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The new consumer privacy measures that Apple implemented with the launch of iOS 14 brought major changes to the digital marketing world.

The Facebook iOS 14 update also shook up the paid social area.

And since the announcement, no company has been louder about the potential consequences for its platform than Facebook.

In fact, for many, it was not a big leap to think that the update was the beginning of the world’s end-tracking.

But after months of preparing clients with training, documentation, tires, POVs and webinars, the moment came.

April 26 was D-Day. Facebook’s new policies to mitigate tracking losses became mandatory. And then it started.

In this column you will learn about these challenges and what you can do about each one:

Pixel-based conversion reporting turned off … The road away Conversion rates are inconsistent Campaign budget optimization is less reliable

Let’s first look at what advertisers are experiencing as a result of Facebook’s iOS 14 update.

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Opting in vs. Opting Out

The main issue around iOS 14 was the use of Apple’s Identifier for Advertisers (IDFA), Apple’s cookie that allows tracking on iOS devices.

Until implementation, Apple device owners were automatically selected for tracking, but had the option to opt out.

After the update to iOS 14.5, iOS users are now asked and asked if they would like to be selected to be tracked, as the default is now deselected.

According to mobile analytics firm Flurry, when iOS 14.5 prompts began, an estimated 2% of users chose to track. That figure has risen steadily since the end of April, but is now only estimated at 10%.

How the Facebook iOS 14 update affects marketers

Depending on your perspective, iOS 14 is a boon to consumer privacy. But there is no doubt that it is a big, fat loss for digital marketers.

Facebook in particular is a mobile-centric advertising platform. Now that they have lost the ability to track a large segment of their mobile traffic reliably, it is having consequences.

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To mitigate the impact of iOS 14 on tracking, Facebook implemented new measures. Recent updates have resulted in unpleasant restrictions for advertisers on the platform, including:

Delayed reporting for pixel-based conversions. Conversion modeling / estimated results. Horizontal attribution windows. Conversion prioritization (aggregate event metering). Smaller retargeting audiences. Fewer data sharing options.

What we’ve seen so far

Now that we’ve been living in this bold new era of reduced mobile tracking on Facebook for the past few weeks, let’s take a moment to examine the impact.

Was this really the apocalyptic event many had feared? Or was it something more akin to a false alarm at the Y2K level?

The answer is, as is generally the case, somewhere in the middle. There has been a noticeable impact on campaigns, especially if your campaigns are heavily dependent on pixel-based conversions.

But has iOS 14 made Facebook a less viable channel for marketing demand?

Almost.

Nevertheless, here are a few common threads across the campaigns I help manage on the agency side and perhaps even more important steps you can take to minimize their impact.

1. Pixel-based conversion reporting is disabled … far from it

Between fewer tracked mobile conversions, reporting delays, and a healthy dose of “statistical modeling” on Facebook’s behalf, it’s no surprise that the numbers you may see in Ads Manager do not necessarily reflect reality.

Take, for example, one of our customers: A B2B tech company that drives leads using a landing page on their site.

With display attribution and a few dropped UTMs before iOS 14 was implemented, reported Salesforce leads were generally about 10-12% smaller than the reported Facebook leads.

After iOS 14 was implemented in late April, the pendulum swung in the opposite direction, and Facebook began to drastically underreport the number of leads.

Although the variance of the relationship is inconsistent, it seems to be growing.

What you can do:

Implement Conversions API and optimize campaigns for back-end events. Use on-Facebook lead generation tactics such as forms or messenger for more reliable results.

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2. Conversion rates are inconsistent

Perhaps one of the biggest and most frustrating effects we notice after implementation is the tight performance of evergreen campaigns. Sure, a degree of performance decline is expected as complex algorithms adapt to the new tracking realities.

But after a few weeks of rising CPLs and more data becoming available, we began to see some underlying causes emerge – unpredictable conversion rates.

The client above began experiencing irregular Facebook click-to-lead conversion rates for their primary interest and appearance-based audience shortly after implementing iOS 14.

What were previously relatively small weekly changes allowed for significant fluctuations.

With unpredictable leads conversion rates, CPLs were as unstable as Facebook struggled to optimize ad sets with the best results.

The same was observed across most advertisers using pixel-based conversions of varying difficulty.

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What you can do:

Diversify targeting: Aggressively test a wide range of interest-based, similar, and third-party audiences. Keep a close eye on interest-based audiences as they seem to have the most fluctuations.

3. Optimizing your campaign budget is less reliable

CBO or Campaign Budget Optimization is a tool that enables Facebook to distribute budget between ad sets based on performance dynamically. The better audiences based on your goal tend to get a bigger share of your daily budget.

Budgets are set at the campaign level instead of the ad set.

This once powerful tool for maximizing cost allocation shows its vulnerability in the light of recent tracking changes.

Several customer campaigns with CBO enabled showed that Facebook allocated a disproportionate amount of spending to interest-based audiences with much higher CPLs, even when audiences of similar size with lower CPLs were available.

This is a strange case that encourages more manual intervention and distribution of consumption across different target group segments.

What you can do:

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Consider the use of automated rules as a “backstop” to prevent Facebook from spending too much on ad sets with poor results.

With CBO-enabled campaigns and multiple audiences, you must set a CPL threshold that is slightly higher than your goal. Then set a daily spending amount that you are comfortable spending on a given audience. Set the rule to pause an audience if it has used this amount and driven CPLs higher than your threshold. Do not forget to set a rule to cancel all ad sets at the beginning of a new day.

4. Retargeting audiences are smaller: No surprise there

The final effect is just a confirmation of what we all knew would happen. Pixel-based targeted audiences are smaller and harder to reach.

Since we have just lost track of a large percentage of mobile traffic, retargeting based on user-visited sites will become a less viable tactic as people age out of the customized audiences on the site they are currently in.

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Any custom audience on the site that was created during or after the iOS 14 implementation, and where this period is within the review window, has undoubtedly seen a reduction in the number of targeted people within these audiences.

What you can do:

Take advantage of alternative retargeting data sources, such as:

First-party data (customized audiences based on emails / phone numbers, etc.). Engagement-based retargeting (people who have interacted with your ads, etc.). Video-based retargeting (people who have seen a certain percentage of your pages video ad content).

Facebook iOS 14 update: The aftermath

When it comes to iOS 14 and Facebook, it’s safe to say that the worst of the storm is over. Marketers also know a lot more about what to expect as the cookless future becomes more real.

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Tactics evolve as they always do. And marketers want to adapt to the changing landscape.

The Facebook iOS 14 update is the cautious ordeal for the impending elimination of third-party cookies from browsers like Chrome. We have at least until 2023 to get ready for it.

More resources:

Image credits

Featured image: PanyaStudio / Shutterstock.com
Screenshots taken by the author, July 2021

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