iOS 14.5 and Marketing Analytics: How Concerned Should You Be?

In the past few weeks, we’ve heard that the sky is falling and that marketing will forever be ruined with Apple’s new iOS 14.5 update which would put privacy popups all over users’ iPhones. Now that the update is out, what’s the reality? How much of the hype was true?

I upgraded my phone to iOS 14.5 and decided to do some testing. One of the things I noticed out of the gate is that there were no privacy popups. Why? iOS 14.5 defaults to the strictest privacy settings. If users want to have the opportunity to give data to marketers, they have to enable it in the operating system first:

iOS privacy setting

What’s the probability of users doing this? Almost zero. I’m a marketer and I won’t even turn it on in my phone.

How Bad Is the Impact on Basic Analytics?

So how much of an impact does this have? I wanted to test this out with Google Analytics (the software of choice for a sizeable part of marketing) and see just how much data loss there was:

Can’t see anything? Watch it on YouTube here.

The short version? There wasn’t any noticeable data loss. I could still see my phone browsing my company’s website in Incognito/private browsing mode in Safari, Google Chrome, and the browser viewers in the Facebook and Twitter apps. Not only could I see my activity (which requires a Javascript to fire in the client browser, because I haven’t enabled server-side tagging yet), but I could see critical information like source, medium, and browser type.

In other words, I could see all the necessary information I need for basic unpaid marketing analytics.

Now, I didn’t test my company’s Facebook ads, but given how well unpaid tracking works, it’s not a great leap of faith to guess that basic paid tracking works as well; some things, like more complex Facebook pixels, I’m sure ARE impacted. Facebook has made no bones about how much they oppose Apple’s efforts, and they wouldn’t be quite so vociferous over nothing. But for the most part, it appears that Facebook is the loudest and most affected company; we’ve heard very little out of, say, Google on the topic.

Key Takeaways

There are things we should be doing as marketers to ensure we still have enough data to work with.

First, make sure your analytics setup is in good working order. Perform the same test I just did in the video, with Google Analytics real-time running, and see how your site is doing. If your site is very busy, then do it at the slowest time of day if you can.

Second, slim down how much is running on your site and put as much as possible into services like Google Tag Manager. The fewer pixels and tracking mechanisms on the page, the better – you want your site to be lean and fast in general.

Third, rigorously enforce the use of things like Google Analytics UTM tracking codes on everything. Email going out? Make sure your tracking codes are embedded in the links. Social posts going up? Make sure your tracking codes are in use. Billboard on the highway? Put tracking codes on the link, then shorten the link to something people can remember as they’re driving by. UTM tracking codes are the best, most robust, most difficult to block form of tracking – and they’re non-invasive, only collecting data when the user clicks on your link.

Fourth, for the various advertising platforms you work with, implement their required changes if you haven’t done so already. Prioritize that effort commensurate with how much you spend in ads on any given platform; for this, my personal website, I’ll get around to it eventually because I don’t spend money on Facebook ads all that often.

Fifth and most important, from a strategic perspective, prioritize first-party data efforts. That means doing things like building your email list, your text messaging list, loyal readers of your blog, your Slack or Discord community – anything where you are the primary manager of the relationship with your audience. I’ll say the same thing I’ve been saying since 2006:

Stop building on rented land.

If you don’t own the relationship with your audience, you don’t own anything. You are at the mercy of third parties, and they can do whatever they want to you and you have no choice in the matter. Look how ill-used you feel by companies like MySpace back in the day, or Facebook constantly pulling the rug out from under you and and demanding your credit card just to get any results.

Own the relationship with your audience. That is the best, most durable, most robust strategy you can pursue in marketing. It’s hard because it requires you to care about your audience and create significant value for them, but it’s the only thing that truly stands the test of time – and no adtech change will ever disrupt that.


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