Facebook’s Algorithm vs The iOS-14 Update
Change, even if for the better, often comes with a little discomfort. Unquestionably, Apple’s iOS-14 update was a positive change for digital privacy and it’s a shift that continues to evolve beyond the walls of both Apple and Facebook - with Google promising to eliminate third-party cookies in favor of Topics by 2023. Unfortunately, Facebook wasn’t ready for an increasingly private digital world, which only served to exaggerate its discomfort. Advertisers, and e-commerce brands alike, quickly realized that the platform simply could not provide the returns they were accustomed to seeing prior to the update.
From early 2012 through to March 2020, Facebook relied on tracking its users from App to App, website to website. It was a strategy that promised to deliver relevant ads to its users based on their internet usage as a whole (not just within the Facebook platform) and it worked like a charm. E-commerce brands and advertisers continued to invest more and more of their ad budgets into Facebook each year, and the platform experienced record breaking growth year over year (the Cambridge Analytica stained year of 2018 aside, of course). At the start of 2021, Facebook had a market cap of $935.64 B, a 20% increase YOY.
Enter Apple’s iOS-14 Update, which put an end to all of that by allowing their users the option to opt out of such tracking from all Apps including Facebook. By increasing their user’s digital privacy, Apple eliminated Facebook’s ability to track its users once they left Mark Zuckerberg’s walled garden, which had a natural, yet massive impact on proving the efficacy of a Facebook ad campaign.
When you consider that iOS users account for 60% of the mobile market in the US alone and that over 90% of those users have opted out of allowing advertisers to track them, it’s easy to see why. Retargeting audiences - not to mention prospecting audiences reliant on retargeting data - shrank along with the ability to understand what actions an iOS user took once they left Facebook. After all, if an opted-out iOS user leaves Facebook and is untraceable from that point forward, it's difficult for the platform to accurately attribute any user action (let alone a purchase) back to the original ad and user - and once Facebook’s adjusted attribution model (7-day click, 1-day view) expires, it’s impossible - even for Android users.
Interestingly enough, that didn’t necessarily mean that Facebook’s ads were less effective all of a sudden, or that its users were less responsive to advertising on the platform. It simply meant that Facebook was unable to prove that it was still an effective marketing tool.
But, guess what? It still is.
As digital privacy continues to evolve, advertisers and e-commerce brands are simply forced to be smarter about their targeting, attribution and in the way they speak to their potential customers.
Facebook Audience Targeting Post iOS 14
As iOS-14 adoption rates rose throughout 2021, along with a continued increase of updated users opting out of ad tracking, advertisers and e-commerce brands started to see their Facebook Pixel retargeting audiences diminish by around 60%. It’s a large number and one that doesn’t truly show the effect of Apple’s privacy update. For example, if Google Analytics data showed that 80% of your audience was using an iOS device (pre March 2020), you could now be facing a reality in which your traceable retargeting audience has diminished by as much as 80%.
Compounding this issue further, the ability to seed lookalike (LAL) audiences from website retargeting audiences was affected drastically. This is the low hanging fruit that marketers used to rely on to produce Prospecting LAL campaigns that drove ROASs north of 200%. But, now that the Facebook Pixel is unable to track iOS user actions while on your site, Facebook can no longer identify that user or any like-minded cohorts. For example, if your audience was ripe with iOS users prior to the iOS-14 update and you used those audiences to seed your LALs, you’ve absolutely seen a significant decrease in the size and efficacy of those LALs.
What does all this mean for marketers and e-commerce brands? Basically, there is now very little use in LALs seeded from Facebook Pixel based audiences. And, with the demise of Pixel based iOS Retargeting audiences, those iOS users can now only be knowingly marketed to at the Prospecting level - even if the user knows who your brand is, has visited your website, added something to their cart and perhaps even purchased a product. Unless you’ve been utilizing 1st-party data, of course.
Improved Facebook Targeting & Attribution with 1st-Party Data
While 1st-party data has always provided incredible value for both advertisers and brands, we might just be entering its Golden Age. It’s never been more important to know (and understand) your audience and valuable 1st-party data provides insight into who your customer is and who your future customer might be. With 1st party data, you can:
- Create personas
- Generate bespoke creative experiences
- Seed high value LALs (the low hanging fruit is riper than ever!)
- Accurately remarket value to past purchasers (upcoming sales, cross selling, new brand offerings, and initiatives)
- Attribute conversions with accuracy
There’s simply no denying the importance of 1st-party data in a private digital world, but it doesn’t solve all of our problems. For example, what other methods can marketers employ to ensure accurate attribution of their efforts on Facebook if the platform is unable to correctly (and consistently) attribute a large portion of their user’s conversions to a brand’s ad spend?
Facebook Attribution Via Historical Data and Halo ROAS
From 2021 to the start of 2022, Facebook (read: Meta) lost 4% of its market cap, or close to $40 B of its worth. The primary reason? You guessed it, Apple’s iOS-14 Update. As marketers and brands struggled to attribute the effectiveness of their work, Facebook ad budgets began to shrink. Naturally, this negatively affected Meta’s bottom line, but it also provided a significant opportunity for savvy marketers.
Historical data displays the effect of an e-commerce brand’s overall ad spend relative to the brand’s bottom line, over an extended period of time. As we know, and even prior to iOS-14, it was never possible to truly attribute ad spend from Facebook to every possible Facebook-led conversion. Facebook would over report, Google Analytics would under report - and if your customer had multiple touchpoints (most do, in all industries) then every platform was vying for credit along the way. However, we know that Facebook ads drive awareness, traffic (even if untraceable now) and revenue, which become increasingly evident when looking at Historical Data and more specifically at the most important metric in such a report - Halo ROAS.
Halo ROAS simply displays the effectiveness of an e-commerce brand’s ad spend on total revenue earned - not just the revenue driven from ad spend. A brand’s ad spend supports all other channels (paid/organic, online/offline) throughout the user’s purchase journey (and multiple touchpoints) so it’s important to measure that spend against what it is truly affecting, your brand’s overall revenue.
Aligning the Values of Your Consumer and Your Brand
Don’t call it a comeback, because branding has been here for years. Unfortunately, it took a back seat to efforts where brands fervently chased potential customers around the internet in what was really just an attempt to pester users for purchases. Now, branding is back and it’s here to stay.
Your brand is the bridge between the products you sell and your potential customers. Branding is the relentless pursuit of aligning your brand’s identity, values and personality with that of your target audience via bespoke brand communication. When 71% of your potential audience (83% of millennials!) prefers to purchase from companies aligned with their values, it’s critical to align on those values and speak to them effectively throughout all communications.
E-commerce is as competitive as it’s ever been and for any brand to stand out in a sea of sameness, leaning into its values and the value it brings to its consumers is the quickest and easiest way to earn brand love… and revenue.
Facebook, Meta and Your Brand’s Future
If we’ve learned anything over the past few years, it’s that change is inevitable and uncomfortable. But, it doesn’t have to be a bad thing. With every change comes an opportunity to try something new, or even to try something that you haven’t tried for a while (ahem, branding!). This isn’t the end of Meta, it’s just a setback. One your brand can use to set up its own comeback.
We’re here to help you get your Facebook marketing back on track so reach out and let’s get started.
About the author: Jeff is a Digital Strategist with 9+ years of Social Media, Influencer and Content Marketing experience who started his career as a copywriter, where he found his work featured on the back covers of national publications and featured on ESPN Radio. He's since worked with various brands like Jaguar, Land Rover, Lenovo, Motorola, Ulta Beauty, Malin & Goetz, Teleflora, b New York and Raaka Chocolate - to name a few. He currently resides in Seattle where he likes to spend as much time outside as possible with his wife and three kids, one of which is a dog.