• Blog
  • Nov 08, 2017
  • By Jeff Keenan
How the Facebook Conversion Pixel Really Works

Need to know the full impact of marketing on your customer acquisition efforts, across all channels? Using the Facebook pixel shows you only part of the picture. Instead, using attribution tools allows you to see conversions when they occur, and even give full insight into why they occur.

Facebook’s ad returns are huge. How are yours?

One of the most popular ad platforms today is Facebook. And no wonder, stats show that it is the best performing ad network out there. Their ad revenue grew almost 50% since last year, reaching a total of more than $9 billion USD in Q2 of 2017. All of this money, of course, is coming from the pockets of advertisers like you. So the question is, are you getting the value you want?

If ad buyers like you spend $9 billion per quarter on Facebook ads, it should be crystal clear what you are buying. The problem is, it isn’t. You know exactly how much you (the advertiser) influenced Facebook’s bottom line. But ironically, do you know how much your Facebook advertisements influenced your bottom line?

Sure, for most of us, the return on Facebook ads seems to justify the investment. Facebook’s own ad performance dashboard gives useful and accurate results. However, if you’re trying to match last week’s orders to full-funnel attribution models, you will need an attribution tool.

Here are 3 crucial differences between how the Facebook conversion pixel works, and what attribution tools allow you to measure.

How Facebook conversion really works, and how to improve

Facebook provides a conversion pixel that helps connect the dots between advertising on their platform, and conversions on your website. Using the pixel, you can track the number of hits to success pages using URL pattern matching.

Alternatively, you can use Facebook’s Javascript API to write code to track conversions that don’t have success pages, such as success messages, shopping cart completions, etc.

So far, so good. However, for marketers that want measure the impact of their ads throughout the funnel, Facebook’s conversion pixel has three major shortcomings.

1. Facebook stops counting after 4 weeks

Let’s start with the biggest difference between the Facebook conversion pixel, and attribution tools.

When you create a report in Facebook to see conversions over a date range, what you’re actually seeing is the number of conversions for CLICKS over a date range, not conversions in the date range. This is important as conversion counts you get will be different than what you get from your own form submission statistics, order dashboards, or even attribution systems.

Think of is this way: if 30 people submitted a form on your website between August 1 and August 31, you will NOT see this same count in Facebook. Instead, you’ll see how many people clicked on ads from August 1 to August 31, and the resulting clicks that occurred at some point in the future. This is a “click perspective” and is often the start of frustration for marketers who are trying to connect the dots between conversions and advertising.

In addition, Facebook conversions will only be counted over a period of up to 28 days. That’s odd, because customer journeys can take a lot longer than just four weeks.

This is especially true for B2B sales cycles. In corporate environments, sales cycles can take half a year or more to get everyone on board and ready for a big purchase. Customers may click you add now, visit your website, but come back to purchase months later. In reality, your prospects don’t just evaporate into thin air after 28 days.

And what about life after the purchase? We are talking about customer success, and cross and upsell here. That is a huge chunk of your revenue, around 80% of it, which you don’t want to miss out on. You need to track that in order to know what drives your customer, and your business. Using the Facebook pixel, it will be impossible to track and attribute lifetime value.

  • Attribution tools can track a lifetime

When an ad click eventually leads to a conversion, even as much as a year later, attribution tools will still be able to attribute the revenue to that advertisement. Especially for B2B, this could be crucial. To measure the long-term effects of a particular ad on your bottom line, you’ll need an attribution tool.

2. Facebook counts ad clicks too often, occasionally

Facebook conversion tracking could count single conversions more than once. For example, if a customer reloads your success page, hits the back button, or checks order status in the case of some eCommerce platforms, a single purchase could be counted three times. No wonder your revenue is lower than Facebook is indicating.

  • Attribution tools count ad clicks accurately

Single purchases are counted as… a single purchase. Attribution tools count the actual purchase as a conversion, rather than the page visits that usually accompany the purchase, such as a ‘thank you for purchasing’ page.

3. Facebook assigns too much (if not all) value to their ads

When you’re running multiple marketing campaigns at the same time, conversions shouldn’t be attributed to the Facebook ad alone. In the 28 days between the ad click and the possible conversion, a lot can happen.

There is a good chance that clicking on this specific Facebook ad is just one of many touchpoints. But since Facebook only has visibility on customer behavior that happens on their platform, they have no better options.

The customer may have also visited a website directly, done an organic search, clicked a Gmail inbox ad, or clicked on another Facebook ad. Whatever happened, it will be attributed to that one initial Facebook ad. And that is not accurate… and a bit greedy.

  • Attribution tools assign value to ads more accurately

To know how many other marketing initiatives may have had an influence on a conversion, you need to track all of those initiatives. Attribution programs can identify individuals and track them, whichever channel or device they’re using.

Track the day a conversion occurs and link this back to all marketing touchpoints that may have influenced the conversion. Attribution products evaluate the entire customer journey and ALL touchpoints. When you actually know what individual users are doing across channels and devices, conversions can be counted on the exact date users convert.

The attribution tool you need

The truth is, the Facebook conversion pixel is very popular, and for good reason. It’s good at what it does. However, when you want to measure the effectiveness of ads across the entire funnel, you’ll need an attribution tool.

You’ll also need to measure the impact of organic search and direct visits to know how effective your Facebook ads really are. To know exactly where Facebook ads influenced customer behavior, you have to measure where they definitely didn’t.

Full-funnel attribution shows the relative impact of every touchpoint in the customer journey. To be able to measure the effectiveness and ROI of any marketing initiative, eCommerce attribution tools are indispensable.