Facebook Ad Manager is lying to you

If you run paid ads for a business in 2020, you’re typically active in at least Google Seach and Facebook. These are the two main ad networks businesses tend to use to scale their paid marketing. The difference is one of them has their thumb on the scale.

The primary difference with the networks is intent. This is the crux of paid acquisition and is often glossed over by agencies when selling you services.

It’s better for them to gloss over it and better for Facebook as well. You spend more money on Facebook, agencies get a portion of the spend or their retainer is continually paid to manage the spend and everyone is happy. That is, aside from the business owner spending the ad dollars to fuel the machine.

Ok, so what is intent referring to in paid ads? We refer to it as the stage of the user journey that your audience is in.

For example, if I’m about to purchase a SaaS product and made it through the pricing page but didn’t finish the order, I’m still considered very high intent. It’s likely that I’ll continue the checkout in the future, so my intent to purchase is still considered high. I’ve demonstrated the intent to use the product and (almost) make a purchase.

This is where Facebook hooks its claws in. Let’s run a scenario.

You have decided to spend a bit of your ad budget retargeting users in Facebook. If you’re working with a half-decent paid ads marketer, they’ll have built out an audience for highly-engaged users to retarget. Here what that audience is usually made up of:

– User started paying but did not complete payment

– User visited the site multiple times, demonstrated activity similar to paying users and hasn’t paid yet

– User created an account

Ok, so a certain portion of those users are going to convert to paying users regardless of whether or not they see an ad, but you want to remind them you exist, so you run some retargeting ads on Facebook to draw them in.

You turn the faucet on and check in a day later. Whoa! A few sales! That’s amazing! And you’re hooked. Maybe you start trying to target new users based on interests or create a lookalike audience and it’s all downhill from there.

Did you spot the twist? Did you catch where Facebook hooked you? If you didn’t, it’s ok because most people don’t. Thats because you have to dig deep into settings and then read some help docs to understand that Facebook is not attributing conversions in your best interest.

Facebook leans on paid sources and prefers them in their attribution models. It’s actually prechecked in their attribution settings. What’s even worse is how Facebook measure user actions on the platform.

This is the one that catches even experienced marketers.

See, by default, Facebook measures your conversions based on a 28-day click and 1-day view attribution window. This means that any time in the next 28 days after an ad has been clicked, Facebook credits the ensuing purchase as a conversion from their ads.

And that’s not even the shady part.

The shady part is around view attribution.

Any time a user views an ad you run on Facebook it’s a touchpoint. If the user signs up at any point in the next 24 hours Facebook gets the purchase.

Yep, even cross-platform.

If a user is on your app and it’s open in a different tab then scrolls through their FB feed on their phone and your ad flashes by, that’s a touchpoint.

The user switches back to their desktop and finishes the purchase and Facebook gets the credit for the purchase. They then report it back to the person running ads who pats themselves on the back and asks for more money to spend on ads.

But now you’re probably wondering, why not just change the attribution window? Surely there must be a setting somewhere?

Great question. Most accounts never do. But you can, to an extent. Switching from a 28-day click window to a 7-day window is a common adjustment.

Wait but how about the view window? You can certainly expand it. But you cannot remove it at the account level.

The transactions recorded and attributed to Facebook Ads at the root level of the account will always be attributed to that sketchy view window.

In a bit of a twist, you can remove the view window setting in other areas of the Ad Manager to see what your performance would look like without the views being counted.

It’s usually an ugly picture, so it doesn’t make it into the TPS reports when the agency is showing off their results for the quarter.

We started this article talking about intent. It’s the core of paid acquisition. The intent to sign up is higher for engaged users that have spent time on your platform. Retargeting those users on Facebook can definitely be effective in reminding them that you exist, sharing additional features, value adds, coupons or whatever. But, these users are high intent and many will convert anyway, regardless of the additional ads you run.

Facebook knows it’s kind of shitty. So much so, that they actually built a programmatic study feature into the platform to research the lift you would get if you didn’t run your ads.

It’s called the “Conversion Lift Study”. Would you trust a study from a company who directly benefits from a positive result and has already proven to have their thumb on the scale in the attribution modeling?

But here’s what you can do to help understand the value you’re actually generating from your Facebook ad campaigns. Grab your growth marketer and ask them to pull a report for you. You can copy and paste this below and if they don’t understand it or are unwilling to provide it, run in the other direction.

“Can you send me a report from our Facebook Ad account split into prospecting and remarketing audiences, broken out by 1 day, 7 day and view attribution? Please include total spend, CPA, Purchases, ROAS and frequency”

That will give you a report with prospecting (new users who have not visited your platform previously) and retargeting (users that have visited your platform recently) split out by the various attribution models we referred to above.

CPA is referring to total cost spent divided by purchases. ROAS is return on ad spend, which is revenue divided by ad spend (you want a multiple 1.0 or higher on click attribution). Frequency is the amount of times a user has seen the ad in a given period.

This report should give you a better idea of your paid marketing effectiveness. Remember, the goal is to generate more revenue for your business, not for Facebook.

And if Facebook is telling you it’s generating more revenue when you pay them, check the cash flow before and after at the very least to make sure that’s actually the case.

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