In our previous blog post about the deprecation of IDFA and the new course it set for all mobile marketers with a privacy-protecting compass, we also talked about SkAdNetwork or, in other words, SKAN. By far, it has been accepted and embraced as the solution, the way out of the black pit the IDFA (Identifier for Advertisers) deprecation pushed mobile marketers into.
But what is SkAdNetwork (SKAN) exactly? The word is out and one cannot not have a mobile marketing conversation without mentioning SKAN these days. There are webinars, e-newsletters, and countless blog posts on the topic. Yet there is still some ambiguity as to what SKAN is and one can utilize SKAN data. Finding the precise answer to the question “What is SKAN and how can we utilize it?” is still a bit of a challenge. In this post, we’re aiming to make it clearer for you.
A little bit of background information
Since the ATT (App Tracking Transparency) framework has been pushed with the iOS 14.5 update, it is obligatory for apps to get the user’s consent to collect their data. Meaning that the ID that Apple provides for each of its users (IDFA) will be usable and trackable by app marketers only if the user has given their consent. Without the user consent, marketers cannot track the user individually and show them the relevant ads. Ever since IDFA, which was basically the backbone of app marketing, became dependent on the consent of users, mobile app advertisers have been living in an apocalyptic no-IDFA world. While the privacy-positive changes make sure that the right to privacy is not violated, the grass has not been very green on the mobile marketing side. The changes made it impossible to make decisions based on granular data, leaving a vast industry in the dark.
This is where the SkAdNetwork came into action. Despite its setbacks, mobile marketers from ad networks to publishers and MMPs adopted SkAdNetwork as a solution in an attempt to get back on track without losing any more time or value.
So what is SkAdNetwork, and how does it work?
SkAdNetwork means “StoreKit Ad Network”. It was first introduced in 2018 by Apple and, with the recent changes, became popular amongst mobile marketers. In the most basic sense, it’s an API that enables marketers to measure the success of their campaigns while maintaining the privacy of users. The API of SkAdNetwork flow involves 3 main participants (4 if there is a mobile measurement partner involved).
- Ad networks deliver the ad
- Source apps are the publishing apps that display the ads
- Advertised apps are the target promoted apps
- Mobile measurement partners (MMP) attribute the data
Each of the parties has its own responsibilities in the flow.
- The ad networks provide the ad network ID to the developers, provide signed ads, receive the install validation postbacks, and verify those postbacks.
- The source apps add the ad network ID and display the ads provided by the ad network.
- The advertised apps register app installation and optionally update conversion value.
Apps don’t need to use ATT before calling SkAdNetwork since SkAdNetwork APIs are designed to maintain user privacy and remove granular level data before sending it to the ad network. As SkAdNetwork doesn’t use the granular data taken with the user’s consent, it has become the primary way of attribution for installs of iOS campaigns.
What is the conversion value, and what does it do?
For user acquisition campaigns of mobile games, conversion value represents an action done by a player in a mobile game. Conversion value shows the quality of acquired users and helps with measuring and optimizing campaigns according to revenue or in-app events.
Conversion values are built by using 6bits. The 6bits can be thought of as 6 boxes that you can fill in with 0 or 1. This binary logic enables marketers to collect 64 values, 0 being the lowest (reserved for install event) and 63 being the highest.
As we explained in our previous post on iOS 14.5+, conversion values are shared with ad networks via postbacks. When a player installs the mobile game, a 24-hour postback timer starts. The 24-hour timer restarts each time the application updates the conversion value with a value higher than the previous one. Within 0 - 24 hours after the timer expires, the conversion value sent is final, and the highest valued completed action is sent to the ad network.
You can create a conversion value map to make the most of SkAdNetwork. There is no right or wrong way for creating a conversion value map. To find what works best for you and your user acquisition campaigns, you need to run tests constantly. However, if you’re unsure where to start and don’t have enough data to work with, you can start with the industry best practices and then fine-tune them according to your strategy.
Setbacks of SkAdNetwork
There are a couple of limitations of SkAdNetwork that affect all mobile marketers. We can summarize these limitations as follows:
- Data is limited to the campaign level; mobile marketers no longer have access to more granular data.
- SKAdNetwork measures installs, conversion values, and post-install data, but it’s constrained and time-restricted. Advertisers can only assign 64 values, and if the user downloads an app but doesn’t open it for 24 hours, the timer restarts, and it becomes impossible to gain insights into in-app activities. Even if the app is opened within 24 hours, only the highest conversion value is sent to the ad network, so it is crucial to elaborate on the conversion value map design.
- Postbacks are delayed by at least 24 hours, limiting immediate campaign optimization.
- SKAdNetwork only allows 100 different campaigns per ad network.
How can I utilize SkAdNetwork for my user acquisition campaigns?
Despite limitations, conversion values can give sufficient insights for measurement and optimization if done right. The whole mobile marketing ecosystem is adopting SkAdNetwork and working hand in hand to ensure that the setbacks are overcome. While building the correct conversion value map is crucial in benefiting from the SkAdNetwork data, sorting and attributing the data is just as important to make timely decisions for your UA campaigns.
From now on, seeing the aggregated data of SkAdNetwork with other methods such as IDFA-based attribution and fingerprinting is possible on UAhero. UAhero takes data from different ad networks and platforms and for each ad network, aggregates the data in the background, sorts it, and presents each SKAN and non-SKAN metric as unified. Seeing the aggregated data in one place saves the precious time of mobile marketers since they no longer need to work on making calculations manually and leaves more time to make strategic decisions according to the centralized metrics.