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Facebook Ad Tracking: Get the Most Out of Your Ads!

Apple’s iOS 14.5 privacy update rocked the Facebook ad tracking world.

In the process of giving users more control over their data, it limits advertisers’ ability to reach customers.

And it likely won’t be the final blow for Facebook: Google plans to boost Android users’ privacy options, too.

In light of these massive changes, it’s essential to understand how Facebook conversion tracking impacts your campaigns.

In this guide, we’ll examine some best practices to optimize Facebook’s ad tracking from the top-down.

What is Facebook Ad Tracking?

In short, Facebook ad tracking follows when, where, and how Facebook users interact with your ads on the social network.

For instance, if a user clicks on your ad, Facebook will show that activity in Facebook Ad Manager. And if a user navigates to an external landing page and makes a purchase within 24 hours of viewing your ad, it tracks that, too. (With the proper setup, as we’ll see below.)

As a marketer, you can use this information to optimize your ad design and targeting. Facebook also uses ad tracking data to automatically show your ads to the people most likely to be engage.

Apple’s Privacy Update

Apple’s iOS 14.5 privacy update initiated the App Tracking Transparency (ATT) framework.

Essentially, the ATT altered how devices gather and track conversions. The ATT also requires iOS apps to ask permission before tracking users across third-party apps and websites.

The Private Click Measurement (PCM) attribution protocol was particularly potent.

PCM lets iOS users opt out of many common data tracking methods employed by Facebook for audience targeting.

The attribution protocol also restricts what data advertisers and platforms can access and for how long.

For instance, say an iOS mobile user clicks on your Facebook ad and redirects to your website.

Facebook can no longer count potential sales on your website, since the click event and purchase event occur in separate apps.

In other words, if you use Facebook ads in your marketing strategy, you may struggle to gather accurate data.

Fortunately, you can take steps to mitigate the worst impacts of the privacy update. It’s all about marrying your Facebook advertising experience to Apple’s privacy rules. (And for some marketers, adding Google Analytics tracking to the mix.)

How to Optimize Your Facebook Ad Tracking Experience

Optimizing how you track Facebook ads takes some work – but the results are well worth the effort. The following steps can help you get started.

Verify Your Domains

Verifying your domain remains a best practice in advertising. But if you plan to integrate the Meta Pixel code, it’s particularly important. (Meta only permits the Facebook Pixel to be placed on websites they own. So if you haven’t already verified your domain, it’s time to get cracking!)

Verifying your domain confirms to Facebook that your business owns the site where you want to track off-Facebook conversions. Verification is also required to configure and prioritize conversion events for your Facebook ad campaigns.

Facebook offers several routes to verification. Meta’s recommended method is to upload a Facebook-provided HTML file to your web directory and a meta tag to your domain home page. Then, you’ll have to confirm ownership in Facebook Business Manager.

Alternatively, you can add a DNS TXT entry to your DNS record to prove domain ownership.

Either option should take just a few minutes. Once your Facebook Business Manager reflects Verified status, you’re ready to move to the next step.

Install the Meta Pixel Code

The Meta Pixel is a snippet of code you can insert into your website to track your Facebook ad conversions.

If someone clicks your Facebook advertisement and adds a pair of shoes to their digital shopping cart, Pixel will track it. If they come back in six hours and complete the purchase, the Facebook Pixel code tracks that, too!

As it works to capture data, Meta Pixel feeds information back to Facebook. The data then aggregates in Facebook Events Manager so you can quantify the link between your Facebook ads and recent website visitors.

Facebook also uses Pixel information to improve future campaign performance by ensuring your ads make it to the right audience.

Bear in mind that Meta Pixel’s abilities are somewhat handcuffed by Apple’s privacy update. However, it still works for many desktop and non-iOS users!

Set Up the Conversions API

Meta Pixel users should also look into the Conversions API to up their tracking game.

The Pixel and Conversions API work together to improve your Facebook ad campaign performance and overall measurement.

In particular, the Conversions API may reduce Facebook’s tendency to “over-report” how many conversions you see, lowering your ad costs while increasing accuracy.

If you haven’t yet, you can set up the Conversions API using Facebook Events Manager.

Prioritize Your Conversion Events

In broad terms, a conversion event is any positive interaction your business has with an ad viewer. Ad impressions, clicks, lead generations, site views, cart adds, and sales all count as conversion events.

To increase your ad tracking accuracy, Facebook lets you select up to eight conversion events per domain. (Facebook will choose for you if you don’t select your preferred events manually.)

You can select and prioritize conversion events in the Events Manager. Each of the eight conversions you choose should align with your marketing goals, such as increasing brand awareness or purchases. Since Meta only reports the highest-priority conversion event per customer, you should prioritize your goals in order of importance.

Note also that you may need to periodically revisit your conversion event list to ensure your tracking priorities continue to align with your Facebook campaign objectives.

Choose the Right Facebook Advertisement for iOS Users

As the Apple update disrupts your ability to connect with customers, consider doing some of that legwork yourself. This involves choosing Facebook ads that generate in-house conversions such as likes, comments, and clicks.

Lead ad campaigns, for instance, let you use Facebook’s marketing process to touch base with customers one-on-one. You can use lead ads to collect information like names, email addresses, and phone numbers. (Perhaps in exchange for access to exclusive deals or sign-up coupons!)

You may also rely on boosted posts to raise brand awareness and engagement without driving customers off Facebook. While this may limit your sales conversions upfront, spreading the good news about your brand can draw in more customers long-term.

Review Your Conversion Window

Your conversion window limits Facebook’s ability to attribute a specific conversion to your Facebook ad campaign.

For instance, action-driven objectives default to a 1-day or 7-day attribution window. (Depending on the particular conversion event.) If a customer clicks your ad, Facebook will attribute any purchase they make within 1 or 7 days to that specific ad.

But if they make a purchase on day 8, Facebook will not attribute that purchase to your ad.

Your conversion window plays a big role in the accuracy of your Facebook ad analytics.

Too long, and you might falsely attribute sales to a Facebook ad campaign instead of, say, a Google ad campaign.

Too short, and you can easily miss conversions that fall slightly outside your chosen window.

Each ad type comes with an ideal conversion window. Facebook simplifies the process somewhat by setting automatic conversion windows. However, if your customers generally convert outside the given timeframe, it’s probably wise to manually enter your preferences.

Expect Data Delays

As you track Facebook ad performance, remember to account for potential data delays. Thanks to iOS tracking rules, Ad Manager now reports modeled and aggregated results.

Because the extra Facebook ad data crunch requires more time, most Facebook campaigns carry a 72-hour delay between events and the reported results.

If you’re concerned about a particular campaign’s performance, wait a few more days for the numbers to officially post.

Tracking Facebook Ads in Google Analytics

We’ve already established that the iOS 14.5 update drastically altered how Facebook advertisers measure their success. Thanks to limited data collection and restricted storage permissions, marketers have to get creative with their attribution models.

Many marketers have now turned to external tools that augment internal Facebook ads tracking.

That’s right – we’re talking about Google Analytics.

Why Add Google Analytics to Your Strategy?

Facebook Ads Manager is a great tool for tracking onsite impressions, clicks, and lead generation.

But thanks to the Apple Privacy update, Ads Manager loses track of a customer’s activities after they leave Facebook.

With Google Analytics, you can bridge the gap to continue gathering valuable demographic and behavior information. A simple integration allows you to view (most of) the customer journey from beginning to end.

Plus, using both allows you to gain a more holistic, more precise view of your results due to their recording methods.

In general, Facebook is known for over-reporting certain conversions compared to Google Analytics, which can impinge on your results’ accuracy. There are two basic reasons for this.

First off, Google uses a “last-click” attribution method, meaning that it considers a user’s last click the true conversion source.

But Facebook, understandably, prioritizes platform-based actions. If a user clicks or views your ad or campaign within the conversion window, the platform claims the credit.

Secondly, Facebook counts by action, not user.

Say a Facebook user clicks your ad five times in a day – Facebook would consider that five conversion events. But Google Analytics would consider just one, as it counts by user instead.

By combining both Facebook ads tracking and Google Analytics, you can gather more information and compare your results.

Not only will you get more total data, but you can compare your results to identify discrepancies – and the true story behind your success.

Start by Setting Up Google Analytics

To integrate Facebook ad tracking with Google Analytics, you should start with the Google Tag Manager. While not required, the GTM simplifies the process by collecting your tracking scripts in one location.

After creating your account and inserting a Google code snippet on your website, you can set up your Analytics account. From there, you’ll want to link the two so Google can readily tag and aggregate customer data from your website.

Finally, you’ll need to start tracking conversions in Google Analytics. You can do this manually or, if available, use a native website integration to link your site to Google Analytics.

Combine Your Facebook Ads and Google Analytics Data

When you set up Google Analytics, your account will automatically capture data from existing Facebook ad campaigns. But at this point, the data is all kind of lumped together.

To distinguish activity between posts, ad campaigns, and ads, you’ll need to set up URL parameters in your Facebook ads. You can customize URL parameters in Facebook Ads Manager during the ad creation process or using Google Campaign URL Builder.

To build a URL parameter in either direction, you’ll need:

  • The website URL

  • The campaign source

  • Whether you’re tracking paid or organic Facebook traffic

  • And the campaign name and content type

You can use this information to generate a campaign URL and track your Facebook and website traffic and conversions in Google Analytics. (For Google-generated URLs, you can insert trackable links into the “Website URL” field when creating your Facebook ads. Alternatively, you can include the link in the copy directly.)

Analyze Your Facebook Ads Performance in Google Analytics

Once you’ve linked your platforms and inserted URL parameters, you can sit back and watch the data roll in.

When it’s ready, the last step is analyzing your ads performance within your Google Analytics account.

Under the “Acquisition” tab, you can distinguish traffic by website, campaign, ad sets, and individual ads.

Key Takeaways: Facebook Conversion Tracking for Modern Marketers

Apple’s privacy update shocked the Facebook advertising world on a deep, financial level.

While the ATT framework has permanently altered how Facebook conversion tracking works, following a few best practices can help you regain some of that famous data generation.

Of course, only some people use Facebook on an iOS device.

For those users, these best practices hold true – they’re just not as imperative for generating the most accurate results.

Still, there’s only so much that Facebook ad tracking can do for advertisers targeting iOS users.

That’s where Google Analytics comes in.

You can use Google’s analytics platform to augment your ad tracking and improve your attribution methods one campaign at a time.

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