So Long, Third-Party Advertising?

Yep, the rumors are true. 

Paid advertising is about to change in a big way—in fact, it’s already changed.

With Apple’s latest iOS update, iPhone users will be able to opt-out of tracking on apps. (Heck, they’re invited to opt out.) Assuming that most folks will choose to keep their data private, these people will essentially become ghosts when it comes to paid campaigns on platforms like Facebook and Instagram. 

Okay, just breathe. Woosah. Count to 10.

You’re gonna be just fine. Your campaigns are gonna be just fine.

We reached out to digital advertising experts for a clearcut rundown of the what, why, and how behind the update—paired, we’d hoped anyway, with foolproof solutions to help you get ahead of it. Instead, we found an amazingly broad range of insights that goes even further than this one solitary update. 

We’re talking about far-reaching privacy trends that may have you rethinking traditional PPC models. 

But first, let’s kick-off with the basics:

How the iOS Update Will Affect Facebook (+ Most Other Apps)

Internet privacy has become a major topic of discussion over the last few years, especially when it comes to players like Facebook and Google. Remember the Cambridge Analytica fiasco? (Who can forget?) Yeah, using personal data to spread misinformation for political campaigns is an unpopular (or, ahem, evil and illegal) move.

And the thing is, we’ve only just begun to see the repercussions. 

In theory, the latest update to iOS is a move from Apple to put users in control of how their data is used and sold. (I say “in theory” because there are lots of questions about Apple’s own data-collecting habits—but that’s a discussion for another day.) 

Talking about Apple, y’know iCloud backups of your iMessage history ain’t encrypted, right?

The mechanics of it are simple: going forward, iOS 14 will require all apps listed on the App Store to show an ​App Tracking Transparency​ (​ATT)​ prompt, requesting that users opt in or out from allowing an app to collect and share their data or track their usage. For those approving the prompt, it’s pretty much business as usual. Where it gets a bit sticky for advertisers is the people who opt out.

Thanks for the update, Tim!

To be clear, we’re specifically talking about apps that will need to send out the prompt, so this includes Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, LinkedIn, Candy Crush, and more. Also, privacy preferences are specific to each *app*—so separate from social networking habits on desktop browsers.

Why all the fuss about Facebook then? With an advanced algorithm that offers unparalleled insights on its users, Facebook is at the front of the conversation right now because it’s the biggest player that will be most impacted by the update.   

Although iOS 14 has already been up and running for a couple of months, and different privacy functionalities have been rolled out so far, the full ATT feature only joined the party in late April 2021, packaged in the iOS 14.5 update. 

To get to grips with the update, you’ll likely want to read Apple’s privacy specifications. You can also learn more from the Facebook Business Help Center for platform-specific advice.

To get to the bottom of the big-ticket items that’ll affect advertisers when it comes to PPC campaigns specific to Facebook, we enlisted the help of digital advertising wiz Jonathan Naccache, co-founder and president of marketing agency Webistry.

Key issue #1: Targeting

Jonathan clarifies that Facebook will still serve iOS users ads—whether they opt out of tracking or not—this is not a trick to an ad-free browsing experience. But for those opting out, ads might not be as relevant to their interests.

For example, if you’re looking to target Canadians with a keen interest in fashion, you can still do that. But you’ll have a hard time reaching your ideal target in the opted-out iOS segment. So instead of a hip, 20-something fashionista, your carefully tailored ad might end up in front of a middle-aged construction worker with a deep passion for 12-pin bowling.  

Remember, though, you can still target niche audiences from desktop, web, and other operating systems. Jonathan is also keen to point out that not every iOS user will opt-out—but the numbers and ramifications will only be seen a couple of months down the line. 

Jonathan Naccache, President and Co-Founder, Webistry

It’s a big hit, a lot of people are scared. However, the impact will not be immediate. If you’re well-prepared and understand the changes to come, you’ll be ahead of the game.

— Jonathan Naccache, President and Co-Founder, Webistry

Key issue #2: Retargeting

Ah, the mighty Facebook Pixel. Well, when it comes to retargeting iOS users, it’s not so mighty anymore.

Jonathan Naccache, President and Co-Founder, Webistry

Previously, if someone clicked on an ad, the Facebook Pixel was able to identify that user and the actions they took. And through that event, you were able to remarket to them or create an audience of people with similar behaviors or interests. Now, if among that audience there are iOS users that have opted out, they will not be included anymore.

Jonathan is encouraging his clients to set up Conversions API (Facebook’s official workaround for the update) on their websites. This is essentially server-to-server tracking that will allow you to collect first-party data on your website and then share that with Facebook. 

Jonathan Naccache, President and Co-Founder, Webistry

The industry is moving towards a more privacy-friendly internet, in theory at least. That means that businesses can no longer rely on third-party applications to track data. You will need to start taking matters into your own hands, including the legal responsibility that comes with it.

Jonathan emphasizes that the trick here is that most advertisers need to set this up and share the information with Facebook for it to work properly. “This is what will save or heavily impact Facebook,” he explains. But right now, Conversions API is merely a bandaid.

Through server to server tracking, you can only receive one event per user experience, based on the eight events you set, and on an order of priority you choose. “For example, if a user lands on a page, adds to cart, checks out, adds payment info, and purchases—the only event that Conversions API will track is the ‘purchase’ event.”

Key issue #3: Reporting and Attribution

Here’s where the biggest impact will be felt for most advertisers—the oh-so-powerful reports.

Jonathan Naccache, President and Co-Founder, Webistry

The impact on reporting can be broken down into two changes: Facebook enforcing a change in its attribution model by removing the 28-day click window and defaulting to a 7-day click window, and then there’s the issue of iOS users opting out that will have a separate impact on reporting. 

While previously you could claim a conversion from someone clicking on your ad and converting within 28 days, your timeframe has now been cut short. Yes, the conversions will still happen either way. You just won’t be able to report on them or connect them to a specific ad or campaign.

If you haven’t noticed it yet, this change has been in place since the beginning of the year. According to Jonathan, this mostly impacts advertisers with a longer buying cycle. For example, a campaign promoting an ebook download will probably not be affected as much as a home renovations campaign. What does this mean in the big picture? Underreporting—regardless of operating system.

That’s where it gets tricky when we’re talking about iOS customers. You’re already underreporting on your overall efforts, and now the opted-out iOS users roll into town—well maybe, we actually don’t know since we can’t track ‘em! Jonathan explains the math: “If 50% of your users are iOS users, and 50% of all iOS users opt-out, that means you won’t be tracking 25% of your users.”


Solutions—The Pros Share Their Advice

With experts having very different ideas about the best way to proceed—some are not even willing to make public recommendations at this point—marketers are finding themselves at a crossroads. Here’s a sample from #MarketingTwitter:

  • “I believe there’s still too much unknown and that the core fundamentals around the craft of marketing/advertising will not change.” — @jaketheadnerd
  • “It’s going to really separate the advertisers from the marketers. The latter can do a better job of finding signals in the noise, look at the bigger picture and understand marketing’s impact on a business.” — @duanebrown
  • “iOS14—Some say it’s the end of the world, others say we don’t know what to really expect … they are both wrong.” — @CTtheDisrupter
  • “We will have to rely on more intelligent ways of computing performance and stop relying on the easily manipulated ‘ROAS’ in favor of much better KPIs for growth.” — @wmharris101

There’s a lot of uncertainty, and with good reason. Right now, there’s just no big, red button that automatically fixes everything—sigh. 

There are many rumors and ideas about how the privacy update might affect PPC. But until it’s in action later this year, you just don’t know what it’ll really mean for your campaigns.

So what can you do to get ahead? First and foremost, you can head over to the official recommendations from the Facebook Business Help Center. Then, you can experiment with these easy-to-action hacks suggested by a couple of enterprising marketers:

(We’re calling ’em hacks because they’re not officially supported, nor have they been tested. You may not be able to rely on them in the long term, but they’ll definitely get you thinking.)

Hack #1: Cookies for who?

Akvile DeFazio, President, AKvertise

… To possibly recoup [opted out] visitors in retargeting campaigns, the workaround I recommend is to create a custom audience targeting users that engaged with your post/ad on Facebook/Instagram over the last X number of days. By Facebook’s definition, clicks are a form of engagement, so that should cover people that clicked on an ad with a landing page URL where the Pixel would have otherwise tagged them.

— Akvile DeFazio, President, AKvertise

Engaging with and building your audience in-app is a great best practice. You’re creating a community of people that are passionate—or in the very least interested—about your offering, giving you organic access to their timelines. 

But it seems like investing in your homegrown audience might just pay off for PPC, too, as it enables you to bypass third-party data tracking limitations.

See the original Tweet here.

Akvile explains the thinking behind the theory:

Akvile DeFazio, President, AKvertise

We used this as a workaround when the California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA) was set in motion last year, and we noticed California Pixel-based retargeting campaigns plummet in impressions, spend, and conversions. Once we launched this custom audience, we were able to bring our California-based website visitor performance back up. Perhaps this could work with these changes, too.

Although this workaround hasn’t yet been proven as the one-stop-solution marketers are dreaming about, it’s definitely a strong incentive to engage with your Facebook communities in a more targeted way.

Hack #2: Deep-dive into historical data

Jonathan Naccache, President and Co-Founder, Webistry

Not everyone is impacted equally with Facebook’s updated attribution model. The trick is to look back at your reporting historically and compare attribution windows. Go back into 2019 and 2020, look at your monthly or quarterly KPIs and try to see if there’s any pattern in terms of percentage variance between 7-day and 28-day attribution.

— Jonathan Naccache, President and Co-Founder, Webistry

With the loss of 28-day attribution, you’re going to be missing conversions across all operating systems and devices. This means your reports are going to look worse than you’re used to. It’s. Not. Really. Worse. 

To put these numbers into perspective, go back in your data from previous years and compare apples to apples. So that means comparing 7-day clicks to 7-day clicks.

Then, look for patterns in your data to make an educated guess about the conversions you might be missing up until the 28-day mark. Jonathan explains, “Understand your data, and understand when your conversions take place so that you can understand your current performance.”

Jonathan Naccache, President and Co-Founder, Webistry

The next step would be to look at historical performance at how many conversions, purchases, or leads typically came from iOS vs. other operating systems. In some cases, it’s 20%, in others it’s 80%. This way, you’ll be able to project how many problems you’ll have.

Wouldn’t it be fantastic if less than 1% of your conversions came from iOS devices? Although highly unlikely, talk about sleeping soundly at night instead of being hounded by iOS nightmares! But you only know you don’t have a monster under your bed if you look for it, so start pulling up those spreadsheets.

Hack #3: First-come, first-party

Dee Deng, Co-Founder and CEO, Right Hook Digital

The most pointed, tactical (albeit partial) solution for marketers and advertisers right now centers around ownership and management of 1st-party data to prepare for this new world order … More importantly, the time has come for marketers and advertisers to jump head-first into keenly understanding the technical side of internet marketing

— Dee Deng, Co-Founder and CEO, Right Hook Digital

Setting up server-to-server Conversions API is a great way to generate first-party data to plug into platforms like Facebook for more efficient targeting and retargeting campaigns. But buyer beware: it can be quuuuuite a technical process. Unless you’re clued up with your integrations—or have a developer on-hand—you might want to outsource this step or use plugins from tools like Shopify that have native integrations.

See the original Tweet here.

But also, first-party data doesn’t need to be technical to be helpful. With customer lists and email sign-ups, you can build a quick-win campaign while getting tools like Conversions API up and running.

Azeem Ahmad, Digital Marketer and Owner, Azeem Digital

Whilst I very much doubt we might get information about exactly how many people have opted out, or percentages, it might be worth experimenting with fewer ad sets if you’re getting really granular with advertising—and if first-party data isn’t affected, make friends with your CRM team REAL quick if you have a reliance on remarketing.

 — Azeem Ahmad, Digital Marketer and Owner, Azeem Digital

When’s the last time you engaged with your home-grown leads? This could be the opportunity you’ve been waiting for to divert some PPC budget and experiment with email marketing or organic retargeting.

Hack #4: Fill the gap with landing pages

Jonathan Naccache, President and Co-Founder, Webistry

If I can no longer track on Facebook, then maybe I can create micro experiences. For example, I’ll build a campaign targeting iOS users only, knowing that my KPIs and reporting will be inaccurate. I’ll take all of that traffic into dedicated landing pages. That’ll allow me to isolate my traffic and get a bit more visibility.

— Jonathan Naccache, President and Co-Founder, Webistry

We’ll be the first to say it—this can become a lot of work very quickly. But that’s not the point. Since you won’t be seeing data from opted-out iOS users in your Facebook reports, using dedicated landing pages for campaigns targeting iOS users is a great way to do a pulse check as a real-time comparison.

A snapshot of analytics in the Unbounce builder. Imagine these were from a landing page built for a Facebook campaign only targeting iOS users.

Creating platform-specific landing pages is much easier and much more effective than you might think. Here’s how you can create irresistible landing pages specifically for Facebook campaigns.

The iOS 14 update does not affect Unbounce—we operate on first-party data. This includes tools like Smart Traffic that sends visitors to the landing page where they’re most likely to convert based on attributes like browser, device, location, and timezone—all safe. Here’s how we handle data and privacy to keep your landing pages secure.

Hack #5: Just roll with it

Tim Jensen, Campaign Manager, Clix Marketing

The marketers that stand out are the ones who are able to grasp the bigger picture of how a strategy across all channels can build a brand in a way that may not always be fully measurable.

— Tim Jensen, Campaign Manager, Clix Marketing

The final stage of grief is acceptance. Accept that you’ll be underreporting, know that you’ll have a hard time reaching a specific segment of your audience, and move on. PPC is more than just Facebook, and it’s definitely bigger than a portion of iOS users.

Take in the relevant information, evaluate your ecosystem, and test workarounds. Then rinse and repeat.

Privacy and Data Hurdles—Trend or One-Off Issue?

Welcome to the marketer’s new normal.

Twitter is exploring a new pay-to-follow monetization model, and Google is eliminating third-party cookies by 2022 and has committed to stop selling ads based on browsing behaviors in the near future. (We’re not even mentioning ever-changing data-privacy regulations like GDPR.) 

Julie Friedman Bacchini, President, Neptune Moon LLC

One thing is for sure, doing things the way you’ve done them for the past couple of years and not adapting to the new realities will end with diminishing results.

— Julie Friedman Bacchini, President, Neptune Moon LLC

Change is here—it’s part of life, and it’s very much part of digital marketing.

Stressing out about the iOS 14.5 update and your Facebook ads will not help you get ahead. What will help is staying in the loop about an ever-evolving situation around privacy, data, and advertising—across all platforms. 

Jonathan Naccache, President and Co-Founder, Webistry

In the long run, this is going to be good for everyone—both users and advertisers. I look forward to a future where we can have privacy but also a future where we can have targeted, tailored advertising. Until then, we’re going to have to innovate.

— Jonathan Naccache, President and Co-Founder, Webistry

Deep breaths. You got this.

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About Carla Lynn
Carla is a writer, creator, and serial editor. (She's also very proud of her mastery of the Oxford comma.) Having once taken an etymology class, she's a fervent believer that the plural form of "octopus" is octopodes, and will fight anyone that says differently.
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