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SKAdNetwork: Test while you still can

This past June when Apple announced that it will require apps to ask permission to access a user’s IDFA, it signaled the elimination of user-level tracking as we know it. To be fair, Apple provided the mobile app industry a privacy-compliant alternative to campaign measurement, the SKAdNetwork. And even though its measurement logic has been panned by pundits as complex and burdensome, it’s likely to become the de facto attribution solution. So with only three months to prepare, the mobile app ecosystem sprung into action to comply by September with Apple’s new tracking framework.

Those who waited to make any structural changes to support Apple’s SKAdNetwork caught a lucky break when Apple delayed the implementation of its privacy policy to early 2021. It’s now mid-January and the latest is that ‘early spring’ will be when Apple requires apps to obtain permission to track users on iOS. And while it makes sense that advertisers continue to use the IDFA while they still can, they should also be ready to run a campaign on the SKAdNetwork.

The Times They Are a-Changin’
Since 2012 the IDFA has been used for advertising purposes, giving app developers access to thousands of targeting and tracking combinations as well as advanced in-app behavioral data. But in this new IDFA-less world, each advertiser is limited to 64 conversion values (integers from 0-63) with which to assign to selected engagement behaviors, while each ad network / DSP is limited to 100 Apple Campaign IDs to structure how they will track contextual signals. This privacy-friendly alternative to device data can be used for optimizing campaigns to the chosen post-install events passed in the conversion value.

Another big change Apple’s new system brings is that advertisers can no longer attribute individual users to campaigns. Instead, aggregated data is used to measure advertiser-driven app installs of iOS ad campaigns. The install validation is shared by Apple with the ad network’s registered postback URL, the postback is then shared with the MMP, and included in the postback are many pieces of critical information including the source app, Apple Campaign ID, and the conversion value.

Going forward with iOS 14.4 (or Apple’s next release), the conversion value parameter is the linchpin to understanding more about user engagement within the app. But because only a limited amount of information can be shared, performance marketers need to be thoughtful when determining what information and indicators could help them hit their campaign goals. 

As performance marketing strategies change, app advertisers can also change their conversion mapping. However, the only way to be certain that all necessary signals are being forwarded and received correctly between ad networks, advertisers, and MMPs is with a SKAd end-to-end campaign test.

LifeStreet is ready for SKAdNetwork. Are you?
To prepare for this new mobile measurement framework, ad networks need to register with Apple and integrate with the SKAdNetwork API. LifeStreet has been integrated since last September and can confirm the following:

  • SKAdNetwork ID is listed as an authorized buyer in the info.plist
  • SKAd postbacks from Apple are being properly received
  • Dynamic updates of what information we are collecting with our 100 Apple Campaign IDs are managed with a user friendly UI
  • Postbacks are properly being forwarded to all of our MMP partners:
    • Adjust
    • Appsflyer
    • Kochava
    • Singular
  • We can decode and ingest conversion values by whatever means necessary:
    • MMPs can forward decoded values
    • Conversion value can be pulled in and decoded via an API from MMP
    • Manually decode postback based on mapping provided by the Advertiser
  • We can control SKAd bidding at the campaign level, which allows us to turn SKAd on and off at will for testing purposes.
  • We will only bid on SKAd eligible inventory when we are confirmed to be in the plist, in real time, so we are not wasting any spend on impressions that would never result in a SKAd postback being received.
  • We have extensive experience running LAT campaigns since 2016 and have built many contextual targeting and optimization tools that we already use on a daily basis.

Apple’s privacy-oriented updates are more than a mandatory opt-out pop-up. It’s a change to the entire in-app advertising system. To get the most out of Apple’s new solution you, the advertiser, need to:

  • Decide on a plan for ATT implementation. Will you show the ATT pop-up?
  • Update your MMP SDK to the newest version.
  • Map SKAdNetwork conversion values and decide when to call UpdateConversionValue().
  • Update your info.plist and resubmit to the app to App Store.
  • Confirm that all your media partners have integrated with your MMP so they can forward Apple’s postbacks to the MMP endpoint.
  • Set up an end-to-end live test of the SKAdNetwork flow with a DSP or network partner.

This last step is a critical one. Without knowing the full implication of this new ad measurement and attribution approach, adjustments will need to be made to succeed with SKAdNetwork. Which is why we encourage our partners to take advantage of this pre-ATT enforcement period to test, iterate, and improve upon current strategies. 

Redefining the role of MMPs
In the SKAdNetwork world, the role of tracking and attribution shifts away from MMPs to Apple. MMPs will now add value primarily by offering aggregated attribution solutions in conjunction with tracking for non-SKAdNetwork impacted inventory. How each MMP decides to share aggregated advertising data varies as does any alternative measurement solutions they may offer. LifeStreet is committed to supporting all compliant methods of measurement with all of our partner MMPs (Adjust, Appsflyer, Kochava, and Singular).

A whole new world
The world of app marketing is about to get a lot more complicated. Working with a partner that is experienced with probabilistic mobile ad attribution will give you a competitive edge when it comes to getting the most out of the SKAdNetwork, but so will being prepared. Take what’s left of the IDFA grace period and dedicate a small portion of your budget to run a campaign on the SKAdNetwork to learn how your internal systems, targeting, and mapping behave.

It’s unlikely that Apple will significantly delay changes a second time and some experts are speculating that even stricter rules could be enforced in the coming months. Testing SKAd now will give you the peace of mind that you’ll be as ready as you can be whenever Apple decides to finally pull the trigger and kill the prevalence of the IDFA.