Over the past number of months, a storm has been brewing within the digital community over Apple’s impending iOS 14 update.

The controversial update will introduce new privacy and tracking measures that will severely hinder the way that apps and websites collect and track data.

One of the platform’s most affected— and one of the most vocal opponents of the change— has been Facebook, who argue that the update will make it harder for its advertisers to get results from their campaigns.

If your school runs Facebook Ads campaigns, or is considering investing in them, navigating this update could be crucial to your success during an already challenging time. Here’s what you need to know.

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The iOS 14 Update Explained for Schools

For the uninitiated, iOS 14 is the latest iteration of the operating system that Apple uses on all of its mobile phone products. From time to time, the company rolls out updates to this system to introduce new features designed to improve user experience and functionality.

Apple’s iPads use a variant version of the system known as iPadOS 14, while its Apple TV products use one known as tvOS 14. The update will affect all three of these systems.

Late in 2020, the tech giant announced that it would be rolling out updates to iOS 14 that would implement stricter policies regarding user privacy and data use. The three most important changes being introduced are:

The ‘Data Nutrition Label’:  App owners will now be required to upload information about how their application collects and uses data. This information will appear as an additional clause when users look to download the app from Apple’s App Store.

The App Tracking Transparency (ATT) Framework: All apps on iOS 14 will now be required to use Apple’s new framework which restricts tracking based on user permissions.

Tracking Transparency Prompt: In order to track iOS 14 user data across third-party apps and websites, apps will need to ask them for permission using an additional prompt.

The first two changes mostly pertain to companies who have developed iOS apps, and are less relevant to those handling Facebook advertising for schools. However, the prompt, which applies to data tracked on both apps and websites, could have drastic implications for your campaigns.

In simple terms, if Facebook, Instagram, Messenger, and other apps in the Facebook family want to track data from iOS 14 users, they will be required to show them a prompt like this:

Source: Apple

If a user opts out, Facebook will not be allowed to track their data when they click through on ads. 

Apple has stated that the changes are designed to provide a higher standard of privacy and security for its users. However, the company has faced criticism for implementing these changes unilaterally, rather than seeking input from the wider industry.

Facebook’s management, in particular, have been extremely outspoken about their opposition to the update. They argue that a large proportion of iOS 14 users will likely opt out of tracking, severely limiting their data collection and tracking capabilities and ultimately hurting the businesses that depend on the platform to generate revenue. 

Dan Levy, the social media giant’s VP of Ads and Business Products, has gone as far as to suggest that the move is motivated more by Apple’s own self-interest than concern for user’s privacy. “They’re creating a policy — enforced via iOS 14’s AppTrackingTransparency — that’s about profit, not privacy,” he wrote in an article in December 2020. “It will force businesses to turn to subscriptions and other in-app payments for revenue, meaning Apple will profit and many free services will have to start charging or exit the market.” 

He also pointed out that Apple were not “playing by their own rules”, since the company’s own ad platform will not be subject to the new policy.  

Despite its protests, Facebook has ultimately chosen to adhere to Apple’s new policies rather than be removed from iOS products, and has set about finding solutions to mitigate the damage these changes will do to its service.

How the iOS 14 Update Will Change Facebook Ads for Schools

To comply with the update, Facebook has had to rethink large parts of its current advertising ecosystem. 

The company itself has openly stated that its solution is far from perfect, and will still place significant limitations on the creation, delivery, and measurement of campaigns.

Here’s a quick overview of the most pertinent changes that those creating Facebook ads for schools will need to contend with in the coming months.

Aggregated Events Measurement and the 8-Event Cap

The update will significantly limit the measurement capabilities of Facebook Ads. Firstly, to allow advertisers to continue to gain insights into their campaign performance with more limited data, Facebook will be introducing an Aggregated Event Measurement model to measure results from iOS 14 users.   

In addition, advertisers will only be allowed to track and optimize 8 conversion events per domain (this includes both pixel events and custom conversions). Any ad sets which optimize for other events will be paused once this change is implemented.

This means that schools will need to streamline their conversion tracking, which could be a blow to those whose campaigns are organized for more granular tracking and optimization. 

Schools will need to organize their conversion events by priority, too. Where a user completes multiple events, only the highest priority event will be counted. 

For example, you might be tracking both conversions and landing page views, but if a prospect views your landing page and then converts, only the conversion will be reported.

The ‘per domain’ stipulation of the new rule may also have ramifications for some schools if they use subdomains or subdirectories for different departments, sections, or multilingual versions of their site. 

Example: The University of Ottawa uses a subdirectory structure to separate the English and French versions of its website (uottowa.ca/en and uottawa.ca/fr).

Under the new limitations, advertisers who have different top-level domains for different sites—for example, schoolname.com and schoolname.co.uk— will be able to assign 8 different conversion events to each domain. 

However, those who use subdomain and subdirectory structures will only have 8 conversion events supported across their entire site. Since these structures are more common for schools, it could become a serious problem, with different stakeholders needing to work to harmonize tracking across the board.

Example: Rotman School of Management houses its site on a subdomain of its parent school, The University of Toronto.

This means the business school will need to use the same conversion events as the wider university.

Reduced Attribution Windows for Conversions

Facebook’s attribution windows will also be more limited as a result of the update. An attribution window defines the amount of time after viewing or clicking on an ad that a user taking a specific action (such as viewing a web page) will be credited in your results.

The ad platform will no longer be supporting 28-day click, 28-day view, and 7-day conversion windows, and the default setting for campaigns will be a 7-day click window and a 1-day view window. Attribution windows will also be set at ad set level, rather than account level.

How much this affects your school’s campaigns will largely depend on the behaviour of your prospects, and how long it takes them to convert after seeing one of your ads.  

More Limited, Delayed Reporting 

The prospect of a large amount of iOS users opting out of tracking will mean that Facebook will use statistical modeling for certain metrics in its results.

In addition, delivery and action breakdowns for conversion events by age, gender, placement, and other factors will no longer be supported for actions outside of the Facebook platform. 

Example: An age and gender breakdown for an ad set optimized for landing page views. 

Perhaps most pertinently, real-time reporting will no longer be available for campaigns. Facebook has advised advertisers that they could expect delays of up to 3 days before they start seeing data. 

Creating Custom Audiences Will Become More Difficult

The estimated increase in the number of users opting out of tracking is likely to decrease the potential size of custom audiences, making it harder to run remarketing and lookalike campaigns. 

It should be noted that simply excluding iOS 14 users from your campaigns is not an option for those looking to get around the current restrictions. 

These changes will apply to all ad campaigns created on Facebook, not just those directed at iOS 14 users, as Facebook felt that creating two separate Ads Manager environments wasn’t practical. In any case, Apple mobile products are so popular that this tactic would significantly reduce your potential audience.

What Schools Should Do to Prepare for the iOS 14 Update

As well as outlining its own plans to adapt to the iOS 14 update, Facebook has stressed a number of steps that its advertisers can take to prepare for the changes.

1. Verify Your Domain in Business Manager

If your school has multiple business managers or ad accounts using the same pixel, domain verification will ensure that there is no disruption to your conversion tracking activities when Facebook’s Aggregated Events Measurement system comes into operation.

Your school can verify its domain in Business Manager by following the steps outlined in this Facebook Help Center article.

2. Define Your 8 Conversion Events

Once the 8-event limit comes into place, Facebook will automatically choose a default top 8 events for your domain based on the ad spend of your recent campaigns. The company is also developing a tool which will help advertisers to prioritize its events and add new ones where needed.

Your school would be wise to evaluate this closely and define what conversion events are most important to your goals. You should also keep in mind that when you create a new conversion event, you may now need to wait up to three days to use it.

If you have multiple faculties and departments running ads on the same domain, or use external agencies for campaigns, it’s important to ensure that this is a collaborative process between all the major stakeholders. This will ensure your conversion tracking strategy serves all of your team members as well as possible.

3. Prepare for Attribution Window Changes

If you have been using 28-day click, 28-day view, and 7-day conversion windows in your school’s Facebook Ads, the new shorter available windows could mean that the results of your future campaigns aren’t what you expected.

To get a sense of how this might change, you can analyze the results of your current campaigns using the window comparison option in Ads Manager.

Example: A group of ad sets with a window comparison of 28-day view and 28-day click attribution versus 1-day view and 7-day click, the default options in Facebook’s new structure.  While the results from some ad sets were unchanged, you can see some differences in one campaign across both windows.

4. Identify and Test New Optimization Strategies 

As much care as both Facebook and your school might take to prepare for the iOS 14 update, there is no doubt you may see it impact the effectiveness of your campaigns.

From now on, your school will be working with more limited reporting, tracking, and campaign management options, and this is going to take some getting used to. 

You may need to develop new optimization strategies designed to get the best results in the new ecosystem, and this may involve some trial and error. As with many areas of digital marketing, the best approach is to test and measure until you find the right strategy.

The iOS 14 Update and Your School’s Other Digital Marketing Channels

It’s important to note that Facebook is not the only digital advertising platform that will be impacted by iOS 14. 

Other social platforms like LinkedIn, as well as search and display advertising platforms like Google Ads, will also be potentially affected to a greater or lesser extent. 

These companies have been less vocal in opposing Apple’s move, and less proactive in adapting their own platforms, but you should be mindful that you could see some changes in the coming months.

What’s more, since Facebook’s solution was developed internally, the response of other platforms could be drastically different. 

Whether you agree with Apple’s stance or Facebook’s, there’s no doubting that this update will continue to cause waves in the industry for some time. Adapting to the new reality will be a challenge, but one that schools can rise to with the right guidance and expertise. 

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