole in Facebook’s database. Hence, Facebook pixel data will no longer provide advertisers with the whole picture regarding their ads’ performance. Therefore, audience targeting on Facebook will not be as efficient as before.
What iOS 14 will change for Facebook advertisers
Facebook is preparing its system and developing its solutions rapidly. The main method that Facebook offers its advertisers for dealing with iOS 14 changes is Aggregated Event Measurement.
Aggregated Event Measurement is a protocol that should allow measuring events from iOS14 users. It is not yet entirely clear how it works, and information is still being gathered, but expert Facebook marketers assume that Facebook will randomize user information and use an algorithmic model that will give advertisers a smart estimate of their campaign performance.
Moreover, Facebook advertisers are about to experience changes in different areas of Facebook’s platform.
Facebook advertisers will be limited to 8 pixel-optimization events per domain - including both standard and custom events. These events will be determined by Facebook’s algorithm based on your activity. All your other events will be made inactive for optimization and reporting. However, you can also manage your events and select them on your own in Events Manager.
As a result, ad sets that were optimized for a conversion event other than your selected 8 will be turned off. You’ll be able to see that in the Ads Manager’s Delivery column, which would state “Unsupported Event”. You will not be able to turn these ad sets on again.
If you wish to continue running them, you will need to duplicate them and change their conversion event to one of your prioritized 8 before you publish them. There's no need to duplicate drafts - just change the event and publish.
Alternatively, you can alter your 8 conversion events. Note that it will take up to 72 hours to update your events, and some of your ad sets or campaigns may pause due to this update. Assets that were paused during event updates should be turned on manually.
Facebook’s algorithm will prioritize your 8 selected pixel events. This ranking will probably be based on your ad spend in the past 28 days. Then, if the same user will complete multiple events on your website, such as “Add to Cart” and “Purchase”, only the higher-prioritized event will be reported.
Delivery and action breakdown by age, gender, region, or placement will no longer be available in Facebook Ads Manager and Ads Reporting for both app and web conversions.
Statistical modeling (Aggregated Event Measurement) may be used to account for conversions from iOS 14 users due to the unavailability of this data.
In addition, real-time reporting will no longer be available, and data may be delayed up to 3 days. Reporting will be based on the time the conversion occurs, and not the ad impression. Apple has already implemented a similar privacy-preserving attribution model in its Safari browser, which gives just a 24-48 hour estimation of when the conversion took place.
As a result, you may experience changes to cost metrics. The reason is that they will be calculated by the conversions that took place within the given period, instead of the conversions driven by ad impressions that occurred within the same period.
The default ad attribution window will shift from 28-day click-through to 7-day click-through. This will become the default for all conversion and catalog-sales campaigns. The 28-day click-through, 28-day view-through, and 7-day view-through attribution windows will no longer be available.
Advertisers will now need to determine the attribution window on the ad-set level instead of the account level. You will be able to alter your attribution window during campaign creation. The available attribution windows will be:
- 1-day click
- 7-day click (default)
- 1-day click and 1-day view
- 7-day click and 1-day view
A major effect of these changes is the 'disappearance' of performance data from Facebook Ads Manager. Many advertisers have informed us that they can't see their overall performance for many key metrics anymore.
This issue arises since Facebook does not show your total performance if you have different attribution settings. This means you'll have to unify the settings of all your ad sets in order to get the overall performance in Ads Manager again.
However, Madgicx users can still view their performance on our platform just like they used to. This is thanks to the fact that we extract the data directly from Facebook's API. On our Ads Manager 2.0, you can clearly see how all your assets perform and manage them all in one place(!). This tool also lets you take bulk actions, such as changing the budgets of multiple assets at once. This way, you can identify under- or overperforming assets and take immediate actions to optimize them.
As more people opt-out of tracking on iOS 14 devices, the size of your app connections, app activity custom audiences, and website custom audiences may decrease. As a result, your retargeting audiences may decrease in size, which might make it harder to utilize dynamic ads and create efficient lookalike audiences.
How to prepare your ad account for iOS 14
The first thing Facebook recommends is to verify your domain in Business Manager. Note that you must verify your domain at the effective top-level domain plus one (eTLD+1 ). For example, for www.books.jasper.com, books.jasper.com, and jasper.com the eTLD+1 domain is jasper.com.
Second, you should select your 8 pixel-conversion events in Events Manager. If you’re currently using more than 8 events, plan how you adjust your tracking strategy. Then, you can go to Events Manager, select the “Aggregated Event Measurement” tab, and click “Configure Web Events”.
Third, prepare for the attribution window changes. Utilize Facebook’s Compare Windows feature in Ads Manager to understand how your conversion attribution changes between the old attribution window and the new default window. You can do this by selecting the Campaigns, Ad Sets, or Ads tab, and then clicking “Customize Columns”. There, at the bottom-right corner, you’ll find “Comparing Windows”.
Fourth, update any automated ad rules that currently use a 28-day attribution window to avoid unexpected changes in spend once your attribution window automatically changes to 7 days. Facebook even informs you of the tasks you should carry out to prepare for the upcoming changes. You can find these instructions inside the Ads Manager under the “Resource Center” tab.
Prepare for a cookie-less world
Switching your Facebook pixel cookies to first-party will be a wise move for a start. It is the current default option, and your pixel is probably using this method, but it’s better to make sure. You can do so in Events Manager, under the “Settings” tab, when you scroll down to “Cookie Settings”.
This is especially important since we’re gradually progressing towards a cookie-less world, where third-party cookies will be unsupported by browsers, including Google Chrome (starting from 2022). The difference between first- and third-party cookies is the ownership of the cookie. First-party cookies are owned by your own website, while third-party cookies are owned by other parties, such as Facebook in this case.
Switch to server-to-server reporting
However, the most important solution you should implement is Facebook’s Conversions API (CAPI). This tool allows you to report website events to Facebook using server-to-server data transfer. It basically means that your server reports directly to Facebook’s server using a secured connection, without using any browser cookies.
Sharing data with Facebook via CAPI is more secure and discreet, and is also less susceptible to browser malfunction. You should integrate the API from within your server, which means you need a developer to implement the code. In addition, some 3rd-party Facebook partners provide integration tools you can use if you don’t have an in-house developer.
If most Facebook advertisers will integrate CAPI and report through it to Facebook about their web conversions, this can definitely help compensate for the loss of data due to the iOS 14 privacy changes. Nonetheless, keep in mind that it requires the vast majority of Facebook advertisers and website owners to do so. Otherwise, Facebook will still be missing much data compared to what it currently collects regularly from pixels installed on dozens of websites.
Creative is more crucial than ever
If ad targeting will become less efficient, great creatives can give you a huge competitive edge. When everyone is targeting less-specific audiences, the advertiser with the most compelling creatives will win.
Invest in an in-house design team, or outsource it to a reliable creative agency. This now becomes a must for every Facebook marketer out there. You need to be able to produce high-quality images and videos for your ads, and you’re going to be testing even more than before, as data will become less accurate and less available.
You should definitely consider an unlimited design service such as Sparkle if you wish to get high-quality creatives for a reasonable price. This service will be cheaper than hiring an in-house designer and grant you unlimited designs and revisions for a flat monthly fee.
The bottom line is: Don’t panic!
Yes, things are going to change in Facebook advertising in the coming months. However, Facebook has already developed solutions and is constantly improving them. This online advertising giant will not let its platform sink, so don’t you worry about it.
You just need to implement Facebook’s solutions, especially Conversions API. This would probably become the most useful tool for accurate data collection. At the same time, you should adapt to the changes in Ads Manager. Facebook provides you with documentation that will help you do it.
In addition, now more than ever, you need to focus on your creative strategy. Invest in great graphic designs and utilize them to create converting image and video ads. This will give you an even more significant competitive advantage than before.
Madgicx also offers a great solution that helps recover the data you now can't see on Facebook Ads Manager. We've released Ads Manager 2.0, which lets advertisers analyze and manage all their Facebook assets in one place.
That’s it for now. I’ll update this article as more information on this topic becomes available. I wish you all the best and good luck with your ads.
Yuval is the head of Content Marketing at Madgicx. He is in charge of the Madgicx blog, the company's SEO strategy, and all its written marketing materials.