Why the latest evolution of SKAN could prove key for marketers

SKAN-Image by Pexels from Pixabay

SKAN (StoreKit Ad Network, or SKAdNetwork) is a measurement framework for advertisers created by Apple to ensure it preserves the privacy of users when installing mobile apps.

The system has evolved over the last five years and helps marketers measure conversion rates of app install campaigns without compromising users’ identities – all in the great march to comply with increasingly stringent global data privacy regulations.

We sat down with Simon Whittick, Product Marketing for App Performance at InMobi, to discover the power of SKAN and discover why InMobi backs the technology…

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SKAN 4.0 arrived at the end of 2022, bringing with it a host of new features. Now SKAN 5.0 is on the horizon. Why is interest increasing in SKAN?

Well, to appreciate what makes each new iteration of the StoreKit AdNetwork (SKAN) such big news, we really have to go back a few years and understand what SKAN is.

Launched by Apple in 2018 – just a few years before the company’s App Tracking Transparency (ATT) framework – SKAN is a technology that provides ID-less attribution insights for advertisers targeting iOS users who have chosen to reject IDFA tracking via ATT.

The reality is that early versions of SKAN were incomplete for advertisers and largely Alpha/Beta versions.

However, recent developments with version 4.0 (and the imminent version 5.0) are making SKAN more powerful for advertisers as it evolves.

Given the high value audience on iOS devices, advertisers are keen to tap into SKAN based attribution and targeting as the profitability of campaigns on iOS can far surpass that of Android.

Also consider that Apple is beginning to remove the fingerprinting workaround, and we’re now at a tipping point where advertiser’s are more interested in adopting SKAN.

How is SKAN evolving over time?

Apple is listening to industry feedback and releasing important new features in every version.

However, there’s a fine balance to be struck, and Apple is (rightly) prioritising its  users’ privacy ahead of the industry’s desire for performance insights.

In terms of specific features, the big ones in version 4.0 included additional conversion windows that run to thirty-five days after an app install, whereas previously advertisers often relied on just twenty-four to forty-eight hours of post-install performance data.

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SKAN evolution: Apple’s SKAdNetwork adds new functionality with every new release.

This enables delivery of more predictable campaign insights that now align with the post-install customer journey for many more apps.

Previously there was also a binary privacy threshold that meant many smaller advertisers and small scale campaign tests received no performance insights, because app install volumes were too low.

A new, multi-tiered crowd anonymity approach delivers more granular insights at higher install volumes, whilst still delivering less granular insights at lower install volumes.

This makes understanding advertising performance possible, even for smaller scale advertisers.

Were you surprised to see SKAN 5.0 debut in June at this year’s WWDC?

In some ways, yes. Advertiser adoption for version 4.0 was still fairly low, but definitely growing. So, to have version 5.0 announced so early into the adoption of 4.0 was a surprise.

However, it’s just a sign that Apple continues to back SKAN as a solution for performance marketers and, when 5.0 arrives later this year, it will include support for analysing re-engagement events by existing users, which could be useful for advertisers.

Apple’s continued SKAN development supports our approach at InMobi of backing SKAN early and getting ahead to help advertisers thrive on iOS in the post-IDFA era.

To that point, what are some good first steps for app marketers looking to get going with SKAN?

The post-install events you can track with SKAN are more limited than most traditional attribution by MMPs. So, the first step is to focus on the most important events in early app onboarding that correlate most strongly with longer-term user value.

Analysing post-install events in your in-app analytics, and their correlation to revenue, is important here.

You will need to get this down to three events for the least granular performance insights and at the highest level of granularity you can track up to 63 events.

You should also identify the most important in-app events for the later conversion windows, which are day three to seven, and eight to thirty-five post-install.

Marketers should work closely with their Mobile Measurement Partner (MMP) to build a strategy that exploits the best use of the postbacks.

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Appstarts: Marketers of apps should team up with an MMP to get the most out of their SKAN strategies.

This can be done to deliver the degree of performance insights and reporting required, while also helping to optimise the campaign itself.

For marketers, another critical part of working successfully with SKAN is ensuring their media partners are current from a technical perspective.

A couple of important things to look out for are that media partners are backwards compatible across all SKAN versions to ensure you can access the full scale of iOS inventory.

Also check your media partners are bidding with genuine SKAN signals, and not just using fingerprinting as an alternative ID; this workaround is not future-proofed.

And finally, what does the future hold for SKAN?

We expect to see SKAN continue to develop richer functionality for advertisers over the coming years and versions.

With the death of fingerprinting on iOS expected early next year, SKAN adoption will accelerate rapidly as advertisers are forced to embrace the ID-less future of mobile advertising.

Those that have gotten to grips with SKAN early have already benefited from efficiently targeting some of the highest value users on iOS, and there’s still room for early adopting advertisers to do the same.

We’ll also see the advent of Google Android’s own version of ATT next year, with the Android Privacy Sandbox.

While this will be more advertiser friendly, it will end the reliance on Mobile Advertising IDs for targeting and attribution.

Mobile advertisers who don’t adopt the technology will be the ones who find themselves significantly behind the curve in this new era.

InMobi will continue to push hard on SKAN innovations as we have since 2020 and take the same approach with Android Privacy Sandbox to ensure we have an extremely competitive offering in that space, too.