SKAdNetwork API, or StoreKit Ad Network, is a type of direct install attribution that dominates the App Store. With a privacy-centric approach at its core, it reduces developers’ access to user-level or device-specific data.
Apple introduced this framework within iOS14 in 2018. Its emergence fluttered the industry and enabled app publishers to adjust to new privacy-preserving terms in order not to jeopardize their monetization efforts.
Mobile measurement partners had to adapt as well introducing their solutions (for example, AppsFlyer SKAdNetwork and Adjust SKAdNetwork integrations), updating SDKs, and releasing SKAdNetowrk code that helps publishers and advertisers configure experiments and tests with the update.
How does SKAdNetwork Work?
As it was mentioned above, Apple SKAdNetwork is a way to measure conversion rates without disclosing the identity of users. Let’s figure out how Apple is able to do it without sharing the IDFA (the identifier for advertisers).
With Apple and the App Store serving as the primary facilitator, there are 4 other parties involved in the process:
- Publishing app – the app that features the ad;
- Ad network – it acts as a bridge between advertisers and iOS app publishers;
- Target app – the app promoted via advertisement;
- Mobile measurement partner (MMP) – a third-party solution that helps app marketers measure the performance of their ad campaigns and optimize them (for example, Branch, AppsFlyer, Singular, and Kochava).
SKAdNetwork 2.2 implemented a new property called ‘fidelity’ that helps to differentiate between two eligible ad types and report their resulting impressions to SKAdNetwork. Let’s review their definitions:
- View-through ads (with a Fidelity of 0) indicate whether an ad was viewed;
- StoreKit Rendered ads (with a Fidelity of 1) register whether a StoreKit rendering was generated via click.
Now let’s deconstruct the SKAdNetwork flow:
- Once the ad is shown within the publishing ad, the latter starts the three seconds timer and reports to SKAdNetwork on it.
- The publishing app also notifies SKAdNetwork if the ad display lasts for 3 seconds or more. This activity is registered as a successful view.
- If this view is followed by further user engagement with the ad, the advertised app StoreKit is rendered. When it’s displayed, SKAdNetwork registers the confirmed successful StoreKit rendering.
- Downloading a target app is the expected next step for a user. Providing the StoreKit was rendered with no hitch, the user can download the app without leaving the publishing app. When the user launches the newly downloaded app right from the SKAdNetwork attribution window, the install is attributed to the ad network which receives the install postback from the device. The copy of the install postback is sent to the advertiser as well.
- In comparison with standard postbacks which are sent immediately after the first launch of an app, there can be a considerable attribution window between tapping the ad and an install (up to 30 days).
- It’s also worth mentioning the timer mechanism which delays postback for at least 24 hours. This timer starts when updateConversionValue() method is invoked by the developer. This timer delay along with the lack of user- or device-specific information within a postback ensures privacy and stands in the way of IDing users.
- In case an iOS app publisher works with a third-party mobile measurement partner (like AdColony, AppLovin, Vungle, Everflow, or Firebase), this MMP can receive postbacks directly providing they are indicated as an endpoint by the advertiser. The postback can also be reported to a mobile measurement partner of your choice via dedicated dashboards and APIs.
Limitations of SKAdNetwork
It’s easy to see that the implementation of these signature privacy updates presented considerable challenges and limitations for apps publishers and marketers, some of them include:
- Granularity: barely segmented data is presented only at the campaign level and there can be only 100 ad campaigns on each network.
- Fraud risk: it’s explained by the fact that data is subject to more considerable manipulation thread when in transit.
- Limited analytics on ROI/LTV/ROAS – even though since iOS15 emergence advertisers got more information, installs, conversions, and post-install events are still measured in a very restrictive way.
- Delays: it’s impossible to optimize ad campaigns promptly. With a minimum postback delay of 24 hours.
- Absence of re-engagement attribution support, meaning no deep linking is possible.
These challenges even caused a peculiar reaction in the mobile industry – iOS ad spend dropped when iOS14.5 adoption hit the mainstream in 2021 (noteworthy, Android ad spend was showing steady growth back then).
The best way to address these challenges is to partner with a mobile measurement partner that cooperates with major ad networks (Facebook, Twitter, Google Search Ads, Snapchat, and Tiktok).
The changes SKAdNetwork brings may seem daunting at first but remember that every change conceals new opportunities for your user acquisition efforts.