When iOS14 was released, it changed the landscape of digital marketing by neutering Facebook ad optimization capabilities. Let’s explore this change.
iOS17: A Change, Not a Crisis, for Marketers
Are marketers heading towards a storm with the upcoming iOS17 release? Understand its new features and why there might less to fear than you think.
Amid the hustle and bustle of the digital world, many have voiced concerns that the new iOS17 release is a significant blow to advertisers and brands. They fear the latest round of privacy features will obstruct essential ad data for performance optimization and attribution. However, before you hit the panic button, let's delve deeper into this matter and examine why there's little reason for alarm.
The Big Reveal:
On June 5th, 2023, Apple's Worldwide Developer Conference (WWDC) event unfurled an array of updates. Amid the groundbreaking unveiling of their mixed-reality headset, the upcoming launch of iOS17 this Fall was also announced, giving developers early access for testing and preparation.
The Crux of the Matter:
Every iOS release is a treasure trove of features, enhancing various facets of user experience and the app ecosystem. Included in the iOS17 bounty are some new privacy and security features. You can read all about them directly from Apple's announcement here: https://www.apple.com/newsroom/2023/06/apple-announces-powerful-new-privacy-and-security-features/
The feature that has been turning heads in the marketing world is known as Link Tracking Protection.
Link Tracking Protection, described by Apple:
Certain websites append additional information to their URLs to keep tabs on users across different websites. This information will now be stripped from links shared via Messages and Mail, yet the links will continue to function as expected. Similarly, this information will also be removed from links accessed in Safari Private Browsing.
This means that UTM parameters attached to web links could potentially be removed in certain scenarios due to these new privacy measures. At first glance, this might seem like a major hurdle for digital advertising platforms, such as Facebook/Meta, Google, and others. After all, these platforms use click-IDs attached to URLs to trace specific clicks made by individual users from the ad platform to the destination website. However, it's crucial to separate fact from fear.
Specificity is Key: When it comes to understanding iOS17's privacy measures, the devil is in the details. The removal of UTM parameters is tied to Safari's Private Browsing mode, a specialized feature akin to an incognito mode used by a small fraction of users some of the time. Yes, UTM stripping could occur when this mode is engaged. However, this doesn't spell doom for your marketing strategies, and here's why.
This will impact a tiny minority of web users, some of the time:
For the UTM removal to affect your Facebook/Instagram ad experience, a user would need to access these platforms through Safari in private browsing mode on an Apple device, log in to Facebook/Instagram, click an ad, and then navigate through the eCommerce site of the advertised brand. This sequence of events is highly unlikely due to several factors:
- Most users access Facebook and Instagram via their native apps, sidestepping Safari altogether.
- Logging into these platforms while in private browsing mode is tedious, as it requires entering email and password details each time. This inconvenience makes such usage rare.
Fringe Cases Exist: There could be unique scenarios where a user might commence a product inquiry or Google Search from a private browsing session, perhaps to prevent price hikes while booking flights or to dodge aggressive retargeting ads while researching a car purchase. However, these instances are outliers and not the norm.
Potential Impact: In light of the above, you can anticipate the impact to be minimal for industries like travel or automotive, where a minute fraction of users might choose private browsing. But for eCommerce sites and Shopify brands, you can expect virtually no repercussions.
Empirical Evidence: Consider the example of Ryan Doney, an individual with early access to iOS17. After testing several links, his findings corroborate the above predictions. Here's what he shared on Twitter:
@theryandoney: "If you're worried about iOS 17 stripping out UTMs, hold your horses. I spent this morning testing links in the iOS 17 beta. FB, Insta, Tik Tok ads all pass through UTMs just fine. Klaviyo campaigns seem untouched too. I even navigated a few different sponsored advertorial blog sites. All clear. Double checked everything in incognito mode, and opening links from in-app browsers back to Safari. Obviously, it's still in beta, so we'll have to wait and see. But for now, your attribution tools look safe."
Understanding the Over-Reaction:
Why does every new iOS release spark a sense of impending doom amongst marketers? The answer lies in two key factors:
- The aftermath of iOS14 imprinted a painful memory that resonates strongly with marketers.
- Fear-mongering is a broadly used as click bait or to sell solutions to these perceived problems.
The iOS14 Trauma: When iOS 14 was launched in April 2021, the marketing community initially reacted with nonchalance. However, by July 2021, the tide had turned drastically. Brands grappled with doubled ad costs, halved ad effectiveness, and a noticeable decline in the profitability of their Facebook/Meta ad campaigns. The root cause? A significant disruption in the data flow from brand websites back to Facebook, impairing Facebook's optimization and attribution system.
The real issue isn't Apple or its policies, but rather, Facebook's.
iOS14 empowered users with an option to refuse data tracking on individual apps for each of their devices. Consider a user who owns three Apple devices, each with four Facebook/Meta apps installed. Apple's policy enables this user to selectively opt out of data tracking for each of these 12 app-device combinations.
While Apple's approach is device-specific and app-specific, Facebook adopts a user-centric policy.
If a user opts out just once, on a single device, the entirety of their data received by the Meta pixel becomes unusable. Interestingly, while Apple enables users to opt out on a device-by-device basis, it's Facebook's policies that amplify a single opt-out to cover all devices, including non-Apple ones. This incongruity explains why the repercussions of iOS14 didn't fully hit home until July 2021, why the fallout was so significant, and why you should be more attuned to Facebook's subsequent steps than Apple's.
After the Cambridge Analytica scandal in 2018 and a record-setting $5B fine issued by the FTC in 2019, Facebook/Meta spent several years working on policies to tighten up their privacy and security. But since then, Facebook/Meta has been in a different type of hot water. Their stock is down. And trust in their platform is at record lows.
Facebook’s Shift in Strategy
Recently, Facebook/Meta's strategy has pivoted from intensifying security measures towards incentivizing brands to reinvest in their platform and its newest advertising products. They've gone as far as offering individual brands over $100K in complimentary ads to experiment with their Advantage+ ad offerings. This suite includes the novel Facebook and Instagram Shop, designed to keep users within the Facebook/Meta ecosystem, thereby circumventing the risk of data loss when users navigate away from the platform.
Given Facebook/Meta's current emphasis on fostering the adoption of Advantage+, alongside the development of the Metaverse and Generative AI products, it appears unlikely that their privacy policies will undergo significant changes in the near future.
Where do we go from here?
Instead of fearing the unknown, let's focus on understanding it and evolving our strategies accordingly. Remember, change is the only constant in the digital landscape. Being agile and adaptable is the key to staying ahead. Brands that have invested in great creative, attentive customer service, and robust server-to-server data connections have all found paths to success in the post-iOS 14 world. The path forward with iOS 17 is no different.
In short, there's little reason to be alarmed. Yes, iOS17 introduces Link Tracking Protection, which could potentially remove UTM parameters from web links in certain scenarios. However, for this to materially impact your marketing efforts, a very specific and unlikely sequence of user behaviors would need to occur. Even in fringe cases where users might employ private browsing, the impact on eCommerce sites and Shopify brands is predicted to be negligible.
It's important to remember that in the ever-evolving digital marketing landscape, changes like these are par for the course. Instead of succumbing to panic and fear, it's far more productive to focus on understanding these changes and adapting our strategies accordingly. Remember, every challenge is an opportunity in disguise. As marketers, our task is to uncover these opportunities and leverage them to our advantage.
With a clear understanding and a flexible approach, you can continue to thrive amidst these developments. So, let's embrace the changes and keep moving forward.
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