Facebook Wants You to Trust & Optimize Top of Funnel Ads with Just Two Metrics

Lauren Clawson
Facebook wants you to trust just two advertising metrics to optimize - Portent

Facebook is making a concerted effort to get all advertisers using only two metrics at the top of the funnel: Reach and Brand Awareness. And while this sounds like a simple flight away from the aggressive accountability for end-results that’s become standard in digital, it’s worth looking at the Why and the What of these changes.

Facebook also recently revamped their advertising representative organization, and if you have clients or a total brand ad spend over a certain size, chances are you’ve now got a dedicated representative. Don’t worry if you don’t, we’ll take a look at both ad interface changes observed in the wild, and what we’re hearing from dedicated Facebook ad reps.

What We’re Seeing on the Platform and Hearing from Facebook Reps

Working in the Facebook advertising platform, it feels like we see changes just about every other time we log in right now. On one hand this is great because Facebook’s investment in advertiser tools is paying off really well for control of delivering the right message to the right people at the right time.

On the flip side, this does make it a lot easier if you’ve got a dedicated representative – it’s a whole lot easier to talk to a live human instead of wading through piles of articles published by Facebook to find the answer to a question that may be out of date in two days.

Who knows, maybe this is Facebook’s deliberate effort to force a chatbot on its advertisers. “We are happy to inform you that henceforth all ad platform training will be delivered via Occulus Rift.” (Kidding, mostly.)

Complexity and speed of change notwithstanding, Facebook has done a great job of filling their written knowledge base to the brim with how-to and best practice articles.

A side observation: in addition to getting a dedicated rep, almost every admin on every medium to large ad account has seen an influx of communication from ‘Facebook Marketing Experts’ offering to help prepare your team for the holidays. Beware the snake-oil salesman.

Our team has noticed that we keep hearing a few key pieces of advice from these reps. The most important being this:

“the only objectives within the platform that have been shown to increase purchase intent (top of the funnel) are Brand Awareness and Reach.”

Now, this isn’t an entirely new direction or message from Facebook, as they published a blog post and corresponding white paper about driving impact at scale using Reach in June of 2016.

What that blog post did not discuss is also important: What about the 10+ other advertising objectives that Facebook still offers, and for which they still allow you to dynamically optimize?

Why would these KPIs still be available to optimize against if Facebook’s determined that the way to drive brand awareness, traffic, and ultimately brand affinity exist in just two of the objectives they offer?

Even with the case studies and white papers published directly from the platform about the effectiveness of these KPIs as advertising success criteria, in-house brand teams and independent marketers could probably assume that if the other metrics are still offered, they’re meant to be used.

So Who Sees My Ads on Facebook if I Still Optimize for Engagement?

I’ve always been curious about how Facebook determines who is most likely to engage with an ad that is optimized towards some form of engagement. It turns out that the algorithm simply chooses to serve the ad to the user who is most likely to engage with ANY ad (within the target audience you choose).

This results in engagement-optimized ads being served to the top 10% of clickiest users within the platform. At 5x the cost, I might add – another statistic you can see in the white paper linked above.

Read: it doesn’t matter if they’re relatively more interested snowmobiles than swim-suits. If they’re interested in clicking, they’re going to see your ad.

Why Does This Matter for Advertisers?

This is incredibly important for advertisers to understand because it means current prospecting campaign strategies which utilize any but two of the objectives are delivering results that are bordering on vanity metrics.

Small business owners that do not have the time or resources to dedicate to reading studies published by Facebook IQ may be wasting their limited budgets on campaigns that are not driving results.

While engagement and page likes may have been the metrics for measuring post success in the past, those objectives are much better suited for organic content – and as we all know organic reach is almost non-existent these days.

In the end, limiting your advertising to an audience of the top 10% of most click-happy users will naturally result in lower overall ad reach.

This simple fact is the strongest argument supporting Facebook’s overall shift toward Brand Awareness and Reach as the two metrics you should care about, and for which you should optimize if you believe that brand and message exposure on Facebook is effective.

That said, Facebook will magnanimously still skim through its audience to find users that will give you the [vanity] metrics that you’re willing to pay for.

Some Observations: Why The Shift in Measurement and Behavior?

TL;DR – Monetization (aka shareholders). Changes in user behavior on the interwebs. Raw number of users on the Facebook.

Facebook is a business, plain and simple. They’re not in this to make friends (hah!). And the data that’s available on each user is incredibly valuable to advertisers. When Facebook first opened the platform to businesses, they gave brands a direct connection to their user base. (YOU get organic reach! And YOU get organic reach!)

Both sides of this relationship really took advantage of this new line of communication, and Facebook remained a true ‘social’ platform. When businesses posted ads on their page, users only saw them when they followed that particular Facebook page. This opt-in format arguably allowed brands to disguise that they were advertising to the user.

Now that Facebook has increased the amount of advertising a user sees each time they log in to the platform to such a significant extent, users see those ads for what they truly are: commercials.

The more commercials a user sees, the more desensitized that person is to those 5,000+ advertising messages we get per day on average.

It seems that the number of posts that a user must currently scroll through has increased so dramatically to get to content about their actual friends, that a user has to prioritize their time within the platform. A user that may have interacted with an advertisement two years ago may simply not take the time to do so anymore.

Now, this doesn’t mean that they won’t remember an advertisement that resonated, it just means that they may not take the time to interact with the post. Combine this with the fact that millennials are shown to be less likely to engage with advertisements anyways, and it’s no surprise the Facebook algorithm has certain flaws when it comes to delivering the most relevant click-through to a website.

What it Means for the Future of Facebook Advertising: Some Wild Guesses

TL;DR. – Users leaving the feed. Heavy participation in closed community groups. Demographic skews. Huge need for creative optimization.

Facebook has a wealth of knowledge when it comes to how user behavior is changing on the platform. For the most part, they typically share this information with advertisers long after it would have been beneficial for them to know.

Based on what we’ve seen, I believe that the above changes will unfold in the following ways unless Facebook makes large-scale changes to how the platform currently operates or manages to shift both consumer behavior and advertiser behavior at scale. (Crazier things have happened.)

Businesses will figure out the “click-happy” paradox

They’ll abandon those vanity metrics, and find a way to validate their digital advertising deeper in the funnel. ‘Likes’ no longer equal a successful post – and haven’t for a while.

Users will continue to flee the main news feed

Facebook has always given users the ability to create groups and communities. And as the amount of interruption-based information pumped into the news feed increases, users will find a way to curate that information in a more manageable way.

Luckily for your marketing program, Facebook recently introduced the opportunity for businesses to do the same. Instead of just the brand posting to the community group, fans of the brand can do this as well. While this decreases the advertiser’s ability to closely control the page, it restores the sense of community that they once shared with their followers.

Advertisers will need to invest more time on their creative

At least they will if they want to see the same return on ad spend that used to come a little more easily, even with {ahem} lesser creative. It’s a simple supply-and-demand equation, and we’re demanding those Facebook eyeballs pretty hard right now.

We love wild projections and guesses about the future of billion-user platforms. Throw ’em in the comments. We’ll all check back in two years to see how accurate we were.

Additional reading on this topic about the Value of a Like from Harvard Business Review

Lauren Clawson

Lauren Clawson

Social Media Team Lead
Social Media Team Lead

Lauren is the social media team lead at Portent. She manages a range of social media accounts from small business to large enterprise clients, as well as guiding the social strategy across the entire agency. Lauren started her digital marketing career in programmatic, but her passion for the art and science of connecting the client and consumer online lead her to the social space. When she is not at work, Lauren enjoys doing all things you would expect in the Pacific Northwest: camping, hiking, and playing with her chocolate lab, Norman.

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  1. Great article, Lauren. A couple notes I would be interested in hearing your take on:
    1. In my experience, chatbots are already being forced upon us in the form of “dedicated” Facebook reps. I’ll leave it at that. 🙂
    2. In times of ever-increasing Facebook measurement mistakes (https://marketingland.com/facebook-admits-10th-measurement-error-214819), it makes sense that Facebook is pivoting toward metrics of the vague (brand awareness) and basic (reach) variety. This could be an effort to preemptively combat failed direct sale campaigns, less-than-optimal conversion/lead-focused efforts, and pesky advertisers bringing up Facebook vs Analytics-reported metric differences. Reach is simple: they deliver an ad, you as the advertiser (and the client you represent) should be happy. Seems like they’re doing their best to bend as many branches as possible, in an effort to CREATE low-hanging fruit. Can’t blame them. Genius, really.
    3. I enjoy your guesses moving forward, and agree that something WILL change. I find the dual-feed test happening in six countries (https://www.engadget.com/2017/10/23/facebook-tests-split-news-feed-friends-front-and-center/) to be one of the most significant on the horizon. I think for paid advertisers, this should only clear out ad space (while also creating a “justification” for Facebook raising costs in general).
    4. Finally, one interesting conversation I had with a dedicated Facebook rep a number of months ago led to my understanding that campaign objectives are audience segmentations unto themselves. I.e. For any given audience, the “clickiest” users do not overlap with the “engagementiest” users or the “post-click conversioniest” users. I assume each user is categorized into ONE group, based on his/her digital history, without the possibility of crossing over. I haven’t tested this notion myself, but it could be done by running the same audience across different campaign objectives and comparing individual and total reach. Just some food for thought. 🙂
    Again, well done. Great read.

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