Surviving and Thriving With FB Ads (and Beyond) in 2021

surviving-facebook-ads-in-2021

With all of the craziness going on surrounding Facebook, Apple, and the iOS 14 update we've been getting a ton of questions about the future of Facebook ads.

In this article, you'll get a basic understanding of what not happening, what is happening, and how to survive and thrive using Facebook ads (even with all changes) in 2021 and beyond.

What’s Not Happening

I wanted to quickly start by saying what is not happening as a result of the iOS 14 update and the changes that Facebook is making to cope with the new ads ecosystem.

While I've seen a whole bunch of articles essentially saying that the sky is falling because of the changes, the real truth is we’re essentially going back to a pre-pixel era (think 2015 or 2016).

At the end of the day, it's not quite as big of a deal as everybody seems to be making it out to be.

The sky is not falling, Facebook ads are not going away, and you don't have to learn completely new marketing strategies to cope.

What IS Happening

So that begs the question…what is happening?

We can boil down the changes to two main things.

Apple Is Making it Harder To Track Data

The first is that Apple is simply making it harder to track individual user data.

For the past few years, Apple has allowed Facebook and other advertisers (such as Pinterest) to match phone IDs and phone numbers from users inside of the Facebook app to their activities outside of the Facebook app.

After the iOS 14 update, this will no longer be the case, meaning Facebook won't be able to accurately track what users are doing outside of the Facebook app on their iPhone (unless those users specifically opt-in to allow Facebook to track their data).

While they claim to be doing this to protect user privacy, I have a few theories of my own and we will see if they come true here towards the end of 2021 or in early 2022 (hint: Apple might be developing their ad network).

As a result, Facebook needs to make a few changes to cope with the new way that Apple is handling user data.

What is Facebook Doing to Cope?

In addition to publishing a whole bunch of scary-sounding messages inside of the Facebook ads platform, Facebook will be moving to what they call  “modeled data”.

What this means is your Facebook ads dashboard will no longer “accurately” show the number of leads, purchases, or other conversions that you will be tracking.

Instead, they'll be using a variety of computer models to predict what those results should have been if they were able to collect all of the data from users of iOS devices.

I've never relied on the Facebook dashboard as my single source of truth for marketing data because they've always taken credit for conversions that were necessarily directly related to Facebook as themselves.

That being said, even if you aren't as strict about attribution as I've always been, you'll now have to look at your Facebook dashboard and the results therein with a big heaping pile of salt.

How To Survive

Now that we have a basic understanding of what is and isn't happening, let's dive into the changes you should be making right now to “survive” the new advertising ecosystem in the wake of the IOS 14 update.

Going to be taking a look at four things that you should be doing right now (I promise all four of them combined will only take 15 to 20 minutes)  to ensure your ads are turned off and the conversions keep rolling in.

Verify Your Domains

The first that you need to take, if you have not done so already, is to verify each domain that you will be running Facebook ads to.

Facebook is now requiring that any domain you wish to use in a link inside of a Facebook ad is verified through their domain safety program.

While this sounds extremely complicated it's are only a few steps.

The first thing you need to do is log into your Facebook business manager account and go to the brand safety section.

From here you'll click on the domains section and then add a domain.

Simply type your URL into the box and press the blue at a domain button.

Once you've done this Facebook will prompt you to add a record to your hosting. 

They'll take you to a screen where you will be able to choose from a variety of different ways to verify your domain, select the TXT record option.

You want to open a new tab in your browser and log into your hosting account( or copy the text record and send it to your web developer).

From here all you have to do is follow your hosting company's instructions for adding a new TXT record, then copy and paste the value given to you by Facebook.

After you or your developer have submitted the new TXT record, give Facebook 30 minutes to one hour, and then you should be able to click the blue verify button and Facebook will acknowledge their domain has been verified.

If for some reason after adding the new TXT record Facebook is unable to verify the domain, you may want to reach out to your web developer or to your hosting company support to make sure you added the TXT record and value correctly.

Choose Your Events To Track (Max 8)

Once you've verified your domains the next thing you will need to do to survive this new advertising ecosystem is to choose the eight events that you would like Facebook to allow you to track.

Before the changes, you can track essentially an unlimited number of events. 

While the change to limiting it to eight events may sound scary at first, there aren't many businesses that would have more than eight individual events at any given time that they would need to track back to Facebook ads.

If we have an e-commerce business for example we would be interested in tracking purchases, check out initiations, new leads, and potentially subscriptions or one or two other custom conversions for different things that happen on the site.

Even in this example, we would only have four or five events that we be tracking back to Facebook ads anyway, so any changes in the deal.

If you go into your events manager inside of your Facebook ads account or business manager account you should be able to rank order up to eight different events (including all of the standard Facebook events and any custom conversions they have created).

These events can be changed or ordered in any way at any point, with the small caveat of if you do make changes to the order or the type of events that you are tracking Facebook may lock any additional changes for a few days while they wait for the data to catch up to the changes you've already made.

Use Advanced Matching

The next thing you want to start taking advantage of if you're not already using the feature is what Facebook calls their advanced matching feature.

Turning on this feature lets Facebook use a variety of methods, beyond the phone look-up method that they were using before the update, to match customer activity and track how that impacts your conversions.

If you going to the settings of your event tab, you should see a section for cookie settings, and directly underneath that, you will see a section called advanced matching.

You should see a toggle switch next to a headline labeled automatic advanced matching, if this switch is toggled off make sure to turn it on.

Making this small change will make your Facebook ads dashboard conversion data substantially better than it would be otherwise.

Understand Your Conversion Windows

The last thing you need to understand to survive the new environment is what's called a conversion window.

Before all of these changes, Facebook would allow you to attribute sales back to add clicks or impressions for a variety of different periods (including up to 28 days).

One of the other changes coming out of these new updates is that they will now be restricted to a maximum of seven days.

While on the surface that this may not seem like a big change, there are a huge number of Facebook advertisers that have conversions happening well beyond the first seven days of somebody interacting with an ad. 

For example, if you take a look at the screenshot below you will see that while the vast majority of conversions happen on day zero, meaning the day that somebody clicks on an ad, there is also a large number of conversions that happen on day 12 and beyond.

If we were relying on Facebook exclusively to track this data it means we would be massively underreporting the effectiveness of our Facebook ads.

If you already have Google Analytics installed on your site you may want to take a look at the time to conversion report and see if this change will affect you.

If all your conversions are happening within the first seven days, you have nothing to worry about.

If not, you want to take a look at the how-to to thrive section below for a variety of different ways that we can help make sure Facebook ads get appropriate credit for their contribution to our sales.

How To Thrive

Now is a better idea of the small changes we have to make to survive this change, let's take it one step further and explore a few things we can do to thrive.

Make The Move to 1st Party Tracking

The first thing I would suggest that any serious advertiser does is take a look at moving from utilizing third-party tracking (like relying on the Facebook ads dashboard as your source of truth for advertising data) to a more first-party system (like Google analytics or Segmetrics).

Quite honestly, Facebook has had us spoiled for the last few years in terms of being able to track just about anything that happens on any website or app that utilizes the Facebook pixel.

Since this is no longer going to be the case we need to get a bit “old school” and start taking advantage of all of the data that we have and can control.

While this might sound like a daunting challenge, it just involves is making a few extra clicks and taking a few seconds longer while were setting up our ads thanks to the magic of what's called a UTM Variable.

Using UTM Variables

If you've never used these types of links before, it may sound like something straight out of the matrix.

In reality, it's a way of passing information from one source (in this case a Facebook ad) to another.

For example, by adding UTM variable or two to the links we place inside of our Facebook ads, we can track where traffic is coming from, how that traffic got to your site, the name of the campaign or ad that drove that traffic, and a wide variety of other information.

For example, if you look at the URL above you'll see a few different sections highlighted in different colors.

The red section will tell Google analytics or any other first-party tracking software where that particular user came from (in this case Facebook ads). 

The area highlighted in blue tells Google Analytics how but that traffic got to your site (in this case, by clicking on a CPC Ad).

The green portion will pass the name of the campaign to Google analytics and the purple section will pass the name of the ad.

By adding these values to the end of any link we can now accurately track that person in our own software and attribute sales back to Facebook ads, emails, or any other variety of ways that we are driving traffic.

For those old-school marketers, you probably used to do this before we became overly reliant on the beauty and ease of the Facebook pixel.

Even if you've never used one of these variables before, they could not be easier to set up and in fact, Facebook has a tool built into the ads manager that allows us to do this with one extra click during the asset process.

In the photo above you'll see Facebook gives us areas for campaign source, campaign medium, campaign name, campaign content and were able to add a variety of other UTM fields if we need them. 

It just depends on how nerdy you want to get with your data.

Once we have started to add these fields to our links in Facebook ads we will be able to track each Facebook campaign and the results inside of Google Analytics or any other first-party tracking program that we want to use.

Diversify

In addition to making the move to first-party tracking, we should all be taking advantage of this shakeup to diversify.

There's nothing quite like having the rug pulled out from under you to realize that you should be putting all your eggs in one basket.

I would suggest taking a look at a few other advertising platforms including AdWords and even Pinterest (if it makes sense for your market) if you have not done so already.

As someone who's run millions of dollars through platforms like AdWords, there's never been a better time to use Google's AdWords to offset some of the changes you may see in the effectiveness of your Facebook ads.

They recently rolled out a wide variety of features including new smart campaign features (where essentially Google's AI builds all of your ads, creates all of your bids, etc…… and does the entire thing better than any ad buyer on the planet).

Additionally, Pinterest is worth considering if you are in a niche that is active on its platform.

They remind me quite a bit of Facebook ads in the early days and are a great source of cheap and also highly converting traffic.

In addition to diversifying your ad platforms, it is important to remember that we should always be utilizing our email list.

I know, you thought you were to get your entire article without me talking about the return on investment from email marketing, but although it always ranks among the highest return on investments for any marketing platform, it often falls by the wayside because it's not new and shiny.

That’s a Wrap:

Now you have a basic understanding of what is and isn't happening, I hope you'll agree with me that the sky is not falling and that we have more opportunities now with Facebook ads than ever before.

After all, with all the advertisers claiming that they'll never be able to track the success of their Facebook ads without everyone on iOS device opting into the new system, we know better and we know just how easy it is to take advantage of all of the opportunities we now have in front of us.

Chris lives at the intersection of business strategy and growth tactics. Having consulted with dozens of different businesses (as well as building several of his own), he brings a unique perspective on what's working across the eCommerce world in businesses of all shapes and sizes.

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