The bottom line: web measurement and attribution have become exponentially more complex over the past few years. Now, with iOS app tracking transparency (ATT), which enforces an opt-in approach for tracking on its devices, many advertisers fall behind in adjusting. The ones that overcome these challenges and provide reliable attribution for their partners / affiliates – are the ones that will capture the lion’s share of the traffic.
In a previous blog post, I wrote about the increased hardships in tracking web users via cookies. Since then, a new barrier to tracking has emerged, this time in the app ecosystem. While Apple iOS had been gradually tightening the ring around tracking, their latest move in May 2021 – rolling out the ATT framework and requiring each app to get explicit user consent for tracking – had completely changed the game.
By “Under-tracking” I refer to measurement systems that track users’ conversion actions on their site / app – but aren’t fully up to speed with the latest changes in the ecosystem. The end result is that a portion of conversions isn’t properly attributed to their real source, but rather fall under “default / organic”. How big is this portion? It depends on the system at hand, the product’s typical conversion cycle, and the traffic mixup of a particular source (e.g. browser, device breakdown). But it can reach up to 50% of referred traffic going “untracked”.
One simple example is handling of cookies – in 2021, some popular browsers seriously limit or outright block the usage of 3rd party cookies, and Google chrome is expected to follow suit in 2022. Modern tracking systems such as “Impact” aim to overcome the issue, by offering server-side tracking, thus switching over to more resilient 1st party tracking. But Impact advertisers need to actively transition and implement Impact’s server side code, which not all of them do. Not to mention, many advertisers that built their own “tracking portal” rely on internal (mostly outdated) code, and are sometimes years behind in terms of tackling these issues.
Another common issue is an over-simplistic attribution model, which relies on unfiltered “last click”. Why is it over-simplistic? For example: Let’s say a user was referred by a certain source, spends 20 minutes on the site, and then leaves. The user then returns to the site 30 minutes later via a brand search – the session in which he or she performs a conversion action. This conversion will be attributed to the brand search and not the original referrer. Of course, this misses the bigger picture; without the original referring source, there probably would not have been a conversion at all.
Enter app tracking
With iOS capturing 20-40% market share (depending on geolocation), the introduction of ATT in iOS 14.5 was an earthquake for the app ecosystem. Since its release in May 2021, Apple requires any app that tracks users’ browsing data (basically, all commercial apps) to notify users about the tracking activity and to ask their consent for it. A user can either agree to be tracked or click “do not track” – in which case tracking will be blocked for this user. Early statistics show that 60-80% of iOS users choose to not be tracked.
For app advertisers, this is a major setback in measuring the value of ads, partners, and channels properly. However, there are workarounds.
Apple is offering an alternative to tracking individual users, called SkadNetwork. It provides aggregated anonymized data with a certain latency, and seriously limits the number of conversion events and conversion values – allegedly to prevent “fingerprinting” of individual users.
Beyond SkadNetwork, powerful app tracking platforms such as AppsFlyer have developed additional tracking capabilities, relying on multiple signals to attribute conversions more fully. At Seperia, we have seen drastic variation from measuring iOS users between AppsFlyer and other app tracking vendors.
Why is under-tracking a risk?
Under-tracking leads to skewed data and flawed budget allocation – you get the impression that organic traffic is performing well. However, in the majority of cases, this is far from accurate and is the result of your current tracking’s inaptitude. When you don’t measure your paid traffic properly (both media buying and affiliation), you lose the basis for optimization, and gradually lose ground on both Google / Facebook auctions and affiliate partner placements.
This inevitably makes a company less attractive within affiliate channels, and allows others to capture most of the channel’s traffic. These competitors will gain a competitive edge; They are able to attribute traffic more fully, reward the best channels more accurately, and ultimately attract more partners and more traffic -all at the expense of the under-trackers.
Avoiding the risk-keeping the channel thriving
So, how can you ensure under-tracking won’t harm your partner channel?
Use powerful, up-to-date tracking technology such as Impact, Tune, or another advanced system. And no less important – make sure to implement it properly with server-side tracking.
If you’re an app advertiser, we recommend using AppsFlyer, which seems to be the furthest ahead in terms of measuring within iOS 14.5 and beyond.
If you have both web and app products, you’re probably integrating the app measurement data within the general tracking platform – for a unified view and convenient reporting to your own team and to partners. As this is another source of potential friction, make sure to implement the APIs properly and to QA it thoroughly on both Android and iOS data.