StoreKit Ad Network, or SKAdNetwork, is a privacy-centric API operated by Apple. It helps ad networks and advertisers measure their ad activity (such as impressions, clicks, and app installs) on an aggregated level.

What is SKAdNetwork?

First introduced by Apple back in 2018, the SKAdNetwork API is a type of direct install attribution. It was developed to provide privacy preserving, accurate attribution for iOS campaigns to advertisers without revealing any user-level or device-specific data.

How does it work?

We’ll begin with the four main players involved, each having specific roles and responsibilities to ensure a smooth operation: 

  1. Publishing app – where the ad is displayed
  2. Ad network – that connects app advertisers to publishers
  3. Target app – the app that is being advertised
  4. Mobile measurement partner (MMP) – responsible for connecting all the dots by attributing and optimizing app data and campaign performance metrics. Holistic SKAdNetwork management allows marketers to measure, visualize, and optimize with ease.

There are two types of engagements that SKAdNetwork registers:

  • Views – whether an ad was viewed
  • StoreKit renders – whether or not a StoreKit rendering was generated

The SKAdNetwork flow

  1. An ad is displayed in the publishing app. As soon as the ad is displayed, the publishing app starts the 3-second timer and notifies SKAdNetwork that it has started.
  2. If the ad is displayed for at least 3 seconds, the publishing app will then notify SKAdNetwork that the 3-second timer is up and this activity will be recorded as a successful view. If the user engages with the ad, the publisher renders the advertised app StoreKit. 
  3. Once it is displayed, SKAdNetwork registers that the StoreKit was rendered successfully. The next step would hopefully be for the user to download the advertised app. 
  4. If the StoreKit was rendered, the user can download the app right then and there. If the user installs the app and launches it within the SKAdNetwork attribution window, the install is attributed to the ad network and the device sends the install postback to the ad network and the advertiser.
  5. For SKAdNetwork, the attribution window can be up to 30 days between click and install depending on the ad type. Unlike standard postbacks, SKAdNetwork postbacks are not immediately sent to the ad network when the app is first launched. 
  6. The SKAdNetwork postbacks are built on a timer mechanism that only sends the postbacks when the timer runs out. This timer delays the postback by a minimum of 24 hours. Once the timer runs out, the ad network receives the postback. 

It’s important to note that postbacks don’t contain any device or user data, and together with the timer delay, ensure that users’ data remains private by disabling the ability to single out a specific user.

If the advertiser is working with an MMP, like AppsFlyer, postbacks will be reported to the MMP and the advertiser via dedicated dashboards and APIs.

The challenges – and how to address them

SKAdNetwork does present new functional challenges for advertisers.

To name a few:

  • No real ROI/LTV – SKAdNetwork measures mostly installs, conversion values and post-install data, but in a very limited, time-restrictive way
  • Granularity – Data is limited to campaign level and only to 100 campaigns
  • Postback delay – Postbacks are delayed by at least 24 hours, limiting immediate campaign optimization
  • Ad fraud risk – Data can easily be manipulated in transit
  • No re-engagement attribution support

There’s no doubt that compared to previous methods of attribution, SKAdNetwork does bring with it a set of limitations, complexities and restrictions. 

Fortunately, there are ways to navigate these challenges to retain the ability to measure and predict the value of your acquired users. 

The key to unlocking value from SKAdNetwork is to understand Apple’s unique conversion value mechanism.

Conversion values – and how to make them work for you

Conversion values are configured by app developers to measure post-install activity, and tie it back to the install. A single conversion value is included in the one-time postback that Apple sends to the ad network and advertiser. 

As a result, the information in this conversion value is all the information you can get on a user’s post-install activity (assuming they didn’t consent to “tracking”), making it extremely important. After all, in a freemium world, optimization is driven by post-install data.

A conversion value is defined by 6 bits, which are binary measures, meaning they can be turned on or off (0 or 1). This opens up the potential for 64 measurement combinations within those 6 bits – from 0 to 63.

Although 64 options can be considered limited, there are still plenty of options to work with to measure revenue, engagement, funnel progress and more. 

As long as you properly map your conversion values based on your internal logic, these values can be used in any way you want. They’re yours to control and assign to the KPIs that are most valuable to you. 

The 64 values, each with their own unique decoding configured by the app developer/advertiser, are then attributed to the source of the install, enabling campaign measurement and optimization.

iOS 14 implications

Although iOS 14 and SKAdNetwork mark a major shift in the mobile marketing landscape, it is still possible to navigate those changes without compromising much on measurability or your ability to predict user LTV. 

What we do know for a fact is that with the limitations of SKAdNetwork, predictive modeling is now a must-have for marketers, and that MMPs can greatly enhance your ability to deliver high-performing campaigns.

How should advertisers prepare for SKAdNetwork?

Here are a few steps to ensure your business is SKAdNetwork-ready:

  • Data aggregation – Be sure to collect all SKAdNetwork information from each ad network.
  • Data validation – Ensure all postbacks are signed by Apple and aren’t manipulated in transit. Working with a trusted MMP can help you address this with ease.
  • Data enrichment – Match SKAdNetwork information with other data points, such as impressions, clicks, cost, organic traffic and more, for complete ROI analysis.
  • Data enablement – Facilitate SKAdNetwork data for convenient consumption by the advertiser through dedicated dashboards and APIs.
  • Seamless integration – Make sure your mobile attribution solution offers full encapsulation, which requires close to zero effort from the advertiser, especially when it comes to future changes in the SKAdNetwork protocol.
  • Conversion events – Be sure to track server side, dynamic, and flexible in-app events. 

A note on iOS 14 and ATT adoption rate

With the release of iOS version 14.6, the adoption curve of iOS 14.5+ started rising sharply to reach 27% worldwide. The highest increases were seen in the US, UK, Australia & New Zealand, and Japan. On a category level, Hyper Casual games, Education, and Photography apps have advanced the most. 

As ATT implementation is still in early stages of adoption and changes on a weekly basis, check in with our weekly ATT dashboard to keep a finger on the pulse of global adoption rates. 

Key takeaways

  • Limited data and partial measurement offered by SKAdNetwork aren’t and shouldn’t be an option. Make sure you choose an MMP that can overcome these limitations by offering configurable conversion values, precise measurement, and easy user segmentation.
  • Use predictive analytics to overcome time limitations and leverage early signs of engagement to predict long-term campaign performance. Put mobile attribution in SKAdNetwork on “autopilot”, removing measurement and timing barriers, so you can maintain and strengthen your competitive edge in this new reality.
  • Keep your data safe from all types of fraud in the new iOS 14 ecosystem. An MMP can offer protection from SKAdNetwork fraud, by ensuring that you’re getting accurate data on your campaign performance. It protects your ad spend before, during and after installs, with end-to-end coverage against infrastructure weaknesses, data limitations and reporting loopholes.
  • Connect with an ecosystem – partner with an MMP that has joined forces with ad networks such as Facebook, Twitter, Snap and ironSource. Solid cooperation ensures that postbacks, conversion value schemas and data are delivered to your MMP and chosen partners smoothly and easily.

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