It’ll be hard to beat the drama that surrounded the release of iOS 14.5 on Monday.
But the beat goes on, and the beta of iOS 14.6, which includes a feature update for the third version of SKAdNetwork, is waiting in the wings.
SKAdNetwork is Apple’s limited (and therefore privacy preserving) solution for attribution on iOS 14. The first version of SKAdNetwork was released in 2018 followed by the introduction of SKAdNetwork 2.0 at Apple’s Worldwide Developer’s Conference in June 2020.
As part of SKAdNetwork 3.0, Apple will allow devices to send postbacks to multiple ad networks. The winning ad network will receive an install validation postback for the successful ad impression, while up to five other other ad networks will be alerted that they didn’t win the attribution event.
The good news: “Apple’s showing a commitment to improving SKAdNetwork,” said Eran Friedman, CTO of mobile attribution provider Singular. “Marketers need more tools to run performance marketing effectively.”
The not-so-good news: “While SKAdNetwork 3.0 introduces some much-needed changes, the solution is still unfortunately not ideal in some key respects,” said Kunal Nagpal, GM of publisher platforms and exchange at mobile ad platform InMobi.
Win some, lose some
For example, although there’s some value in getting a “loss notification” for attribution, it’s not clear exactly how an ad network or advertiser could actually use that information, said Guido Crego, VP of product at mobile DSP Jampp.
“Given the nature of SKAdNetwork, that signal is not really actionable, as you cannot know for sure if you are losing the attribution [based on] specific variables or what,” Crego said.
And, “Apple being Apple,” there are also “weird, arbitrary limitations” in the updated documentation, he said, pointing to the fact that “up to five other ad networks” will receive a postback with a did-win parameter.
“Why five? And how are those five selected? Randomly? By timestamp of the impressions?” Crego said.
The answer to those questions is far from clear in the documentation currently available.
Still, developers and mobile ad tech companies don’t want to look a gift horse in the mouth. And the fact that Apple is taking some steps to improve SKAdNetwork is a positive thing.
“It’s encouraging that Apple is making improvements to SKAdnetwork, and the new ‘multitouch lite’ functionality in v3.0 certainly isn’t a bad thing,” said Alex Bauer, head of product marketing at mobile measurement provider Branch. “But I also don’t think that most marketers would have asked for this improvement first.”
There are two features in particular that most developers and advertisers say they’d love to have, neither of which is available – or is set to become available – through SKAdNetwork.
The first is support for reengagement campaigns, which relies on a device ID, like the IDFA, to target cohorts of existing users based on their historical interactions with an app.
Putting aside the challenge of targeting the right users using what will presumably be a much smaller pool of opted-in IDFAs now that the AppTrackingTransparency framework is being enforced, SKAdNetwork postbacks by definition don’t pass user-level information back to the ad network even if a user opts into tracking. Without a list of up-to-date device IDs, reengagement will get less and less effective over time until it will no longer be worth doing.
The second feature developers are hoping for is the ability to measure web-to-app journeys and conversions, as when someone clicks on a mobile web display ad and gets redirected to the App Store. SKAdNetwork supports attribution for app-to-app conversions. Apple has a separate piece of technology called Private Click Measurement that helps with web-to-web and app-to-web measurement, but nothing yet exists to effectively measure the web-to-app user flow.
It’s unlikely that Apple will start passing IDFAs to ad networks, so app reengagement as we know it could be a thing of the past.
But eventual web-to-app support within a future version of SKAdNetwork isn’t beyond the realm of possibility.
“It’s a major gap for web-based ad networks and Apple just recently supported app-to-web flows,” Singular’s Friedman said. “So, I think that’s just a matter of time.”