Best practices guide: Drive better performance and measurement for iOS App campaigns

This illustration demonstrates driving better performance and measurement for iOS App campaigns.

User expectations for privacy continue to grow, and new policies have been introduced which change how consumer data is collected and used for advertising. To effectively adapt to these new platform standards, it’s important that you understand measurement solutions that are available to you.

This guide provides a comprehensive overview of key iOS measurement methodologies that have emerged, how to evaluate using each, and best practices that you should follow today to more accurately measure your iOS App campaign results and drive lasting performance.

1. Understand key iOS measurement methodologies

As the industry moves away from individual identifiers, multiple forms of measurement have emerged for iOS app install campaigns.

  • Google’s conversion modelling: Modelled conversions, which we report in your Google Ads UI, use Google AI to help you assess the performance of your campaigns when a subset of conversions can’t be directly linked to ad interactions. This creates a more complete and accurate picture of your ads’ performance. Learn more About modelled online conversions.
  • Apple’s SKAdNetwork: SKAdNetwork helps app advertisers measure their ad activity, such as impressions, clicks and app installs, on an aggregated level. SKAdNetwork has become increasingly important to app advertisers in assessing their iOS campaign performance. Furthermore, upcoming version 4.0 updates to SKAdNetwork may prove to represent your App campaign performance even more, specifically as it relates to the inclusion of web-to-app Search inventory for Safari browsers. Additional notable updates include longer in-app event conversion windows to 35 days of activity which may help you better assess the longer-term value of an app user.

2. Learn about discrepancies between conversion modelling and SKAdNetwork reporting

Compared to Google’s conversion modelling, SKAdNetwork has core differences in underlying logic and settings, which can lead to reporting discrepancies between the two methodologies.

To improve the quality and consistency of our modelled conversion reporting in the Google Ads UI, we're deepening our integrations with SKAdNetwork data. However, some level of discrepancy between the two is normal and expected.

Core differences between conversion modelling and SKAdNetwork include:

  • Web-to-app measurement: To date, SKAdNetwork lacked attribution support for web-to-app user journeys. This is improving for Safari browsers with version 4.0 updates, but will still require some changes and ramp-up time before the gap is tightened.
  • Conversion windows: Today, SKAdNetwork utilises various non-configurable conversion windows and other technology-specific logic such as privacy-centric delays. For example, SKAdNetwork’s default click-through conversion window for app installs is currently fixed at a 30-day length and SKAdNetwork’s window for post-install events involve various timers and privacy thresholds. On the other hand, Google’s conversion modelling technology offers configurability in conversion window settings for both installs and post-install events to provide added flexibility, control and insight. The length of the conversion windows within Google Ads may lead to some reporting discrepancies that you may observe.
  • Redownload definition: While SKAdNetwork utilises a specific non-configurable definition of a redownload, Google and most of our App Attribution Partners offer a few configuration options on what constitutes a redownload versus new install and these options may also lead to discrepancies across reports.
  • Older versions of iOS and apps: Though most users have migrated to newer versions of iOS and various apps, there are still some users who haven't updated, which can also cause SKAdNetwork to be absent or missing newer functionality.

3. Get started with SKAdNetwork for install and in-app event measurement

Many app advertisers have adopted a SKAdNetwork-oriented approach for both installs and in-app event measurement.

Install measurement

If you’re measuring installs with SKAdNetwork, you'll be able to view reporting data by following the instructions below:

Note: The instructions below are part of the new design for the Google Ads user experience. To use the previous design, click the 'Appearance' icon and select Use previous design. If you're using the previous version of Google Ads, review the Quick reference map or use the search bar in the top navigation panel of Google Ads to find the page you’re searching for.
  1. In your Google Ads account, click the Campaigns icon Campaigns Icon.
  2. Click the Campaigns drop-down in the section menu.
  3. Click Campaigns.
  4. Click the Reports icon at the top of the page.
  5. Click Other.
  6. Click SKAN conversions.

In-app event measurement

Set up your SKAdNetwork conversion value schema to measure in-app event performance and more effectively optimise your campaigns for post-install actions or a target return on your ad spend. This schema is a means to designate which in-app events matter to your business.

Bear the following in mind when implementing your conversion value schema strategy:

  1. Review how SKAdNetwork values are implemented in Apple's documentation.
  2. Start by ideating on the sequence of in-app events and values that matter most to your business. If unsure where to begin, try starting with an in-app funnel approach which encodes both shallow and deep in-app events that matter for your business.
  3. Ensure that your conversion value schema is inclusive of the in-app events that you plan on optimising your App campaigns for and that these events are also present as biddable conversion events within your Google Ads conversion settings.
  4. If in-app purchase revenue is a priority for your business, utilise some of your conversion values to indicate buckets of in-app purchase revenues that may be relevant.
  5. Set up your conversion value schema through either Google Analytics 4, a Google-approved App Attribution Partner or the Google Ads API directly. It’s highly recommended that advertisers choose one place to set up their conversion value schema.
Note: Conversion value schemas set up through Google Analytics 4 can be exported with the Admin API. We also plan to introduce the ability to utilise your SKAdNetwork schema to improve the optimisation of your tCPA and tROAS App campaigns. Currently, this is available in limited beta.

Learn how to Set up your SKAdNetwork conversion value schema.

4. Choose between iOS measurement methodologies

Conversion modelling and SKAdNetwork each play an important role in App campaign measurement. We recommend the following when determining which measurement methodology is best suited for your business.

If you’re running app install campaigns solely on Google:

We recommend evaluating modelled conversion reporting to measure your campaign results. Based on the unique characteristics and differences between the two methodologies, you may also choose to utilise SKAdNetwork as a reference point for campaign performance as well.

Note: If you do choose to also evaluate SKAdNetwork reporting for your App campaigns as a reference point, remember that these measurement methodologies are distinct in their characteristics and may not completely match. You can view SKAdNetwork reporting either through Google Ads, Google Analytics 4 or your App Attribution Partner.

If you’re running app install campaigns across multiple networks:

To more fairly evaluate performance across networks, we encourage you to use RAW cross-channel SKAdNetwork reports through Google Analytics 4 or a Google-approved App Attribution Partner.

Note: Today, not all App campaign inventory can be tracked through SKAdNetwork. However, this is improving. You may also choose to view modelled conversion reporting as another reference in order to round out your understanding of your Google performance and make any optimisations.

5. Implement best practices for iOS App campaign measurement and optimisation

For better app measurement:

  • Evaluate if it makes sense to set up your app within the SKAdNetwork framework.
    • For install measurement, integrate your app with SKAdNetwork for installs. Our Google Analytics 4 solution helps you integrate and register your app for SKAdNetwork attribution so that you can measure 'first open' conversions. You can also configure SKAdNetwork install measurement with another measurement SDK, like an App Attribution Partner, or manually.
    • For post-install event measurement, set up your conversion value schema. You can do this through Google Analytics 4, a Google-approved App Attribution Partner, or the Google Ads API directly. When setting up your schema, ensure that it’s inclusive of the biddable events that you plan on optimising your App campaigns for.
  • Consolidate your iOS App campaigns for install to run eight or fewer campaigns. This will ensure optimal performance and support accurate SKAdNetwork campaign reporting, as more campaigns may obscure measurement within SKAdNetwork.

For better campaign optimisation and performance:

  • Review Apple’s documentation and evaluate if the ATT prompt is right for your app. You may also decide to create and display a warm-up, or explainer, screen before asking for consent with the ATT consent prompt. The explainer screen allows you to give users more context on how your app uses information for advertising purposes. Users who accept the prompt will increase your observed conversions, improving conversion modelling and campaign optimisation. Learn more about creating and displaying an explainer screen by using the Google Analytics for Firebase SDK.
  • If your app has significant user sign-in or if it collects consented email addresses, activate Google’s on-device conversion measurement through the Google Analytics for Firebase SDK. This feature improves conversion modelling and reporting accuracy of app installs and in-app actions from your iOS App campaigns while keeping user data private.
  • Use target cost per install (tCPI) and target cost per action (tCPA) instead of target return on ad spend (tROAS) bidding to ensure optimal performance. For more stable performance, tCPI and tCPA bidding will yield fewer fluctuations than tROAS bidding.
  • Closely monitor the performance of all your iOS App campaigns. If you ran iOS App campaigns for installs prior to the iOS 14 changes, you may notice fluctuations or drops in performance as a result of the changes. For App campaigns for engagement, you'll notice a significant decrease in reach. Make applicable adjustments to budgets and bidding as needed to ensure that you get the most out of your App campaigns.

6. Apply general App campaign best practices

Note: This article will be updated to keep you informed on the latest iOS best practices. You can also read FAQs about iOS 14 changes to learn more. This article was last updated on 28 November 2023.

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