In addition to the release of iOS 16.1 last week, Apple quietly launched SkAdNetwork 4.0 (SKAN 4), the latest version of its privacy-based campaign measurement framework. The new iteration of SKAN contains key enhancements that promise to make the tool more efficient for both mobile app developers and marketers alike.
Apple launched the first edition of SKAN in 2018, with the goal of increasing user privacy while providing marketers with the data they need to grow their businesses. To this end, SKAN shares conversion data with advertisers without disclosing any user or device level data.
Several key SKAN 4 updates promise to make the framework more accessible and useful for businesses looking to measure the performance of their mobile marketing campaigns. Digiday spoke to several experts to find out how the launch of SKAdNetwork 4.0 could impact the mobile app measurement and marketing space.
The key numbers:
- The first version of SKAdNetwork was released in 2018, with subsequent versions coming out in 2020 and 2021. (Release notes for all versions, including SKAN 4, are publicly available on Apple’s developer website.)
- Since its release, SKAN has become relatively popular in mobile app marketing and measurement, but not entirely ubiquitous. “In terms of serving, we all have SKAN IDs for the different ad providers who post their ads within our apps,” said Dom Davies, a mobile gaming consultant. “When it comes to user acquisition, I’d say about 75% of our spend goes through ad networks that use SKAN attribution.”
- Observers had anticipated the release of SKAN 4 since early June, when Apple announced the upcoming release of the updated framework during the Worldwide Developers Conference in 2022. But some were surprised when SKAN 4 didn’t come along with the initial version of iOS 16 on September 12.
Problems with previous versions:
More privacy is certainly good for users, but less so for developers. And SKAN has struggled to achieve mass adoption in the mobile app development landscape. Some marketers complain that older versions of SKAN simply don’t give them enough information to act on.
“Most of our customers are still trying to figure out how much they can get reports and measurements to work for them with SKAN as it does today,” said Katie Madding, chief product officer of mobile measurement company Adjust.
At present, Madding said, Adjust still has customers who have been wary of dipping their toes into SKAN due to the complexity of the tool. Skepticism from some angles could be a significant factor behind the changes Apple has implemented in SKAN 4.
“At the moment, it’s so fraught with problems and a lack of any kind of measurement data, that there’s really no incentive for customers to switch to this new framework,” said SKAN 3’s Madding. “Unless , of course, Apple throws the gauntlet and says, ‘Everyone, you have to do it now.’ “
There are three main areas for improvement in the latest version of SKAN that, according to experts, could make the tool more attractive to users:
- Campaign Measurement: Simply put, SKAN 4 updates give marketers a better understanding of which campaigns are successfully bringing quality users to their apps. In previous versions of SKAN, campaigns could only be identified by a campaign ID number between 0 and 99. SKAN 4 includes a feature called “Source ID”, which assigns a detailed four-digit identifier to each campaign. There are now 10,000 different ID combinations instead of just 100 campaign IDs.
- Conversion values: SKAN 4 expands marketers’ options for measuring the quality of in-app engagement, in other words, whether users are actually making purchases or prompting other users to buy. Marketers can assign conversion values to low, medium, or high grains, giving them substantially more opportunities to understand the value of specific users.
- Web support: SKAN 4 gives marketers access to better web-to-app attribution, enabling them to better understand how advertising in traditional web browsers relates to in-app engagement. If businesses have inventory in both apps and the web, it’s easier for them to perform multi-channel attribution. “Previous versions of SKAN didn’t support it in any way,” Madding said.
- (This blog post from Madding provides a more detailed technical breakdown of how these improvements work.)
The future of SKAN:
Despite the aforementioned fixes, SKAN 4 is still far from perfect. And while it may make life easier for developers and marketers in the mobile app development space, its release is a relatively subtle change for most users.
“It’s a change behind the scenes,” Davies said. “We know that SKAdNetwork has its problems and we have already taken these shortcomings into account in our model, so we are quite comfortable buying it. At this point, whatever happens, it will only make things easier for us. “
As the industry adjusts to SKAN 4, Davies said he expects further updates and changes to the framework in the future, but he doesn’t see any major upheavals on the horizon.
“I think it will always be a work in progress; there will always be little refinements, ”she said. “But I think at this point we have overcome the worst. At this point it works, it’s just a matter of perfecting it. “