Over the last few weeks, the digital advertising world has been freaking out about a single event that has the capacity to turn online conversions upside down.
It seems like everyone’s talking about it. There’s a sense of mild panic, as business owners scramble to make sense of what’s going to happen to their profits when the proverbial shit hits the fan.
What am I talking about?
I’m talking about the roll-out of Apple’s latest iOS update. Now, Apple launches software updates all the freakin’ time. So why’s this one got online advertisers running around like their hair’s on fire?
Well, Apple announced a major change to their data privacy rules. From early 2021 they’ll require all app users on their phones, tablets and computers to actively opt-in to having their app and website usage tracked by platforms like Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, TikTok, YouTube etc.
Let’s face it…most people will NOT opt-in to being stalked round the internet by Silicon Valley billionaires.
Which – if you’re at all familiar with how these platforms serve ads to their users – is a major blow to the platforms who rely on app and browser tracking to make their ads run as effectively as possible.
It’s also a major blow to small businesses, whose profitability depends on Facebook/Insta/Snapchat/TikTok’s ability to target the right audience at a super granular level.
How does Facebook advertising work at the moment?
When a Facebook user clicks a link in a Facebook ad, it’s likely they’ll be directed to a third party app or web domain outside Facebook. At the moment, Facebook has the ability to use its pixel to track your online activity at any time, as long as you stay logged in. Given that most Facebook users access the platform via its app, it’s likely that most people are permanently logged in. And so their web activity is being tracked almost all the time.
It’s why you’ll often see ads in the newsfeed, for products you just searched for in your browser.
Creepy? Kinda. Great for advertising? You betcha.
What does the iOS update mean for web tracking?
In the coming weeks, as more and more iOS users opt out of being stalked round the internet by Mark Zuckerburg, Facebook advertisers will see some changes to the quality of their targeting efforts.
Although no one knows for sure what will happen, here are a couple of changes you can expect once the iOS update starts to kick in.
- Facebook will lose the ability to show ads within the audience network
When you visit your favourite food blog, you might have spotted some ads that look strangely like the ones you regularly see in your newsfeed. That’s because Facebook uses what’s called the audience network, to serve you ads outside the newsfeed.
The audience network also allows Facebook to serve ads inside third party apps. Many of these apps rely on audience network advertising for revenue.
Once the iOS privacy update takes effect, advertisers will lose access to the audience network. It means that the number of placement options for your ads will go down.
Thankfully, most e-comm or info-product conversions tend to happen from ads in the newsfeed. So, although this is an issue it’s unlikely to be a massive problem for most small businesses.
The biggest losers will be app developers who generate revenue from ad placements.
2. Conversion campaigns will be affected in terms of optimisation, targeting and reporting
At the moment, when a user clicks an ad, Facebook can track their activity on any website which has a pixel installed. Once iOS 14 rolls out fully, Facebook will lose much of that tracking data.
This data is extremely important for ads targeting, optimisation and reporting. Here’s what could happen as a result of the changes:
a. Optimisation – Facebook relies heavily on data it gathers outside of its own app to see who is most likely to take a particular post-click action. E.g. Who views a page, who adds to cart, who completes a purchase.
With every step you take inside a seller’s funnel, Facebook builds up a profile on you and on the type of user who is most likely to buy. It then takes that data and uses it to target the best audience for particular ads.
Once Facebook’s access to tracking is taken away, it loses much of its ability to profile its users based on online activity. This means Facebook will be less effective at optimising ads to target precisely the right audience.
b. Targeting – Facebook uses your online activity to build a profile on all the things you’re interested in. It then takes that data and uses it to serve you ads for products it knows you’ve searched for in the past.
When Apple’s changes take effect, Facebook will lose any interest-based data it used to gather from your activity outside of its app. Luckily, Facebook is still able to build a solid profile based on your activity inside Facebook (such as your likes, comments, video views etc). So, although this might hurt a bit – it’s not entirely the end of interest-based targeting.
c. Reporting – Media buyers often look at user behaviour data to understand how well an ad is performing. This allows them to make manual changes to their ads, based on what’s working or not working.
With the iOS changes, some of the reporting will become less granular. For example, you will no longer be able to see buyers’ age or gender information inside Ads Manager.
This will have an impact on your ability to drill down into narrower targeting and optimise your ads.
Now, all this might sound rather gloomy. One of the reasons small business owners love Facebook advertising so much is the detailed reporting and the platform’s hyper targeting. There’s no doubt these changes will have a big impact on advertising inside the platform.
But it’s not all bad news. There are a couple of important points to note, before you reach for the double-strength gin.
First of all, everyone’s in the same boat. There’s not an advertiser in the land who isn’t panicking right now. This will hit the big boys just as much as the little guys. Those who win, are the advertisers who find opportunities hidden inside the chaos.
All this probably sounds like a full-on cr*p tornado, especially if you’ve been used to generating results from targeted advertising on Facebook. But the truth is, there’s still an opportunity to make Facebook ads work for you, while other advertisers are busy weeping in a corner.
That opportunity is in your creative.
Most Facebook ads are run by button-pushing media buyers. They’re awesome at targeting and analytics. They’re not so awesome at the creative side of advertising. Their focus on targeting has led to a lot of generic, lazy ads which lack the deep emotional connection that’s necessary to generate leads and sales.
The iOS changes are likely to trigger a creative revolution in the Newsfeed, as Facebook advertisers scramble to get seen by less targeted audiences.
Which is why, now’s the time to brush up on your copy skills. If you’re someone who already knows how to write killer ad copy, your ads will still perform.
That’s because you possess a fundamental skill that works in any environment. You possess a skill that allows you to call out your ideal prospects, and craft messages that speak to their exact fears and desires, even if your targeting isn’t quite as dialled in as you’d like.
So, while the button pushers are busy trying to find the latest hack to see them through the next 12 months, you’ll find me deep in the research and focusing on my messaging.
I’ll see you on the other side.
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