Big Changes Coming to Facebook Attribution, Are Advertisers Doomed?

Facebook has taken a big hit lately. Lawsuits, whistleblowers, public scrutiny, and significant changes to iOS have forced the social media giant to make necessary changes to its advertising platform. Several of the most significant changes will impact marketing attribution and make it much more difficult to track campaign performance.

To summarize, Facebook attribution means attributing an advertisement to a conversion event, such as a purchase or a lead. For example, if your Facebook page has received a flurry of new Likes, the ad that is responsible for generating these Likes will receive credit (attribution) for producing the desired result. Attribution also assigns credits to other forms of engagement, including video views, post reactions, and link clicks.

Attribution helps track the micro-conversions (for example, more likes and reactions) that eventually lead to macro conversions (such as purchases from your website). Attribution helps identify the ads, campaigns, and content that performs or underperforms.

Why Facebook Attribution Has Changed With iOS 15

It sounds easy enough, but the platform has presented some issues. Some of these have made headlines recently, but others are more subtle. Ultimately, Facebook must maintain cross-platform support, and recent changes to iOS will make that challenging.

New Privacy Changes With iOS 15

It’s no secret that Facebook recently came under public scrutiny for its privacy practices. However, this information wasn’t entirely new within the industry. Savvy iPhone users realized this after Apple released the Apple App Tracking Transparency (ATT) update and policies.

Once implemented, iPhone users will begin seeing a prompt when opening apps that track data. This includes Facebook, Instagram, as well as Email. Users will be asked to provide consent or decline to be tracked, allowing users to opt into having their data tracked and collected. Given the growing controversies surrounding data privacy in recent years, it was only a question of time before the industry responded.

When users opt out of tracking, it’s more difficult for Facebook to provide accurate advertisements that align with personal interests. The advertising experience suffers, in exchange for the added privacy. Ad placements become sporadic, making them less relevant to users. Those that opt out of tracking will likely see a decline in the quality of the ads they are served, and the advertisers are likely to see a decline in audience quality that goes hand in hand with a decline in overall campaign performance. Facebook attribution will become increasingly difficult to track, across all advertisers.

Facebook has been forced to comply with Apple’s privacy changes, in order to be able to continue serving advertisements to Apple’s iOS users. And it’s had an enormous impact on marketing attribution, aka the ability to track and measure campaign results.

Facebook Attribution at the Ad Set Level

Previously, Facebook would track user interactions and attributions over a period of time.

This timeframe was the “attribution window”. Facebook has combined these timeframes within the ad set level conversion window. What was previously segmented out, is now grouped together resulting in far less visibility. Advertisers are unable to view different timeframes, that have historically been relied upon when measuring campaign performance. The settings and timeframe for this new attribution window are available under “Optimization & Delivery” when setting up your Facebook campaigns.

Overall, the available windows of attribution have been changed. Advertisers are no longer able to track 28-day view, 7-day view, or 28-day click view windows. And the various attribution windows are no longer available for every campaign.

The following Facebook attribution windows are still generally available (albeit certain campaign types are excluded):

  • 1-day click
  • 7-day click
  • 1-day click or view
  • 7-day click or view

These changes are ultimately meant to maintain robust attribution, while still complying with Apple’s stringent privacy updates. It is Facebook’s response to increased scrutiny over user privacy and how the company has historically handled user data.

Keep in mind that even though these changes are meant to maintain robust attribution, advertisers are likely to face steep challenges when it comes to accurately tracking campaign performance going forward.

Despite these challenges, there’s a tremendous amount of money on the line for Facebook. Advertising is responsible for the majority of their revenue, and thus we’re confident that Facebook will continue to adjust its platform and make improvements to mitigate the impact.

When setting up your Facebook advertising campaigns, choose your automated rules carefully.

Once ATT is released and implemented, you will no longer be able to select another attribution window for automated rules.

Facebook attribution will also shift to 7-day click, as soon as Apple begins enforcing ATT.

Historical Facebook Campaign Data

So far, it seems that access to historical data will remain largely unchanged. They expect it to continue to be available for 28-day views via ad insights. Inactive ad sets will also be available and accessed through the now deprecated account attribution window. This may also impact comparisons.

Whether or not historical data will remain accessible has yet to be seen. It seems Facebook wants to maintain this information, and it’s unlikely to violate any new privacy or tracking rules. Of course, we still can’t know for sure.

Comparing Facebook Attribution Windows

Facebook also announced that advertisers will no longer be able to access the compare attribution windows feature within its advertising platform. Traditionally, marketers used this feature to compare data over time, and to compare performance data across various campaigns. Doing so provided a more accurate snapshot of how audiences were responding to ad campaigns.

A Shift in Campaigns

VP of Product Marketing Graham Mudd recently recommended that advertisers should “analyze the campaign, not the creative.” This short statement hints at a loss in the precision of targeting.

For years, advertisers have been accustomed to Facebook’s nitty-gritty audience details that few other platforms are capable of providing.

Traditionally, marketers have loved the unique ability to test ads, test targeting settings, and test campaigns simultaneously (in real-time).

Now, Facebook is encouraging advertisers to consolidate campaigns and rely on the Facebook’s machine learning in order to match advertisements with the right users. This consolidation enables Facebook to aggregate data in order to statistically analyze attribution. Unfortunately it comes at the cost of accuracy and targeting precision.

Changes To The Facebook Pixel

It’s also important to note that the ATT framework can block Facebook pixels as well. These small snippets of code appear both on apps and websites. Without the Facebook pixel, tracking is essentially disabled making it very difficult to measure campaign performance, ROI, and business KPIs.

Will Facebook Attribution Cause Advertisers Lose Money?

Obviously, advertisers are most concerned with how this may impact their bottom line. As we said, Facebook is doing what it can to mitigate the impact, but Apple has taken control away from Facebook. If ads are displayed sporadically, traffic quality will inevitably decline. This leads to poor targeting and less effective advertising. Measuring results becomes increasingly difficult, and it’s harder to justify investing more money into Facebook advertising.

It’s also worth noting that Apple users generate more revenue through Facebook ads than Android users. Since mobile devices have been outpacing desktops for several years now, that presents a large chunk of the market.

This certainly isn’t to say that advertisers should abandon Facebook and Instagram. Both remain wildly popular, even if among different demographics. But it will require a shift on their part. Marketers will have to adjust their strategies and the way their metrics are measured.

Facebook’s Proposed Alternatives

When billions of dollars in ad revenue are on the line, Facebook isn’t going to sit idle. They have a plan.

Their development team has either released, or plans to release new tools to improve attribution.

One of these tools is the Conversion API (CAPI). This isn’t a new tool, but it does allow direct communication between your servers and Facebook. This can help improve some of your attribution metrics. The Conversions API pixel can also be used for optimizations and reporting.

Facebook developers also believe that they have found another way to improve attribution without tracking.

Facebook can track regional activities to improve its overall attribution which is accomplished without the need to track individual users. According to Facebook, they are testing geodata as a possible solution. According to Facebook’s Michael Taylor, it “seems to be the promised silver bullet”.

Facebook is also changing how forecasts are presented to advertisers. Historically, the campaign setup process has included estimates for results that advertisers could expect to see upon conclusion of the campaign. While these have always been presented as estimates, they will soon become less accurate.

When this occurs, Facebook will begin showing an “estimated audience size” rather than “potential reach.” This is similar to other advertising platforms, but we’re still going to see significantly less granularity in the data than we’ve become accustomed to. On a more positive note, it does however offer additional transparency to advertisers considering the previous estimates were sometimes inflated.

These new reporting parameters (estimated audience size) will still likely report lower estimates, and forecasts will be presented as a range that adjusts according to time and budget inputs selected by the marketer.

Changes To Facebook Retargeting

One of the most prominent digital marketing trends in recent years has been retargeting (also known as remarketing). Although consumers have often regarded Facebook’s retargeting capabilities as being ‘creepy’, it’s proven to be an incredibly successful advertising tactic.

This is huge news, so let me be clear. Facebook retargeting is going to become significantly less effective for iOS users that opt out of tracking.

Facebook is going to have a tough time serving relevant ads to iPhone users, and advertising ROI is going to suffer.

Conclusion (What You Should Do Next)

Overall, Facebook’s ability to collect data will take a hit, and it’s going to have a tremendous impact on advertisers. But despite this monumental shift that’s taking place, we ultimately believe Facebook and Instagram advertising will still prove to be highly valuable to most businesses.

Facebook isn’t going away, they’re going to adapt. And marketers need to get creative, and they need to level up their analytics and get better at analyzing their data. Additional KPIs must be used in order to accurately measure campaign performance.

Advertisers shouldn’t overlook alternatives to Facebook. We’ve been harping on the need to diversify the media mix. Don’t become reliant on Facebook, test additional ad platforms. Expand into new networks. Heck, you should hire us to get tracking set up and help you to navigate through this! 😉

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