Facebook Is Over Reporting Your Conversions

By blaine

November 8, 2019

Facebook conversions

As an Amazon affiliate, we sometimes use affiliate links in our content. This means if you click on the link and purchase an item, we will receive an affiliate commission at no extra cost to you.

In 2015, our ads were converting at 2,000% profit. This was one of the first big advertising wins we had pulled off through Facebook. 

The celebrations for this win were met with some skepticism from the team. I mean… 2,000% return is not normal in anyone’s book.

We quickly discovered that we were making sales, but not directly due to Facebook ads. Unfortunately, Facebook’s attribution model was wildly over reporting our conversions.

The default settings for Facebook’s Attribution Model is to report a conversion if a purchase happens within 28-days of clicking or 1 day of viewing an advertisement. This becomes problematic when you’re competing against other businesses trying to sell the same product.

Our advertisements were being seen by a lot of people. These people were also receiving emails from other businesses and influencers telling them to purchase the product. Naturally, the customer ended up purchasing from these businesses, but we were still credited with the conversion.

Facebook has no way of knowing that someone saw our advertisements but received 10 emails from a different business telling them to buy the product through their personal affiliate link. In their equation, the customer saw our ad and went on to purchase from us.

Reading Facebook’s attribution model definition helps explain how this situation arises:

By default, Facebook uses a last-touch attribution model, which means we will attribute full credit for a conversion to the last Facebook ad the person clicked or interacted with. If the person did not click on an ad, full credit is attributed to the last Facebook ad viewed. If they clicked the ad, it will get attributed to the ad clicked. If they didn’t click, it’s attributed to the most recent Facebook ad they saw.

All this really means is that Facebook is going to credit someone with a conversion. If your ad was the last thing the customer saw or clicked on, then you get the conversion. 

This doesn’t mean that you’re going to receive money from the customer’s purchase. 

How did we figure this out?

After we finished patting ourselves on the back for such a successful Facebook ad campaign in 2015, our CEO at the time pulled up the revenue numbers. 

…And they simply didn’t line up.

Almost 3,300 sales from $4,628.26 of ad spend!?  That’s a 2,133% return on investment. 72,318 people seeing the ad means we were hitting a 4.5% conversion rate.

Something was off.

So we started to think about what might be happening.

We were working with hundreds of affiliates. Chances were that our Facebook ads were being viewed by some of their audience. Even though we were reaching these people through Facebook ads, they were still much more likely to purchase from our affiliates.  

In fact, over 90% of our sales were being generated by our affiliates – not advertising.

Customers were buying from our affiliates, but we were being credited for the conversion. 

This was a problem because knowing that Facebook’s reporting was inaccurate meant we didn’t know if our ads were actually making money. That’s a worrying thought since we’d already spent close to $5,000 on advertising.

So we turned our attention to the Facebook campaign configuration. 

The solution

We already knew the problem was the way Facebook was reporting conversions. To solve this, we needed to find the attribution settings and change them to a more accurate model.

There are two places where Facebook ads allows the attribution model to be changed:

  • In the ad group settings
  • At the account level under Ad Account Settings

Theoretically, being able to set the ad group means you can test different models. This could be helpful if you want to measure longer conversion windows.  Or to check the difference between how many sales you made from people clicking on your ads compared with people viewing the ads.

For most affiliate marketers you should change this setting to “7 days after clicking”.

The number of conversions reported on the main ads manager is set by the Ad Account Settings attribution. If you use this dashboard to check how your campaign is performing (like we do) you’ll want to change this attribution setting.  

The reporting of all your campaigns will be adjusted straight away when you change this setting.

Check your settings regularly

Facebook is well known for tweaking their platform regularly.  Over the past couple of years we’ve found that the major updates will reset some of our account settings back to their default values.  Attribution model is one of these settings.

The easiest way to keep on top of this is to briefly review your account settings when building a new campaign.

Using Google Analytics as a backup

When we were trying to figure out why Facebook was over reporting conversions, we started looking at other reporting sources. Google Analytics needs no introduction, and it can be leveraged to report on Facebook conversions.

To make this happen you first need to set up your Facebook ad campaign using Google Urchin Tracking Module parameters (UTM parameters for short).  Hootsuite wrote a great article with everything you need to know about using UTM parameters.

UTM parameters follow your link clicking visitors around the web. They allow Google to see when the visitor makes it through the purchase process. This in turn is fed back into Google Analytics.

The next step is using Google Analytics “Goals” to tell the platform what you want it to report on. In most cases this is reaching a particular post-purchase thank-you page. Goals appear as a column in most of the common Analytics reports. 

Google provides solid documentation on setting up goals. You can check it out here.

Google Analytics can now identify users that clicked on your Facebook ad links and ended up reaching the thank you page. 

Should you use Google Analytics instead of Facebook reporting?

Using Google Analytics to double check your conversion rates is an excellent way to make sure Facebook’s reporting is set up correctly. We still recommend leaning more heavily on Facebook when you’re determining the performance of your campaign.

Facebook gathers a huge amount of metrics about the campaign. Statistics like click through rate, frequency and cost per click can tell you a lot about the health of the campaign. Google Analytics can’t tell you nearly as much about your campaign’s performance. It’s best to use it as a second opinion tool.

Recommendations & conclusion

Facebook’s default attribution model isn’t designed to catch you off guard. They actually aim to report as accurately as possible and help you maximize your sales. But there’s no ‘one-size-fits-all’ solution when it comes to conversion reporting.

If you’re running an affiliate marketing campaign, you should consider changing Facebook attribution model to click-only to avoid conversions being over reported. This will ultimately help your campaign performance because you’ll be able to see the effect of changes clearly in the reporting data.

Check your settings regularly because sometimes they reset when Facebook does big updates. It’s easiest to pop your head in and check the configuration when starting a new campaign.

Finally, consider using UTM parameters when building an advertising campaign. This will let you bring Google Analytics into the equation to give you some peace of mind.

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