iOS 14: What Is SKAdNetwork And How To Prepare

SKAdNetwork, and the IDFA changes in iOS 14.5, fundamentally changes how attribution is done in the mobile performance marketing space. Here is what to know and how to handle these changes.
Michael Cole
March 29, 2023

Update (April 26, 2021): iOS 14.5 went live with the IDFA opt-in requirements, which is expected to push the industry quickly towards using SKAdNetwork for primary attribution.

Update (February 26, 2021): Full SKAdNetwork Guide added to our HelpDesk that explains everything you need to set up the Everflow platform to handle the SKAdNetwork framework the right way - [Click Here]

SKAdNetwork, and the IDFA changes in iOS 14.5, fundamentally changes how attribution is done in the mobile performance marketing space. Specifically, as it relates to the following:

  • IDFA  (the iOS Advertising Device ID) - Usage now requires explicit user consent and the opt-in rates are expected to be very low (AdXChanger). This effectively ends the IDFA as a reliable identifier of users.
  • Attribution - Apple is effectively taking attribution in-house in an effort to ensure user privacy. User clicks will no longer be routed through any third party attribution provider (MMP).

For a quick explanation of what SKAdNetwork is, check out this highlght from our conversation with Roy Yanai of AppsFlyer:

What You Should Know About SKAdNetwork:  

  1. Loss of IDFA eliminates the concept of user-level tracking. 
  2. Attribution Postbacks will be delivered by Apple directly to the end points defined by Ad Networks. This forces all networks to prepare and adapt to these changes quickly.
  3. Each Ad Network must register directly with Apple and obtain an Ad Network ID. Each ID will be limited to 100 campaign IDs which will be used to track campaign performance down to publishers, placements, source IDs etc. This reduces the level of granularity available with current setups.
  4. No redirects will be allowed. This poses a significant challenge in terms of tracking real-time performance, delivery of campaigns, and detecting fraud.
  5. Postbacks will be delayed by up to 24 hours, which eliminates the ability to measure click-to-install time or event time.

If you’re an Ad Network, Agency or Publisher, you need to register as an Ad Network - [Register with Apple Here]

How Everflow Addresses The Challenges Of SKAdNetwork 

The Everflow platform already offers significant capabilities that address most of the changes and challenges imposed by iOS 14. These features have been proven at scale across our clients.

We already provide: Real-Time Reporting, Pixel-based or Server-Side Click and Impression Tracking, View-Through Attribution, and capture the critical device attributes (IP, User Agent, etc.) used for fingerprinting attribution. All of these features will help ease the transition for Ad Networks, Agencies, and Brands into this new world.

Discussing SKAdNetwork And Fighting Fraud

We're persistently working to determine the best ways for clients to handle the massive upcoming changes from SKADNetwork adoption - as more details come out and are able to be tested in the real world. To this end, we sat down with Sven Hezel, CEO and Founder of 24metrics, which is an Everflow integrated partner that provides anti-fraud detection and prevention. We discuss the basics of SKAdNetwork, how both our companies are preparing for it, and what fraud might look like under SKAdNetwork. Here is the full recording of our chat:

Expect more fireside chat conversations about SKADNetwork in the coming months. To see when our next SKAdNetwork chat (or all things performance marketing) is coming up - Follow us on LinkedIn.

A World Without Redirects

With these new changes, the user must be sent directly from the ad placement to the Apple App Store. This makes re-brokering far less viable.  

While sending the user directly to the App Store, Everflow simultaneously passes the critical impression and click data using pixels or a server-side implementation, as depicted in the flow below.

Understanding the New Attribution Flow

For passing data through Server-Side Clicks, two actions need to be set up to happen in parallel:

  1. User’s Journey: App Store > Ad Network
  2. Server-Side Click’s Journey: Publisher Parallel Click > Everflow > MMP. Using the IP and User Agent collected by Everflow, the MMP will be able to provide fingerprinting attribution on the user to determine the conversion event.

We recommend all clients promoting iOS offers to prepare their setup to be able to receive postback conversion directly from Apple and fingerprint conversions from the MMPs (for reasons explained further on).

Enable Server-Side Tracking ASAP

The best way you can prepare for the upcoming changes is to enable Server-Side Clicks for all of your iOS offers in Everflow.

Quote from Jonathan on how we support server-side clicks.

If you’re tracking Impressions, View-Through Attributions are also server-side, and will continue to track conversions successfully.

Setup Note: With Server-Side Clicks, the App/MMP won't be able to detect the user’s IP or User Agent. As these are critical details for fingerprinting attribution, make sure to append these parameters to your Server-Side Clicks:

Adding IP and User Agent Parameters to the server-side click

Tracking SKAdNetwork In-App Events

With SKAdNetwork, the app is able to pass up to 64 event values. Clients will be able to receive this data directly to identify, track and analyze in-app events as they have always done.

The Event Report makes it easy to break down the event performance by offer, partner, or other comparative metric. 

Event Reporting provides a breakdown of performance by event.

Here is Roy from AppsFlyer explaining how the postback conversion window will work under SKAdNetwork:

Analyzing Traffic and Stopping Fraud

Everflow is used for managing all of the sources of performance driving traffic. By being closer to the traffic side, we’re able to collect the critical data from the source for real-time tracking of impressions and clicks. This data can be leveraged for analyzing traffic, while blocking fraud traffic sources and proxy traffic.

Analytics lets you maximize the insights from your real-time data.

Our clients have always had the advantage of being able to automatically block traffic on the placement level. These features have become even more critical now that anti-fraud vendors are no longer able to monitor traffic in the redirect chain. Most fraudulent activity is stopped by setting clear rules that automatically block any partner’s traffic sources that deliver unnatural conversion rates, low event rates or other suspicious metrics.

Automatically block fraud with SmartSwitch rules.

Your Ad Network ID Needs To Be Detected In Every Placement

We’re still exploring the ramifications of this requirement and would not be surprised if there are additional announcements/changes associated with it. 

Here is the requirement directly explained by Apple:

“The ad network ID is a unique identifier of the form “example123.skadnetwork”. Share your ad network ID with app developers who display your ads. Developers must include your ID in their app’s information property list to initiate the app install validation process. (Apple)”

Based on the linked instructions, in order to receive postbacks from Apple you will have your Ad Network ID included in the publisher apps info.plist. The major DSPs have already started requiring their app publishers to regularly update their apps with the DSP’s global list of required SKAdNetwork IDs. 

There are clear issues with this from a feasibility and viability perspective for advertisers, networks and the Ad Networks. For example, this method shouldn’t work at all for mobile web as the info.plist doesn’t exist on that side. 

We’re keeping in close contact with our clients and industry peers to better understand how this requirement will be handled.

Our recommendation: Make sure that you set up and enable Server-Side Clicks to pass all of the necessary details for the MMPs to be able to do fingerprinting attribution. This will be the best setup for transitioning, and gives you time to start getting your SKAdNetwork IDs into your partnered publisher apps.

Are you a mobile ad network? Check out how Roy explains how ad networks will work with AppsFlyer clients that are using the SKAdNetwork framework:

Next Up From Everflow

We've been busy working on updating the Everflow interface to reflect the new requirements posed by SKAdNetwork.

Quote from Jonathan on how we're preparing for the future.

Everflow SKAdNetwork Beta Screenshots (Nov 2020)

The screenshots below are mainly about achieving full SKAdNetwork functionality by allowing clients to set up and manage all of the required parameters for tracking and compliance. After we test this with more beta clients, we will refine and polish this section.

You can create a new iOS App Attribution setup with the necessary Ad Network parameters and API keys:

How to add SKAD Network IDs in Everflow

For managing your various app offers and partners, you can assign a Campaign ID to them, and then track their tied performance accordingly:

Setting up your SKAD Campaign IDs

Finally, you'll be able to receive the postback data from Apple, and then pass on that data on to other partner and advertiser postback sources, including the MMP:

Structuring MMP Postbcack setups

With our iOS App Attribution section, clients will be able to use Everflow to optimize and manage their traffic sources directly based on SKAdNetwork data and postbacks.

Being close to the traffic allows us to detect and pass the critical IP and User Agent data that the MMPs need for fingerprinting attribution. This gives us and our clients a significant advantage and benefit for their partners, especially in the early stages of this massive transition.

Our goal is to make it as easy as possible to adapt quickly despite the challenges posed by iOS 14 and SKAdNetwork, while continuing to empower our clients by arming them with the platform for optimizing data effectively.

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