How to Return to Pre-iOS 14.5 for Facebook and Google with Server Side Tracking

August 25, 2022 -
By Scott Konopasek

When iOS 14.5 was released every advertiser saw less accurate performance data from Facebook and Google Adwords. This was a huge issue for advertisers as it made it hard to optimize campaigns and get the most from their budgets. It also meant that it was harder to make data-driven decisions about which campaigns and creatives were working best. The problem stemmed from a change in the way Apple handled third-party cookies, which are used by Facebook and Google to track ad clicks on their platforms.

Fortunately, there’s a way to get back the old level of data and performance. This article will show you how to do it and why it’s important.

The Impacts of iOS 14.5 on Advertisers

iOS 14.5 drastically limited the number of ad tracking mechanisms that developers can use in their apps. The update blocked the ability of advertisers to track users across the web and build profiles to deliver targeted advertisements. Apple’s new restrictions also cut off advertisers from tracking users on Facebook and Google. The changes caused a major shift in the accuracy of Facebook and Google’s conversion reporting and algorithmic targeting.

In plain English, iOS 14.5 prevents ad platforms from tracking web activity and conversions across sites on iOS devices. This means that advertisers have no way to tell if their app users are also using the same device on their desktop or laptop. This makes it harder to build user profiles, deliver targeted ads and measure ROI.

These major changes in platform performance have shifted how advertisers spend their budgets. For the first time ever, Facebook reported a decrease in revenue in their latest quarterly earnings. That means that for the first time ever, Facebook is no longer growing – showing that advertisers don’t trust the platform the way that they used to.

How Tracking Used to Work

Before iOS 14.5, advertisers would install the Facebook Pixel on their website. The pixel is a line of code that you put on your webpage (for example, your shopping cart page) that sends data back to Facebook when someone places an item in their basket.

Facebook can then use this information to help advertisers understand how well their ads are working, and for which types of products or services. For example, if you sell furniture, and you want to know what leads are converting into sales, you can use the Facebook Pixel to identify which users saw an ad for your furniture and clicked through to your site – these are your leads. Then you can use Facebook’s reporting tools to see how many of those leads turned into sales.

The Facebook Pixel became less effective with iOS 14.5 because it no longer allowed Facebook cookies to track users as they moved to a non-Facebook site. This meant that if someone clicked on one of your ads in Facebook and was taken to your website, Facebook couldn’t see if you visited that site. 

Facebook’s Conversions API: An Incomplete Solution

In response to the Facebook Pixel becoming less reliable, Facebook launched their Conversions API or CAPI. The Conversions API sends data from your website or app to Facebook so Facebook can track conversion events that they otherwise might not detect with the Pixel. Advertisers can connect a CAPI to several different types of conversion events such as an e-commerce sale or a lead form fill. The CAPI then sends the captured customer data and tries to match those records with Facebook’s records to find that user’s Facebook ID.

The Conversions API has filled gaps for many advertisers, but it is not a perfect solution. For most advertisers, there’s still 30%-40% of conversion events that Facebook can’t match back to a user with the provided customer data. CAPI is a step in the right direction, but the Conversions API alone is not enough to get advertisers back to pre-iOS 14.5 tracking.

Server Side Tracking: The Real Fix

Server Side Tracking fills in the gaps left by a Conversions API by incorporating a platform’s native ID’s. Server side tracking is a method of tracking a user’s activity on a website that is not tied to any specific browser. This means that the data is not stored on the user’s browser, but on the web host’s server. It allows you to track how long users stay on your site, where they go and what pages they visit, along with other useful and interesting data points.

How Server Side Tracking Works

The best Server Side Tracking will generate a first-party cookie on a user when they visit a website for the first time. A first-party cookie will capture their on-site activity, as well as information such as an IP address, device ID, or ad platform ID’s.

Any time a visitor comes back to the website, the cookie is refreshed and the new data will be captured under that first-party cookie. Key customer information like name, email, or phone numbers can not be captured by a first party cookie unless the user enters them on your website.

Server side tracking works by sending a request to a server each time a page is loaded. The server then checks if there is an account associated with the device or browser and if so, it will return a unique identifier for that user. This data can then be used for analytics purposes to monitor how many people are visiting your site and their activity.

The 2 Benefits of Server Side Tracking

One of the coolest things that Server Side Tracking allows brands to do is capture and provide ad platforms such as Facebook or Google with their own IDs. This overcomes the shortcomings of CAPIs to provide a 100% match rate for conversions. With Server Side Tracking, advertisers can report back all of their conversions to the ad platforms to improve platform reporting and improve algorithm performance.

With the limited visibility of Facebook’s Pixel after iOS 14.5, advertisers deprioritized Facebook in their media buys because the platform reporting got worse. Server Side Tracking allows brands to return to pre-iOS 14.5 tracking because a 1st Party Cookie can capture every visitor and customer’s Facebook ID when they click through from Facebook to your website. This means that their attribution data gets restored to full accuracy because their visibility into your web analytics is no longer limited. Server Side Tracking allows ad platforms to report on influenced conversions accurately again.

The logical consequence of improved tracking for ad platforms is that they can target better. If Facebook and Google now have 30%-40% more data on your customers, their targeting algorithms can leverage that data to display your ads to the users that are most likely to convert. Server Side Tracking makes your ad spend more efficient by helping ad platforms target better.

Channel Diversification

In addition to implementing Server Side Tracking to overcome the effects of iOS 14.5, every marketing team should also consider testing new ad channels. The marketing industry is always changing. New technologies are being developed, new channels capture user attention (TikTok) and new privacy updates are guaranteed to happen.

In this ever-changing environment, you need to be testing new channels before fully implementing them. This lets you avoid costly mistakes and ensure that you’re investing in channels that deliver results. This doesn’t mean testing every new channel you come across. Instead, focus on the ones with the highest potential impact on your business goals and audience segments.

For some CTV might be a home run and for others remarketing or programmatic could be the thing that drives accelerated incremental revenue. Testing new channels and diversifying your media mix in addition to Server Side Tracking is a great way to be proactive so you’re not scrambling when a tech giant makes a power play.

Final Notes

As you can see there are a lot of important changes to keep up with. In order to stay relevant and competitive you will need to become an expert on these topics and be able to recommend solutions when they approach you looking for answers.

Being able to explain why Facebook looks like it’s performing worse and how to improve reporting and ad delivery will impress your clients or leadership and help make sure your brand(s) are positioned to perform well in the short- and long-term.