When Apple introduced App Tracking Transparency (ATT) last year, many in the digital marketing industry saw it as the end of mobile marketing. While that hasn’t come to fruition, ATT has impacted the industry in various ways. 

    At the outset of the iOS14.5 update that introduced ATT, advertisers like Facebook shrugged. They valiantly tried to maintain poker faces while the digital marketing landscape changed overnight. Now, Facebook has made it clear that ATT is costing it billions of dollars while digital marketers lament the degradation of data quality they can now collect.

    Now that we know how iOS 14 and 15 have impacted digital marketing and with the end of third-party cookies looming on the horizon, it’s time for marketers to get real about adjusting their strategies. 

    Bottom line: If you rely on Facebook ad campaigns, the Facebook business suite, and similar ad networks to connect with consumers, it’s time to diversify your outreach efforts so you can keep driving revenue from targeted audience segments. 

    The Impact of iOS Updates on Digital Marketing

    Right now, about 46.9% of US smartphone users have an iPhone, and most of those iPhones are running iOS 15. With almost half of the US consumers on iOS products, iOS updates can have an outsized impact on digital marketing. And that’s exactly what we’ve seen happen over the past year.

    Impact of iOS 14.5

    When iOS 14.5 rolled out in April 2021, user privacy concerns dominated the marketing landscape. While consumers have always felt a tad uneasy with targeted ads, the App Tracking Transparency popup brought more attention to how advertisers collect, use, and sell private information and spawned new ways to tackle iOS 14 marketing. 

    Now, devices that run on iOS 14.5 or later prompt consumers to indicate whether they want to share their information with advertisers after every mobile app installation. When introduced, marketers worried about the impact this would have on Facebook Ads and display ads on other apps, and rightly so. Emarketer estimates 63% of users are opting out of tracking.

    In response to ATT, Facebook created Aggregated Event Measurement (AEM) to enable digital marketers to track conversions or events for iOS users who have opted out of tracking. However, while better than nothing, AEM doesn’t provide the same quality of data digital marketers have become accustomed to. Fast forward a year, and Facebook has stated they expect to lose $10 Billion due to ATT

    Adversity can lead to ingenuity, and the ATT has led to companies skirting the privacy requirement by using cohorts. Rather than using personal data, these organizations aggregate the data and say this protects privacy. That means even though users are opting out, apps are still collecting their data and justifying their actions by saying that it’s no longer “personal” data. While this may seem like a good workaround for some, changes in iOS 15.2 may necessitate a new approach. 

    Impact of iOS 15

    If you use email marketing, you’ve probably heard about the mail privacy protection feature in iOS 15. In true hyperbolic fashion, iOS 15 has been decried as the death of email marketing since the Apple update allows users to opt out of email attribution. But six months after the September 2021 update, Hubspot published the results of a survey that showed only about 30% of email marketers had seen a negative impact from the iOS email update, while 70% saw no change or a positive change.

    The biggest impact, of course, was limited access to user data and open rates, which can make creating targeted email campaigns and measuring campaign effectiveness more difficult. 

    iOS 15 also included a SKadNetwork update, which has helped manage some of the issues created by 14.5 by increasing the attribution window. However, it still doesn’t provide the user-level data digital marketers crave. 

    Impact of iOS 15.2

    Earlier, I mentioned advertisers skirting ATT by creating cohorts. The iOS 15.2 update includes Apple’s latest privacy feature, the App Privacy Report (APP). This report shows users who’s collecting their personal data and may show how certain apps are skirting ATT rules by grouping user data and creating “cohorts.” However, APP isn’t automatically activated. Users have to turn it on for themselves. Since this is a relatively new feature, its effects aren’t apparent. However, it could lead to some users deleting apps that continue to track them and skirt ATT settings. 

    iOS Marketing

    There’s no doubt future iOS updates will also focus on consumer privacy as Apple does its best to comply with or stay ahead of legislation regulating the tech industry. To weather these changes, digital marketers need to expand their current SEO efforts and implement a comprehensive SEO strategy that surgically targets search intent.

    Apple will continue to roll out privacy features that may impact how businesses gather data from and communicate with consumers. Failing to diversify your digital advertising may mean that a simple update could completely uproot your marketing efforts. By investing in SEO now and ensuring an optimal website experience for mobile users, you can protect yourself from future privacy updates that may further impact or limit your digital marketing capabilities.

    The Enhanced Data Value of SEO

    Display ads on Facebook and other apps aim to bring both new and repeat visitors to a website. Without accurate data, however, these ads become less effective. 

    SEO doesn’t rely on personal data — optimizing your content for specific search intent can help you create a flow of new visitors and provide value that encourages return visitors. Plus, thanks to free tracking tools like Google Analytics and Google Search Console and quality paid tools like Ahrefs and SEMrush, you can accurately track the effectiveness of your SEO efforts and create an attribution model for your organic visitors.

    Benefits of SEO in the Face of Increased Privacy Concerns

    While SEO has long been a powerful marketing channel in its own right, new privacy protections have reinforced the need for a strong SEO strategy.

    SEO benefits include:

    1. No need for third-party data tracking

    There’s no need to use third-party cookies to gather information with SEO. Google Analytics, Google Search Console , and other third-party tools can help you measure the impact of your optimizations and track target keyword rankings. Stop relying on tools like the Facebook pixel and take control over your own data. 

    2. Drives targeted traffic to your website 

    One of the big fears marketers have about increased privacy features is that they’ll no longer be able to target specific audience segments. But robust keyword research with a highly focused search intent, combined with an optimized content marketing strategy, can deliver your message to the right audience at the right time. In short, a strategic SEO campaign can target your prospects and drive qualified traffic directly to conversion points on your website.

    3. Builds trust & credibility while creating brand awareness

    There’s no doubt that display ads build brand awareness — but they don’t build trust. Because a large part of SEO is creating quality content, it helps companies establish trust and showcase their credibility while also building brand awareness among searchers and visitors. 

    4. Allows you to target different customer journey stages

    Content drives SEO and allows you to focus on what’s important to your potential customers at defined points in their buying journey. Target different stages of awareness with content that provides the most value to potential customers at any given touchpoint. For example, for a camera seller, top-of-funnel content may focus more on photography tips, middle-of-funnel on more in-depth camera features, and bottom-of-funnel on camera reviews and comparisons. 

    5. Higher conversion rate than PPC for many industries

    Digital marketers love PPC campaigns. However, they can have surprisingly low conversion rates. In fact, in many industries, SEO has a higher conversion rate than PPC. That’s not the only difference between these two digital marketing channels. See which industries have the best ROI between SEO and PPC with or our blog about SEO vs PPC.

    6. Quality analytics that don’t require personal data tracking

    With free tools like Google Search Console and Google Analytics, you can see how your website is performing in search results and how site visitors interact with your site without collecting personal data. Plus, you can compare your results against historical data to measure the effectiveness of different optimization strategies. 

    7. Scalable, while still providing all of the above

    SEO is a scalable solution — and it’s ability to scale doens’t impact any of its other benefits. You can still target specific audiences, build trust and brand awareness, and access quality analytics as you increase your SEO efforts. Scaling your SEO serves to improve your ability to reach potential customers when they’re looking for particular information or products.

    Tips for Shifting Your Digital Marketing Budget to SEO

    There are various ways you can redistribute your digital marketing budget to better support your SEO strategy. To start, you can move a percentage of your social ad spend into SEO initiatives. Alternatively, if you find particular marketing channels are no longer effective, you can shift their budgets to search engine optimization and drive organic traffic to your most important web pages.

    If your primary concern is iOS users, you can determine what percentage of your target audience is Apple users and shift that percentage of ad spend over to SEO. For example, if you know 50% of your target audience uses iOS, you can shift 50% of the budget for social media and display ads to SEO. 

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