iOS 14.5: What’s the update and what does it mean for paid social campaigns?

By Shannon Reeves
28th July 2021

As an agile agency, if a digital strategy is in need of revamping – we’re all over it. If a global pandemic means we have to bid farewell to our office ice cream freezer; pack up our bags and work from home – we’ll be cramming our freezer drawers with Twisters and transforming our spare bedrooms into makeshift offices faster than you can say “virtual pub quiz” or “national toilet paper shortage”.

And if a new software update gets released, resulting in a whole industry having to quickly relearn everything it knows about paid social advertising and data tracking… *rolls up our collective sleeves* – we’ve got that covered too!

Since its rollout back in April 2021, iOS 14.5 has presented a significant challenge to the biddable marketing industry. As part of an ever-growing focus on data privacy, Apple have provided its users with the opportunity to opt out of data tracking by third-party apps and websites.

Whilst this may be great news for social media users who value data privacy over the relevancy of the ads they get served, it’s not such great news for marketers looking to run efficient and effective campaigns on those platforms, as well as accurately measure their results.

Luckily, we’ve never been known to shy away from a challenge. You see a stumbling block; we see an opportunity to adapt and advance. Staying on top of the changing media landscape is essential in ensuring that paid campaigns suffer as little as possible from the effects of an increasingly privacy-conscious world.

So, we’ve detailed what the rollout of iOS 14.5 means for the future of paid social advertising, as well as how we’ve adapted to these changes as an agency, below.

What does iOS 14.5 mean for paid social campaigns?

Paid social campaigns are still able to serve on iOS 14.5 devices, whether users have opted in to allow data tracking or not. However, when users opt out of tracking, advertisers are denied access to their IDFA (Identifier for Advertisers).

This means that, whilst we are still able to advertise to and drive conversions from these devices, targeting, tracking and measurement will be impaired.

With a current global opt-in rate of just 13%, the effect on the overall landscape of paid social campaigns is already palpable. Three of the most important resulting updates to be aware of can be found below.

1. Domains & Aggregated Event Management (AEM)

Advertisers must now ensure that their website domains are verified in order to run campaigns on Facebook. This is simply to let Facebook know that you have control over the website.

Add a domain

Once your domain has been verified, one of the most important next steps is setting up Aggregated Event Management (AEM).

AEM is Facebook’s solution to measuring campaign performance in a way that is “consistent with consumers’ decisions about their data” – essentially, enabling marketers to continue running successful campaigns by minimising the amount of data that will be lost, whilst respecting the privacy of users who have opted out of tracking.

AEM processes Facebook pixel conversion events (which track the actions users take on your website) and builds statistical models to fill in the gaps of user behaviour left by this loss of data.

With AEM, marketers are now only able to track eight conversion events per domain and can only optimise towards one of these events per ad set. This limit includes both standard pixel events and custom conversions and will not allow for custom events or page views.

Event data will be restricted to a maximum of nine campaigns and five ad sets per campaign. Once selected, you must rank your chosen eight events in order of importance to your strategy.

Facebook is only able to track one event for users who have opted out of data tracking due to the conversion then being connected to the ad as opposed to the user. The event awarded the highest priority will be the event that is recorded, and this will only be counted if completed on a first-click basis.

You are able to swap your chosen eight events around after initial setup. However, any modification of event configuration will automatically pause any ads using that configuration for 72 hours in order to prevent the risk of incorrect attribution.

Any campaigns currently optimised towards events outside of the chosen eight will be turned off. Events outside of your chosen eight can continue to be used for the creation of custom audiences as well as for partial reporting purposes.

2. Attribution & reporting

Statistical models such as AEM, plus the subsequent lack of event breakdowns and limited tracking have impacted marketers’ ability to map the full user journey, with both attribution and reporting becoming less accurate as a result.

Several attribution windows are no longer supported on Facebook, including 28-day click-through (the previous default setting), 28-day view-through and 7-day view-through. The new default attribution window is a 7-day click-through, with other available options being 1-day click-through; 1-day click and 1-day view or 7-day click and 1-day view.

The attribution comparison tool has also been removed, making it impossible to compare the impact of the reduction in attribution windows. However, it is worth noting that inactive campaigns still report using the legacy account-level attribution window, and historical data for the attribution windows that are no longer supported will continue to remain accessible via Ads Insight API.

This smaller attribution window provides less data to be optimised and can lead to the under-reporting of conversions. Another important point to note is that where conversions were originally recorded backwards to the day of the impression, they are now recorded on the day of the conversion, meaning that delayed attribution no longer exists.

There is also no real-time reporting for opted-out users, with data being delayed by up to three days (this is because of Apple’s Private Click Measurement protocol which can restrict and delay data access). All of this combined with a lack of delivery and action breakdowns for opted out iOS 14.5 devices (such as age, gender, region or ad placement) has made reporting on and optimising campaigns more of a challenge than ever before.

3. Targeting & personalisation

The above changes to tracking, attribution and reporting have also had a notable effect on the effectiveness of targeting. The limited nature of the data we can track means less opportunity for granular targeting, which can result in wasted spend as well as less personalised ads.

This means that opted-out users will still be delivered the same volume of ads, but they will be much less relevant to them as individuals.

Another key impact of the reduced volume of data signals is decreased audience sizes and smaller retargeting pools. Users who have opted out of data tracking won’t be included in retargeting and custom audiences, meaning that you will lose a large volume of your highest intent audience, resulting in less efficient campaigns and lower conversion rates.

As a result, CPMs may be lower due to broader audiences, but CPCs may be higher due to the audiences being less relevant. As more users update their operating system, audience sizes are expected to continue shrinking over time.

How are we responding to the iOS 14.5 update?

As well as getting domains verified, updating strategies to optimally prioritise eight conversion events and adjusting attribution windows as discussed above, there are a few other steps we have been taking to help our clients navigate the new terrain of paid social advertising.

Here are our top five most important tips:

1. Enable conversions API & automatic advanced matching

Conversions API should be enabled to ensure that events are passed back to Facebook directly from the server instead of just from the pixel. As the pixel relies on browser data, this setting provides Facebook with an additional channel for processing data in a privacy-compliant manner; helping campaigns to run as efficiently as possible.

Automatic Advanced Matching (AAM) should also be enabled. By using information that users have provided to your business, AAM matches your website visitors to users on Facebook. This can help you to attribute more conversions to your Facebook campaigns as well as to build out your retargeting pools.

2. Consider your campaign objective

The effect of iOS 14.5 means we must now think about our campaign objectives more strategically than ever before. Whilst the conversions objective has historically (and self-explanatorily) been the most obvious objective to use for a conversion campaign, the recent inability to track a large proportion of conversions has made it a less favourable option.

Lead generation, traffic and reach objectives are useful alternatives, allowing you to drive results that can more easily be tracked and optimised. The use of UTMs will still allow you to determine if Facebook activity has driven conversions without having to track this in the platform itself.

If you do still wish to run a campaign with the conversions objective, it may be worth excluding iOS devices completely in order to mitigate spend wastage and get a more accurate idea of results.

Whilst moving away from the conversions objective won’t resolve the issue of dwindling retargeting pools, it is likely to help the performance of prospecting campaigns.

3. Segment campaigns by device type

As touched on in the previous point, another key optimisation to mitigate iOS 14.5 related tracking issues and data loss is segmenting campaigns by device type and operating system.

Before making this change, it is worth pulling historical data to determine what percentage of traffic and conversions have historically been driven by Apple devices. This will give you a clearer idea as to the impact the changes are having on your campaign performance.

Once separated out, campaigns solely targeting Android and earlier iOS operating systems can then operate in a normal way.

4. Optimise your audiences

Changes must also be made to the way audiences are built and optimised. Custom, lookalike and core (interest-based) targeting should all be playing a more substantial role in your strategy, with the idea being to move away from relying too heavily on website retargeting audiences.

As the focus shifts to CRM data as the most reliable method of creating targeted audience segments, you should ensure that your data lists are up-to-date and are well segmented for the purpose. These custom audiences can then be used to create relevant lookalike audiences for added reach.

With retargeting audience sizes falling, consolidating all retargeting audiences under one ad set (whilst not ideal from a reporting perspective) is a useful workaround that can at least keep them running if they get too small.

5. Revise your reporting

Finally, just as the way we build and manage our campaigns has changed, the way we report on them has too. As data visibility has reduced on Facebook, it’s more important than ever to be incorporating a third-party analytics service into your strategy, such as Google Analytics.

As previously mentioned, by incorporating UTMs into your Facebook ads, you can then gain a more complete picture of campaign performance through Google Analytics.

UTM tracking combined with Google Analytics goals (aligned with your desired conversion points) will allow you to gain valuable campaign and user insights that may not be recorded in Facebook itself. This will allow you to continue reporting on and optimising your strategy successfully.

Another important point to remember is that industry benchmarks have been reset as a result of this rollout, meaning that accurately comparing current results to previous reporting periods is no longer possible. New campaign benchmarks will need to be set as more data is gathered.

Navigating the challenge

The challenge marketers are facing with the rollout of iOS 14.5 is not new to the industry and nor will it be the last of its kind. As John Wannamaker lamented over 100 years ago: “half the money I spend on advertising is wasted; the trouble is, I don’t know which half.”

Ever since the beginning, marketers have had to rely on proxies of information to determine the success of their campaigns. With Apple only increasing their focus on privacy and Google set to remove all third-party cookies by 2023, this isn’t going to change.

As such, businesses should be focusing on building out their first-party data sources and decreasing their reliance on third-party platforms.

In the end, the security of advertising on online platforms comes from the nature of its users. After all, despite all of the challenges mentioned above, people with iPhones are still using Facebook and are still continuing to shop online.

No privacy revolution, no software update and no loss of data can ever change fundamental human behaviour.

If you’re struggling with your data and tracking since the rollout, drop us a line and we’d be happy to help with some free advice.

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