Updated on 3/25/2022 to include the most recent changes to Facebook advertising.
When this blog post was originally posted in 2018, we were bracing for impacts from Mark Zuckerberg’s senate hearing and prepping for what at the time seemed like big changes to Facebook targeting — remember when they shuttered Partner Categories? Simpler times.
Fast forward to the present day, and social media marketers have become pretty accustomed to these types of announcements. As data privacy has shifted to the forefront of many conversations about digital advertising, it’s safe to assume that the industry as a whole will have to continue to adjust to what feels like game-changing shifts in the way we run campaigns and measure their effectiveness.
Facebook Isn’t Facebook Anymore
Let’s address the elephant in the room first — Facebook, Inc. is now Meta. In October of 2021, the company announced the change, stating:
“Meta builds technologies that help people connect, find communities, and grow businesses. When Facebook launched in 2004, it changed the way people connect. Apps like Messenger, Instagram, and WhatsApp further empowered billions around the world. Now, Meta is moving beyond 2D screens toward immersive experiences like augmented and virtual reality to help build the next evolution in social technology.”
There has been a lot of speculation about the catalyst behind the company’s decision to move full steam ahead into the Metaverse. One hypothesis, though, is an anticipated decline in ad revenue: Meta says that byproducts of the most recent iOS14 update would result in a $10 billion revenue hit in 2022.
iOS 14 and the Introduction of the AppTrackingTransparency Framework
This brings us to the launch of Apple’s iOS 14 update, which rolled out in April of 2021 — arguably the most significant change we’ve seen on the platform in recent memory. If you’ve been running ad campaigns on Facebook in the past year, there’s a very good chance you’re already familiar with performance impacts following the rollout of the AppTrackingTransparency framework.
If you need a refresher, check out this blog post to learn more about the ways iOS 14 has affected advertising on Facebook.
European ePrivacy Directive
Beginning in July 2021, this banner has been a mainstay when editing an ad set that targets European users.
To better align with Europe’s ePrivacy Directive, the most recent update to international privacy regulations, Facebook updated cookie content prompts across the region to include two controls that allow a user to opt-out of cookie tracking by Facebook and/or other companies when using a Facebook product.
Facebook noted that while there was no action required by advertisers, “campaigns targeting ads to people in the European Region may begin to gradually experience decreased performance beginning July 6, 2021.”
Server-Side Tagging in GTM for Conversions API
Facebook released official documentation for server-side tagging in Google Tag Manager last year, complete with the Conversions API tag template. This was big because this implementation meant that Facebook data could be sent server-to-server rather than through a web browser.
If you’re curious to learn more about the advantages of this set-up, Michael Wiegand, Portent’s Director of Analytics, wrote a bit about the benefits of embracing server-side tag management for the blog.
The Facebook CAPI integration specifically provides the following additional benefits:
- It can help you track users who installed AdBlocker or those using Safari (or any other browser with intelligent tracking prevention algorithms).
- It can track events that happen not on the site, such as phone calls or offline sales.
- It enables teams to utilize Conversion Lift Studies after October 2021.
We’ve found that the Conversions API integration has generally been an easy pitch to clients in a post-iOS 14 world, but the ability to implement via familiar tools like GTM has made the process even easier.
Loss of Detailed Targeting Options
In January 2022, Facebook announced that it would be removing thousands of detailed targeting options that could be perceived as “sensitive” — from health causes to social issues.
This is a direct response to some criticism Facebook has received over the years, including a lawsuit from The Department of Housing and Urban Development after allowing discriminatory targeting exclusions in housing ads.
So far, we’ve found the removal of these audiences to have virtually no impact on the campaigns we run for clients.
What We’ve Learned
The biggest takeaway from the changes we’ve seen in the last year? Expect the expected. We’ve been writing about the way public sentiment and legislation around data privacy has impacted (and will continue to impact) digital marketing since 2018 — from the aftermath of the Cambridge Analytica debacle to GDPR to CCPA.
In many ways, the iOS14 update, which has felt like the most catastrophic of them all, probably wasn’t that surprising at the end of the day. The writing on the wall has been there the whole time — what matters now, though, is that we honor these changes while continuing to drive results for our clients.
Now that we’re nearly a year into the rollout of Apple’s game-changing data use update, our team has seen a wide range of performance outcomes across our portfolio of eCommerce and B2B clients.
Positive Outcomes We’ve Seen In Our Client Work
One B2B tech client added Facebook back into its marketing mix after a several-month hiatus in May 2021, just a month after the formal rollout of the AppTrackingTransparency framework. Since then, we’ve seen massive growth on the platform in spite of attribution challenges created by Apple’s update. Conversion volume has increased +1603% YoY, and we see significant improvements in efficiency when comparing current CPAs with historical data in the account.
For one eCommerce client who suspended all Facebook advertising beginning November 30, 2021, the decision to divest from the platform had a big impact on brand awareness and sales. According to Social Strategist Jessica Clark, “when the Facebook ads were off, interest [in the brand] decreased over time by 64% according to Google Trends…Overall users to the site also decreased by 28% and transactions decreased by 24% according to Google Analytics.” This decline in overall performance helped influence the decision to reactivate Facebook advertising in February 2022.
Not-So-Positive Outcomes We’ve Seen In Our Client Work
The trends haven’t all been positive, though. Clark also confirmed that one B2C client has seen CPA costs increase by 78% YoY among campaigns that utilize Lookalike audiences based on pixel data.
Similarly, for one B2B client, a reduction in custom audience sizes has been the primary culprit for a sharp decline in performance among remarketing campaigns since May of 2021. As a result, we’ve seen reach plummet and impression and click costs rise.
Although there has been some improvement in performance after adjusting our creative strategy, combining audiences, and making optimizations focused on improving liquidity, we’ve shifted focus on the platform away from demand generation and instead invested more heavily in LinkedIn to drive volume.
With that said, I don’t think this marks the end of Facebook advertising, nor do I think it’s wise for advertisers to abandon ship just yet. Although Google announced a stay of execution for third-party cookies, the day is still coming. Other massive changes to data use and tracking are imminent, and all advertisers, regardless of channel, will be impacted.
What To Do
The good news is that we have time to prepare! As we saw in some of the examples above, Facebook advertising is still a valuable marketing channel regardless of industry. While some businesses have continued to drive stellar performance with marginal impacts related to the iOS 14 update, the reality is that some impact on results is possible.
Use Conversions API
Get your clients on board with Conversions API if you haven’t already. While this wouldn’t completely solve for measurement and attribution gaps caused by the iOS 14 update, it can help compensate for impacts to signal strength from the pixel as a result of third-party cookie depreciation. The result would be improved accuracy of information sent for targeting, measurement, and optimization.
Next, lean on micro-conversions to paint a more detailed picture of Facebook ad performance. If you’re not familiar with this concept, check out this blog post from our Director of Analytics to learn more about what makes a good micro-conversion. If you’re interested in setting up these types of conversions without code, you can do that pretty easily by setting up a Custom Conversion in Events Manager. There is a big caveat, though: custom conversions count towards the 8 events that can be configured and prioritized for Aggregated Event Measurement reporting. Although it takes a little more legwork, consider setting up Custom Events via GTM and corresponding goals in Google Analytics for improved visibility outside of the platform.
Flexibility Is Key
Finally: be flexible. As we’ve seen in the last year, the ever-evolving conversation around data privacy shows no sign of slowing down. Platforms are already taking steps to comply with new legal requirements and assuage public outcry. When so much is uncertain, it can be difficult to admit “we don’t know” when clients ask us what to expect after an industry-shifting change like the AppTracking Transparency framework is announced. This presents an opportunity to educate client contacts as you’re learning, too. Whether that means passing along resources from platform reps or sharing the ways performance impacts can lead to new strategic pivots, transparency is key.
Keep these things in mind as we brace for what will surely be an interesting few years in digital advertising.