Facebook is valued at 192 billion, based on this years evaluations, so basically they are a $200 billion dollar company. Revenues were $2.68 billion, up 67% from the same quarter during the year before. 62% of those revenues are coming from the sale of mobile ads – that’s not counting right side ads or desktop newsfeed – and that’s not even all of the ways to advertise with them.
You could imagine that an up and coming ad network like Facebook is only gaining momentum on the biggest competitor Google. Though in comparison, Google’s global paid ad share is still set to well exceed that of Facebook’s. One would think Facebook, with much of it’s yearly revenues kicking in from paid ads, would have the best tracking around. But, imagine for a moment, that Facebook started off by making it’s advertising money by skimping and cutting corners on it’s advertising platform. I am not saying Facebook did this on purpose but what if they came to market with a less than robust system, a system that was not ready for prime time? Think about it for a moment, if a company like Facebook got pressured to bump it’s revenues in preparation for it’s IPO, what would that look like? If they switched anything that hurt revenues now (well after their IPO) it would hurt their shareholders and lavish corporate bonuses. So, the only option is to keep things as is and play the ignorance card.
Not every advertising platform is created equal
Facebook has put out some pretty interesting algorithms and ways to take advantage of their users’ data. After all, Facebook has built an entire successful business model, that is very lucrative and profitable, allowing advertisers to target Facebook’s base of users…which, in turn, can bring in much needed revenues to your business. All you need is the right strategy, along with a sellable service or product. In addition, you also need clear, accurate visitor data. The latter, unfortunately, is something that does not currently exist in Facebook advertising; simply put, their conversion tracking is an epic fail.
If you advertise on Facebook you may understand the point I am making throughout this post. Though many successful paid advertising veterans know, nothing is cut and dry and not every advertising platform is created equal. For anyone that is new to Facebook advertising, or planning on advertising using their platform, then this will be a good wake up call before starting your Facebook advertising campaign.
Admitting you have a problem is the first step to recovery
For full disclosure, I manage very large Facebook campaigns. So with that stated, my view of Facebook’s ad system can be magnified. It’s part of my job to pour over lots of tracking data and spot any issues and roadblocks, especially the glaring ones. An ongoing issue (one that the other large ad networks have long since solved) that has become very easy to spot within the Facebook ad platform – and is a thorn in the side of businesses and marketers alike – is the issue with Facebook not tracking conversions properly on their ad platform. Basically, if you leave things as is, conversion numbers will always be over-inflated. So this article mainly deals with the tracking of leads and other actions from within Facebook’s advertising platform reporting.
If you have been actively advertising on Facebook then by now you realize the flaw – it’s irritated me so much that I am writing this article. Other professionals have written about this very infuriating issue but nothing is getting done. Facebook is not properly responding, why?
Are your marketing efforts on Prozac?
To describe the scenario every lead generator (or action based advertisers) experiences with Facebook ads, see the following.
The first step is to develop and host your product or services landing and thank you page. Next, your company “Super Cool Lights” sets up it’s first Facebook ad campaign. Your Facebook campaign ad was approved and your ads start serving. Great, you get new traffic to your site’s landing page and start seeing a few lead conversions. This assumes you create a Facebook pixel tracking code and install that on your thank you page. The following day you open up your Facebook ad manager to find you have received a healthy amount of impressions and conversions. So much so that it blows away all of your other current online advertising efforts.
At first, most businesses and marketers will accept these conversion numbers in their Facebook summary report. Be careful though, excitement and wishful thinking can blind us from the truth. It’s not until later that you start to realize the numbers from Facebook – and their wonky ad tracking platform – is reporting over-inflated conversion numbers. Time and time again I have personally seen Facebook display conversion counts many times that of the correct number. To be clear, I have tracked leads via database and third-party tracking against Facebook’s numbers…it’s always the same story. So what gives and what can be done?
Important: Along with Facebook conversion counts being inflated, you will also find that your clicks and unique clicks are also misaligned.
Facebook, in all it’s revenue making endeavours, coupled with it’s so-so customer service, has yet to make a decent tracking conversion system. Google AdWords, Yahoo and Bing Ads all have systems that track correctly. So why not Facebook and what’s the harm in having your tracking over-inflated?
What you don’t know can hurt you
The harm to your advertising efforts and budget is that you could believe your marketing efforts with Facebook are paying off better than they actually are, when in fact your proverbial boat is taking on water. A simple straight forward example: your conversion rate is showing $1.10 per lead in the Facebook ad manager but in reality, what you will not be able to see clearly, is that it’s actually $9.01 a lead. That type of misaligned data could be lethal to your marketing efforts and company’s profitability. I eventually believe you would figure the issue out on your own, but if you are busy like most, and a hopeful person, then you might blindly and happily let it run for a disastrous length of time. It’s not that you are crummy at marketing if you don’t catch it, Facebook should have this issue solved already, this is on them.
Fixing the holes in your boat
So, if you puts this code in place to only allow one conversion trigger per visit, then that’s enough, right? In one word…no! Your tracking is not safe or accurate with Facebook advertising and it’s best to invest in a robust tracking system. You need third-party tracking that has the sophistication to only track one conversion per visit…software that can track your traffic in real-time so that you can quickly see accurate conversions and tracking data. If you’re thinking Google Analytics is enough of a solution, trust me, it’s not. This point alone can become wildly debated, so yes, Google Analytics is very robust but not the best tool for lead generation tracking.
What is a true tracking solution?
There are a few very capable tracking solutions out there and they will at least let you know at a glance an accurate conversion count. I will not go through the entire list but Improvely, LinkTrackr, Clickmeter are reliable, to name a few. Plus, my additional suggestion is you will want tracking that includes click fraud detection as a feature. I am not trying to get on your case here, but if you don’t take this seriously and invest in a true tracking solution, you will be in the blind when trying to figure out your true conversion count per campaign. Yes, you can track this data via a database, but that comes out to be overly complex for most companies and individuals.
Trying to get help from the source
So, that should be that. You only need third-party tracking to solve the Facebook tracking issue…no! It’s my sole belief that Facebook could care less about your conversion issues and if you approach them regarding this, you most likely will get a canned response from customer service. So how do you think they will respond? Typically, the Facebook ad department will ask you for so much information, from logs, dates/times, ip addresses…most of the information they request is not even relevant. Facebook has the data and backend systems to do the investigation but refuses to make your life easier. Aren’t you essentially paying them for service? Ok, for argument sake, let’s say you get this information together and send it over to Facebook. I bet another canned response will soon follow. What I’m sharing with you next are some devious methods that could be used by your competitors that have no marketing moral compass and seek to destroy your livelihood. Sounds very dramatic doesn’t it?
The dark side of Facebook ad account manipulation
When a company like Facebook does not have a robust tracking mechanism in place, it allows those with little to no integrity to game the system. So that you can have a clear view of your visitors online activities, it’s a must that you have access to information to make marketing decisions against. I’m not sure about you, but I certainly don’t have the ability to peek into Facebook’s internal data. So, we have no idea where conversions are taking place, what referrer they are coming from. You may be thinking, “hey but you have the tracking data and you know where your tracking code is being fired from, right?” It’s not always so cut and dry and your data within the Facebook ecosphere is easy to manipulate.
Please understand the following is not to be used to harm but for informational purposes only, otherwise hit the bricks.
Here are four possible malicious methods that could be used to derail your Facebook campaigns and throw your ad stats into a tail spin:
- Even if you have the cookie method in place, your competitor can simply go to your thank you/confirmation page and clear their browser cookies, refresh your page and effectively bloating your stats, rendering your one-time load code inert.
- Your competitor loads up your conversion pixel on their site and refreshes that page ’til their hearts content. Maybe they even have a nifty auto refresh script or add-on with their browser.
- A bot (computer program) clicks on your Facebook ad and then goes to your thank you/confirmation page, programmed to auto clear browser cookies and loop back once it’s made the rounds to the rest of your fellow advertisers.
With item #4, you incur ad clicks and false conversions, yay…not! You are probably starting to see the trouble some of your competitors are willing to go through to overwork your account.
Note: I am not saying that all your over-inflated Facebook conversion data is from malicious efforts, because the conversion pixel is so open even a typical person could refresh a page and add counts to your conversion data in Facebook.
Depending on the type of advertising you are doing through Facebook will determine your level of stress. It’s true that not all advertising in Facebook is geared to charge you per ad click. Facebook also has CPM & OCPM as it’s other popular choices. I could expand on this type of advertising fraud listed above, but this is about Facebook and their crummy conversion tracking, so I will stay on point.
Not all Facebook advertising is created equal
One of the biggest issues I see with this tracking conundrum is when advertising on Facebook and using optimized cost per thousand (OCPM). On a side note, it’s actually a pretty decent option for lead generators. The issue with OCPM in Facebook, and the current conversion tracking ordeal, is it makes you see things better than they are.
When setting up an OCPM ad, you set a daily budget per ad within your Facebook campaign. Next, you select a Facebook conversion pixel you previously created and your desired cost per conversion (ex. your daily budget is $10 per ad and you want a maximum conversion cost of $1.10). If the Facebook gremlins mess with your conversion numbers it’s going to appear to Facebook that your goal per conversion is doing great. In fact, it’s not and you may be at $9 a lead rather than the maximum $1.10 per lead you entered. It’s a real problem for many and also for your profit margin. If you cannot truly see what your costs really are per lead, then you will fail. It’s exactly what this unknown element is hoping for, that “they” (whoever they are) can help you blow through your budget and screw your Facebook conversion stats up completely.
Note: You may not notice your Facebook advertising stat count bloating right away. It may take your competition, or whoever they hire to flatten your tires, time to catch up with you. Just keep in mind your data is the most important commodity you own in marketing. So make sure to keep a close eye on it.
Wrapping it up
The short of this story is, most that advertise on Facebook will never know their true advertising stats, let alone an accurate picture of their conversion count. I have seen this disconnect in many companies of all sizes, especially from small to medium businesses. The tracking and advertising data can become so jumbled over time that your competition, or whoever is truly off-setting your stats, has effectively won. The main goal of these advertising pirates is to make you believe you are winning when you are not. Then, when you finally figure it out, you will pause your ads and possibly stop competing for your vertical in Facebook all together. Sometimes, you may need to pause your campaigns for a day or two and come back at it for another round, get a refresh.
With the way I have presented this post, you may be thinking Facebook advertising is a lost cause. Not at all, don’t lose heart and shy away from Facebook advertising. It actually provides very good opportunity for many online marketing ventures. The main point is, Facebook needs to wake up – or simply step up to the plate and fix the tracking issues. Facebook has the means, and I believe with enough pressure from the marketing community, Facebook will eventually will fix it…hopefully sooner than later. This article is so you know what you are facing and can plan accordingly. After all, “the best laid plans are the ones you put together before hand”.