iOS 14: What Is SKAdNetwork And How To Prepare

Michael Cole

Update: Apple officially made the decision to delay the requirement of IDFA requiring consent until the start of 2021. This provide more time before these SKAdNetwork changes become essential. Everflow releases SKAdNetwork updated functionality in the v 2.9.0 update on Oct 20, 2020.

SKAdNetwork, and the iOS 14 release, 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).  

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.

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

The post-IOS 14 server-side setup.

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

User’s Journey: App Store > Ad Network

Server-Side Click’s Journey: Publisher Parallel Click > Everflow > MMP. The MMP will be able to provide fingerprinting attribution on the user using the IP and User Agent collected by Everflow 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 Blais, CTO of Everflow, on server-side click functionality.

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.

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.

Next Up From Everflow

We’re working on updating the Everflow interface to make it easy to define the SKAdNetwork ID on both the Advertiser-specific or Global Level. 

We will also be incorporating all of the attribution metrics introduced with this SKAdNetwork release (Campaign ID, App ID, and the 64 character Event IDs) and building a backup catch-all option.

Quote from Jonathan Blais, CTO of Everflow, on next steps.

Clients use Everflow to optimize and manage their traffic sources directly. 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 a significant advantage, 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.

Interested in seeing Everflow in action?

See Demo