5 Ways The Apple iOS Update Is Impacting Your Facebook Ads

In early 2021, Apple dropped their biggest bombshell (update) to date and sent all Facebook advertisers and social media marketers into a frenzy. 


Apple released the details of its iOS 14 update in February. This update meant that whereas previously you were automatically tracked and your data was automatically collected by third parties, users were now going to be given the option to opt-in or opt-out of tracking. This basically means that whereas Facebook could claim a huge number of conversions and track users all over the web, they were now potentially going to be drastically limited in their tracking capabilities and therefore revenue generation.


This update was one of the biggest to ever be released and has had an immeasurable impact on performance for advertisers. You can imagine how tough of a blow this was for Facebook itself too. According to Statista, in 2020, about 97.9 percent of Facebook’s global revenue was generated from advertising. 97.9% of 86 billion US dollars is an incredible chunk of change. 


There’s no doubt that it’s been a very tricky few months to navigate. Facebook have been releasing new features and updates to counter the changes since March. So, now that things have settled a little, I’ve compiled a list of the 5 key changes that have occurred since the iOS update screwed over Facebook. 


1. Attribution Windows Have Changed


The very first step that Facebook took in response to the announcement seemed like a bit of a plea to Apple. I imagine it going:  “we’re really sorry we’ve been tracking everyone everywhere for 28 days after they click on an ad, so we’ll shorten it to seven. Does that mean you’ll go back on your decision now?”. To which I’m very certain Apple responded “not a cat in hell’s chance”


What Is An Attribution Window?


Attribution windows are extremely important in any form of advertising. Previously, Facebook tracked each user that clicked on your ad for 28 days to see if they converted. If they did convert, that was attributed to your ad. 


There’s no denying that this is a very long time between the initial click and ultimate conversion, especially as that ad will now claim that conversion as a direct result of that click 28 days ago. But, that’s the way that Facebook has been running things for years. (This becomes a massive issue when you’re running PPC ads additionally, which use a last-click attribution model so you could both be reporting on the same conversion – but I’ll save that for another blog).


How Have They Changed?


After the Apple iOS update announcement, Facebook swiftly moved to switch all campaigns from their standard 28-day-click model to a 7-day-click model. Furthermore, they would remove all capability of utilising or viewing the 28-day-click model anymore. As you can imagine, drastically cutting down your possible conversion window by 75% means that you are guaranteed to see a reduction in performance.


Not only does this pose issues for your current ads, which will see a dramatic drop in performance, but it also makes any comparison to previous data practically impossible. When Facebook automatically transferred all results to the 7-day-click window, this only changed for new and existing ads. Any ads that have run and been completed in the past will be frozen with the 28-day-click stats. If you’re looking at year on year performance, you’re practically now comparing apples and oranges. How fun! 


Significant Impact On Your Ad Performance

On a scale of 1-10, 10 being ‘completely obliterated any chance of performance’, we’ll give this a 7/10. At least they didn’t change it to a 1-day-click only model. 


2. Facebook Ads Results Are Aggregated


As a Facebook advertiser, I can honestly say that sometimes Facebook results can be a little wishy-washy. Attribution models are a very large part of that, but Facebook’s iOS update response of Aggregated Event Measurement hasn’t helped the matter.

What Is Aggregated Event Measurement?


Aggregated Event Measurement is a term coined by Facebook, which means that all results that are reported in the Ads Manager will include an element of extrapolated data.


In layman’s terms: because there will be a percentage of people who will opt out of tracking and therefore cannot be tracked at all after they click an ad, regardless of if they make a purchase or not, Facebook is going to estimate (based on your account’s previous data) a percentage of those would have made a purchase. From this, they will add in that additional estimated purchase number/revenue. So, say pre-update you normally received 20 purchases and now due to opt-outs you get 10, Facebook may still report 20 as it is estimating that you would have received an additional 10 conversions had the update not happened. 


What Does This Mean For Ads and Reporting? 


It’s very nice of Facebook to utilise these aggregated reports, however, what they haven’t mastered is being able to segment the aggregated results from the actual results. This leaves your reporting open to a lot of interpretation. Add in the fact that Facebook attributes your conversions to the day that the ad was clicked and not the day that the conversion occurred, trying to marry up these conversions to your website/GA/third party reporting tool is going to be very frustrating.


This can lead to a lot of inaccuracies in reporting and ultimately result in a lot of difficult attribution discussions with clients.


Significant Impact On Your Ad Performance


On a scale of 1-10, aggregated events get an 8/10. I really appreciated the intent behind this, but without being able to toggle this feature on and off, there’s just too much uncertainty. 


3. Audiences Are Smaller


Perhaps the biggest consequence of the iOS update on Facebook – your audiences have shrunk. Loss of tracking doesn’t also impact your reporting results, but it also massively affects your targeting capabilities and audience sizes. This becomes even more of a problem when we look at retargeting audiences.


What Are Retargeting Audiences?


Retargeting audiences are extremely valuable and, a lot of the time, drive the most revenue for advertisers. Retargeting is basically what it says on the tin – targeting someone again. On Facebook, you can retarget people who have engaged with your page, visited your website, purchased on your website, abandoned basket, watched one of your videos etc. The more people that are in those audiences the better, as this means you won’t just be hitting the same poor guy 50x per day. 


How Has The Update Impacted Retargeting Audiences?


If a user that has visited your website and abandoned basket has opted out of tracking, you are now unable to retarget them. That means that your retargeting audiences may now be drastically smaller than prior to the update. Not only does this mean reduced performance as those sneaky abandoned basketeers will be slipping through the net, but, your overall audience size will have shrunk. As your overall audience size shrinks, your frequency will become higher and you’re back to hitting the same poor guy 50x a day. 


It is worth noting, however, if you have extremely large retargeting audiences in the first place, this won’t necessarily be felt as much. But, if you only just hit the 1,000 threshold with your audience size pre-update, you may not even be able to run retargeting anymore.


Significant Impact On Your Ad Performance


This is definitely getting a solid 9/10. This is a really big deal for small eCommerce businesses or those that are new to the platform and trying to build data.


4. There Are Fewer Audiences


What else can Apple/Facebook throw at us during this tumultuous period? Not only will your retargeting not be as effective as it once was, but your interest-based cold targeting may also see a dip in performance.


How Does Interest-Based Targeting Work?


To reach new audiences, one of the USPs of Facebook advertising is their monstrous list of interests that you can target people based upon. The data within these ‘interests’ and how they’re gathered is all kept quite hush-hush, but Facebook ultimately uses a mixture of data from what you like on Facebook itself, to posts that you engage with on Instagram, to websites that you visit and articles that you read online. From here, it compiles those into groups and advertisers have a line straight through to that are really huge fans of ‘luxury fashion’ or ‘the Alzheimer’s Society’ or ‘Zoopla’. 


Advertisers can use this to build out their perfect buyer personas and we go from there. It’s a great way to reach new people based on the fact that they will likely engage with your products, as they’re big fans of your competitor, for example.


How Have Interests Been Impacted?


Think about the key principle of the iOS update and Facebook ads – we can’t track everyone that we used to as much as we used to. So, if we take all those people in the ‘Pets at Home’ interest who spend a lot of time on the retailer’s website and take out those who may have opted out of tracking, your audience is smaller. But, it doesn’t end there. 


If you imagine the Facebook advertising landscape as multiple ponds of people, it’s quite easy to visualise. Each of these little ponds has 100 advertisers fishing in it. Now, due to the iOS update, remove a third of those ponds. The advertisers have to go somewhere else. So, you now have 200 advertisers per pond, but there’s still only the same amount of fish in the pond. This means that each pond is now comparatively super competitive and who wins in competitions 99% of the time? The competitor with the most money. All the big players with their really expensive fishing rods barge all the small eCommerce advertisers out the way and catch all the fish for themselves. 


Significant Impact On Your Ad Performance


This one has come into play much more recently, given an EU cookie policy update that removed even more ponds, so this gets a 10/10. Small eCommerce is, again, the main victim here, with massive corporations with huge budgets still managing to succeed.


5. The Rule Book Is Out The Window


My final point on the impact of the iOS update on Facebook advertising is that everything has changed (in the style of Taylor Swift & Ed Sheeran). We always say that working in social media, you have to make sure that you’re staying reactive as everything could change overnight. Well, guess what? It did! 


It’s been an absolute journey keeping up with Facebook’s responses to the update, which have been very frequent but without beta testing and without much guidance to advertisers. That being said, I’d absolutely hate to be working in their head office right now.  


Everything that we know is now out the window. We’re having to re-strategise and re-strategise again. But, what I will say, is that we (at Embryo and all Facebook advertisers out there) are trying really hard to adapt to these changes and give our clients the best results possible. Some clients are practically unaffected. The more data you had pre-update, and the more money that you have now, the better! 


You’re Not Alone In Struggling With The iOS Update


I’m not going to end this blog on a bad note, but it’s very important to emphasise that every single advertiser out there will be impacted by these updates in some way. Whether that is that their ROAS has dropped from 10 to 8, or that they’ve had to completely abandon their retargeting campaigns. 


At Embryo, we’re staying as up to date as possible on all the Facebook changes and learning how to navigate a whole new advertising landscape. It’s not easy, but we’re so invested in our clients that we are tirelessly working to ensure that we still succeed. 


That being said, if you’re looking for help with your Facebook ads, or even other avenues such as Pinterest ads, get in touch! We’d love to hear from you, and as I’m sure you can guess, I’d love to chat through everything. 


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