What iOS 14 Means for Small Businesses Advertising on Facebook
It might be that you haven’t paid attention recently to the war going on between Facebook and Apple. It’s understandable. Two tech giants going to war over privacy can seem, at best, an esoteric topic has little to do with the running of your business. But if you get into the details, there are potentially some large impacts for those small businesses that advertise on social networks. We’ll talk about iOS 14 from the perspective of advertising on Facebook, primarily, since that social network is a popular outlet for many businesses. But the changes that have rolled out will also apply to any social or ad network that has the capability to track your activity across destinations outside its own.
First, What Is the Big Deal With iOS 14?
Starting with iOS 14, the update to the company’s operating system for iPhones and iPads, Apple will require that all apps in the App Store show a prompt to its users on iOS devices, asking them for permission to track them outside the app. That seems like a good step for individual privacy (and that’s where Apple wants to position itself, as the privacy champion.) However, for small businesses looking to better target customers with ads, it can be a big setback. For any app that small businesses now want to advertise on, your ad targeting in essence, will likely degrade because you will no longer have data on a whole pool of users.
Why you might ask?
Because most everyday iPhone users are expected to opt out of app tracking. The current expectation is that roughly on 10- to 15-percent of users will actually allow the app to track them when asked the question in the popup (see above).
To illustrate what this affects in practice, let’s look at Facebook advertising as an example. First, Facebook, (previous to iOS 14), collected something known as an IDFA (Identifier for Advertisers) – basically, a unique identifier for mobile devices that is used to target and measure the effectiveness of advertising on a user level across that device. With the recent change by Apple, Facebook announced they will no longer collect this IDFA. This change in posture will likely impact Facebook’s ability to understand behavior of the user of that particular mobile device outside of its app, affecting future targeting capabilities and conversion tracking.
To do Facebook ads, small businesses also embed a Facebook pixel on their website. The pixel allows Facebook to track activity of its user base outside of the app, particularly if someone clicks from Facebook to your website. The pixel can also track individuals who just come to your website through desktop or your mobile web browser. Because Facebook can match those users who visit your site with its own Facebook user data, it can help small businesses target those website visitors with ads in Facebook (something known as “retargeting.”). Similarly, Facebook tracking helps small businesses better understand conversions. So, if you do a promotion in Facebook and an individual clicks to the website and coverts, Facebook can capture that data. But let’s say a user comes from the Facebook mobile app and he or she has opted not to allow the Facebook or Instagram app to track them. Those individuals, say, click a link shared to their news feed and go to your small business website. Suddenly, there’s a “black hole” of data. Because of the iOS 14 update, Facebook can’t track an opted-out user’s activity on the websites clicked from its social media platforms. Hence, that activity cannot be used for retargeting, targeting, and conversion tracking.
Doesn’t iOS 14 Only Affect Mobile App Tracking?
Yes, it does only affect mobile app tracking. Apple doesn’t run the internet so if a customer does visit your website on a desktop, or visits on your site a mobile browser that’s not “default Safari,” then a platform such as Facebook can potentially still pick up that data. (Safari automatically disables cross-site tracking of 3rd party cookies, which you can adjust if you want to be tracked.) The problem, of course, is that most of the users who visit Facebook use its mobile app. Roughly 80 percent of users on Facebook report only using the application on their mobile phone. Hence, if Facebook is not able to effectively track user behavior and a large pool of Apple iPhone users who suddenly opt out, which most believe will happen, the ability to target based on this data will become more limited. It will also result in inaccurate reporting for conversions as well as more ineffective remarketing efforts. That means your ability to create more super-personalized ads to audiences may be impacted greatly. That translates into more wasted spend.
What Can You Do If You Rely on Precise Mobile Targeting and Retargeting?
It’s not just Facebook. Any app that you advertise on that tracks activity across the web will be affected by the change. Note the NBA image, for example, which offers advertising on its app, as well. If you are a small business that relies on Facebook ads and targeting there are a couple things you can do.
- Collect more first-party data and keep users logged in.
The change with iOS 14 is significant in that it signals a shift away from third party data (such as a Facebook pixel on your site) to first-party data collection. First-party data collection is when you legitimately collect data on visitors within your own website, getting them to register and sign in. When individuals register and sign in, analytics platforms have the ability to collect data on that registered user and, in essence, do footprint tracking on where they go on the site and what they buy. Data such as this can be collected in a spreadsheet (email) and uploaded to a platform such as Google or Facebook to retarget individuals in those platforms that have visited your website.
Second, some sites (such as banking or shopping sites will log you out after a particular session). If you don’t have to log a user out, our suggestion is that you don’t do it. If you look at sites such as Facebook, which are masters of data collection, they will keep you logged in on the site until you actually log out. Or if you clear your cookies.
- Develop more content, particularly downloadable content.
In line with point no. 1, content marketing becomes even more important in two respects. First, in terms of data collection. Content downloadables such as whitepapers, ebooks, or even webinars and newsletters can help you capture data of potential users and you can market to them in other ways, using email and other means. Second, as the programmatic and display advertising world fumbles to see where everything shakes out post iOS 14, as a small business, you can still reach individuals by producing great content that draws individuals to your website. Here is a recent post on how content is the new guerilla marketing of today for many small businesses.
- If you still want to do Facebook, a few additional tips.
First, in terms of optimization approach, many small businesses (or agencies that run ads for them) might use Facebook’s AI engine to best target for those most likely to convert. If you still do this, we recommend excluding iOS devices and in the near term and focusing on Android devices only in mobile. It’s certainly not a long-term approach but at least in the near term you can test to see how well those campaigns perform. Another approach here might involve adding UTM tracking links to your campaigns where you could match a conversion or sale based on a traffic bump from a particular social network promotion – a way to rely less on the Facebook tracking pixel. Lastly, you might try a lead ad campaign, where you could, again, generate contacts that would go into your first-party data collection. For the most part, top-of-the-funnel awareness campaigns shouldn’t be affected too much, as you can still use Facebook’s own first-party data for that.
There is still much to be learned about the full impact of Apple’s iOS 14, what percentage of users have opted out of tracking and what it all means going forward for the small business advertising industry. But suffice to say, it’s important to start shifting gears if you haven’t already, as the change is already upon us – and indeed iOS 14.4.1 has already been updated on most phones. We do hope this has helped clarify a few things for you if you were curious or interested.
At Marketing Nice Guys, our mission is to help individuals and businesses excel at digital marketing, including social media and paid advertising. We provide consulting and marketing operations services to help augment existing staff, as well as training in the form of boot camps and customizable corporate events. Contact us to learn more.