Google shares its SKAdNetwork and iOS 14 plans: Here’s what you need to know

By John Koetsier January 29, 2021

iOS 14 has been in the wild since September. SKAdNetwork has been Apple’s solution of record for marketing measurement since last summer. Facebook has released detailed information about how mobile marketers should implement SKAdNetwork. And now Google has shared its thoughts on iOS 14, SKAdNetwork, and Google ad campaigns.

One big reveal?

Google will not be asking permission to track via the ATT prompt.

But there’s more. Much, much more. Today, Google gave us insight into how iOS 14 will affect visibility into metrics, conversion modeling, Firebase and SKAdNetwork, MMP integrations, tROAS, tCPI, and tCPA, as well as how many iOS campaigns mobile marketers will be able to access out of SKAdNetwork’s 100 maximum.

I spent some time with Jonathan Chen, Singular’s director of product, about the changes. He’s been working with partners like Google for the past half-year on SKAdNetwork and iOS 14.

John Koetsier: Google’s post says we’ll see somewhat reduced visibility into key metrics. Which ones?

Jonathan Chen: For us key metrics means everything from marketing granularity to just the amount of insight you can get. App marketers want to know how many installs, right. We know ATT introduces complications into being able to see all that data.

John Koetsier: Google mentions that some conversions will be modeled. What does that mean?

Jonathan Chen: Modeled conversions essentially means that they are, for lack of a better term, probabilistically reporting and surfacing insights. This is pretty much similar to Google’s announcements with iOS search and iOS search inventory.

In early 2020 MMPs had user-level visibility into iOS search traffic insights, which is what many performance marketers are trying to get today. Google introduced modeled conversions for iOS search, which meant that user-level insights were no longer visible, but they could still see that in aggregate. We’re essentially seeing something similar here.

John Koetsier: One of the biggest things that Google shared is that they will not be showing the ATT prompt: they will not be showing the request-to-track prompt in iOS for their own apps. Talk a little bit about that and maybe some of the implications …

Jonathan Chen: So, it’s definitely a big announcement. Everything could still change: we still have time until when ATT is required. And we know this is opposite of what Facebook had announced.

The implications are that obviously IDFA-based matching won’t be able to be used for Google inventory — specifically Google owned inventory.

John Koetsier: So Google is recommending that mobile publishers integrate with SKAdNetwork, and they’re enabling that by default with Firebase. If you’re using an MMP, how do you integrate with Google?

Jonathan Chen: So with SKAdNetwork there is an implied agreement that only one SDK — or one service — can manage SKAdNetwork for an app or an advertiser … specifically, conversion value management. Now, we know from very early on last year with the August 14 announcement, the Firebase SDK was updated to support SKAdNetwork.

But the Firebase SDK does support toggling off the management of SKAdNetwork. So this means that advertisers using an MMP, or any other SDK that wants to manage SKAdNetwork, can do so and it is compatible with the Firebase SDK. There’s obviously the guidance piece of it, which is: who should be the one managing SKAdNetwork? We expect that there will be alignment and MMPs will definitely be part of that solution.

Facebook has very publicly announced that they want to work with MMPs and expect MMPs to be the ‘key holders’ to conversion value management.

John Koetsier: So if you’re working with an MMP and you want to share conversion value information with Google, how does that happen?

Jonathan Chen: So there are a couple of pieces here.

One is: who defines the conversion value? We can assume that that will continue to be MMPs. And then there is the piece around how does the conversion value bubble up to Google and MMPs and anyone else? That part is going to be based off the integrations that MMPs and others build with Google. Part of the announcement is Google will be exposing these SKAdNetwork insights through their Google Ads API. So that’s at least confirmation that there will be some data available in an aggregate form.

Facebook is taking a similar approach, at least to what Google has announced so far, which is aggregate insights will be available.

Now, compared to other ad networks … most ad networks are integrating with advertisers and MMPs on a more granular level, which is essentially exchanging and forwarding the SKAdNetwork postback data. Ultimately, the net net is the same. Customers and advertisers will be able to get their insights to SKAdNetwork data.

Now if the question is: is there some benefit to having ‘raw’ SKAdNetwork postback data?

Given that we know the intention is that it’s for aggregate analysis, the limitations of SKAdNetwork make it very difficult for it to be looked at in any other way.

John Koetsier: What about beyond just the app universe and mobile web, or the web in general? What are the changes happening on the web?

Jonathan Chen: So this is where we get into the policy and legal discussion points … the fun areas where nobody knows until Apple says so.

But we know Apple’s ATT governs mobile measurement. But we know that a lot of the bigger ad networks, Google included, they have a historical web presence, they have a mobile presence, and there are a lot of use cases where you have web to mobile traffic. So one of the things, and I think this was very clear in Facebook’s announcement, is that they wanted to make sure that they are compliant with ATT for these cross-web cross-app scenarios.

We do know that a lot of people in the industry are looking to go back to more web-based marketing, maybe because ATT might not apply in as many of those use cases.

John Koetsier: So if you’re a publisher and Google is one of your marketing partners, what should you be doing right now? How can you prepare? Can you start testing?

Jonathan Chen: The best thing that you can do is integrate SKAdNetwork. Make sure that you are constantly iterating and supporting the latest version of iOS. There are a lot of things still happening, a lot of unknowns still, but the one thing you can be sure to benefit from is to be part of it.

John Koetsier: That’s built into the Singular SDK, right? Implement the latest SDK and you’re good to go?

Jonathan Chen: Yes, exactly. Look, I’m a bit biased, but MMPs are good at building integrations. We are a technology vendor, serving advertisers. So we are already connected and we have a responsibility to make sure that we can connect advertisers and their solutions with the ad network partners that they want to do business with.

John Koetsier: Google said that app campaigns for engagement will see a significant decrease in reach. Talk about that.

Jonathan Chen: App campaigns for engagement run essentially the same way that you would run re-engagement or engagement campaigns. You’re trying to acquire or reacquire users and get them to engage or re-engage with your app.

Targeted engagement campaigns required knowing who the user is before engaging them with an ad, and that traditionally has relied on the IDFA. With Google making the decision to not show ATT, they won’t have IDFA nor permission to measure the user, limiting the reach of engagement campaigns.

We know that a lot of the technology used in the industry to facilitate these types of campaigns are deep links. Deep links which, if a user interacts with an ad and already has the app installed, they get taken into the app right away.

That type of measurement is really effective, but at least from what we know right now, it is still a very grey area in terms of ATT for cross web to app scenarios. It is interesting … because deep link based measurement is deterministic, but it does not require an IDFA.

John Koetsier: Google’s giving advertisers 8 campaigns for iOS advertising. Why?

Jonathan Chen: We can only hypothesize that they are leaving themselves room to grow. Because there is at least no indication that raw SKAdNetwork postbacks will be, you know, broadly shared — at least from Google — it means that they can use these campaign IDs how they see fit, and to encode whatever meaning they want to give them.

So it could mean that Google and SKAdNetwork will be using more than nine SKAdNetwork campaign IDs, but from a reporting perspective and from the advertiser configuring campaigns, that’s all you’re going to see.

John Koetsier: One thing we haven’t talked about yet is ad monetization. Talk a little bit about iOS monetization via AdMob with iOS 14.

Jonathan Chen: Traditionally, ad monetization has simply just been measuring the ad revenue you get from users using your app and connecting and integrating it with partners like AdMob.

We’ve been able to represent that at the user level, but that will be changing with ATT and SKAdNetwork.

What I can say now is that, very similar to how revenue will be tracked and measured in SKAdNetwork, we are working on very similar ways to do that with ad revenue. There’s a lot of models, conversion models that various companies are working on for SKAdNetwork, and we’re very excited by the things that we have cooking there for AdMob revenue and ad monetization reporting in general.

John Koetsier: Very mysterious!

Jonathan Chen: For now!

John Koetsier: Contextualize this change compared to the UAC changes that we saw in early 2020 …

Jonathan Chen: It’s a similar shift, with an important difference.

I think UAC was a big shift, but it was a Google decision. Obviously the difference here is this is not necessarily a Google-driven decision; it is an Apple-driven decision. And I think what we’re seeing here with ATT is ultimately much bigger. It is causing many companies — Google, Facebook included — to fundamentally rethink how their ad services will work. Not only that, but it impacts their own apps. It’s something that we don’t think about: advertisers are definitely impacted, but Google, Facebook, and the other big players, they have iOS apps too and they also need to make changes to accommodate iOS 14.

John Koetsier: Jonathan, if a publisher is listening or watching or reading the blog post right now and they want to stay in tune with any new changes, where should they be looking for that?

Jonathan Chen: Right there on the Singular blog is a great place to start. The Mobile Attribution Privacy Slack group is another great place to get insight from thousands of other marketers, and there are plenty of other industry resources as well.

John Koetsier: Thank you!

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