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The Essential Facebook Ads Attribution Guide

Lauren Breen
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Marketers have a serious love-hate relationship with Facebook ads attribution (almost on par with our love-hate relationship with the Facebook algorithm). 

We love finding out who came from our ads…and hate when it doesn’t line up with our other data—or doesn’t exist at all.

How do you find out how many visitors converted after clicking on an ad? Which ad helped facilitate that conversion? Was your ad campaign even successful?

What’s more, updates to iOS14 have created an urgent need for Facebook to change their current attribution window to continue tracking their audiences effectively.

In this guide, we’ll explore the ins and outs of Facebook ads attribution, along with the changes implemented by the platform to accommodate Apple's App Tracking Transparency (ATT) feature, which attribution window to use, and how to report on it. 

Why is Facebook ads attribution useful for marketers?

Facebook ad attribution is the process of identifying user actions that resulted in the desired outcome between the click of the ad and the conversion. For example, let’s say someone visits your website. They add a product to their cart and then end up leaving. Two days later they see that same product on a Facebook ad—with a free shipping code. Nice. That nudges them to click through and complete the purchase.

Attribution helps show that without that ad, you may have never had that purchase. 

Facebook ad attribution is absolutely critical to marketers. It’s the information that lets you know if your ads are working…or not. It helps you nail down what works and what doesn’t. Without it, marketers would be spending money and not directly be able to prove return. And why would you run ads if you can’t prove that it’s getting you closer to your big business goals?

Facebook’s delayed attribution model

Facebook uses the delayed attribution model to inform marketers about their successes and their ROI. As per this model, the platform will attribute any sale made to the first exposure instead of the last click before the purchase.

Let me explain. Suppose John sees an advertisement for a pair of jeans while scrolling through his Facebook news feed. He clicks on the ad, which directs him to the brand’s website. 

Even though John liked the jeans, he didn’t purchase them because he wanted to try out a few other brands before placing a final order. This is actually very normal as the buying cycle can be longer for some products and customers.

Three days later, John types the brand website directly in his search engine and purchases the same pair of jeans.

With the last-click attribution model, you’ll see the sale came from a direct visit to the website. But with Facebook’s delayed attribution model, you’ll find the sale posted on the date John first saw the ad, which led to the technical purchase three days later.

That's why Facebook's delayed attribution is preferable to last-click attribution—it tells you a more complete story about your ad conversions.

How does Facebook identify a conversion?

For Facebook to report a conversion when you run an ad campaign, you need three things:

  • A properly installed Facebook Pixel on your website
  • Properly set up events (standard and/or custom) within your Facebook Event Manager 
  • Properly set up Conversions API

Obviously, Facebook won’t know when a conversion happens unless you provide clear-cut rules to identify what you consider to be a conversion. You tell them the actions (events) that matter for your business. Whether you’re looking to track lead submissions, registration completions, appointment bookings, etc.

This is why Facebook gives the option of standard events such as page views or clicks but also allows for custom events so you have the ability to measure whatever type of conversions you need, wherever it is.

However, knowing when the conversion happens vs reporting is a different ball game.

For example, Facebook will show you the total number of times a web page is visited, but the number won’t necessarily represent the total number of conversions. It’s why the numbers on your other reporting tools are likely to never match with the numbers of your Facebook ad campaign. 

Suppose you’re advertising an event and want to track the number of registrations you get through it. If you see there are 50 reported conversions on your campaign dashboard, this will include

  • Users who click the ad and converted within seven days
  • Users who saw the ad (without clicking) and converted on the first day

Marketers often assume the number 50 only represents users that click the ad and convert immediately. That's wrong. Thanks to the Facebook Pixel, Facebook knows every user who saw the ad as well as those who clicked on it.

It’s also possible that the majority of your conversions will happen immediately or soon after a click. However, it depends on how long it typically takes for users to convert, which is influenced by various factors, ranging from commitment level to price. To understand the conversion process better, you can either change the attribution reporting rules or view how each supported window makes up your conversions. 

In the end, if you want Facebook to report whenever someone converts after clicking on your ad, you’ll have to apply the right rules for accuracy.

Understanding the new Facebook ads attribution options (post iOS14)

In 2021, Apple implemented its App Tracking Transparency (ATT) feature that made it mandatory for applications like Facebook to ask users for their permission before tracking them across apps and websites owned by other companies. 

Remember this?

Facebook activity tracking
The notification that made us all cringe

Yeah, this little notification carries A LOT of significance.

This is what it meant on the back-end of things for advertisers:

App tracking transparency
Apple's iOS14 drastically changed the advertising game

Further reading: How iOS14 Impacts Facebook Ads (And How To Get Around It)

Keeping this change in mind, Facebook introduced a new “Attribution setting” on the ad set level to help marketers easily identify the setting their ad results are optimized and reported under.

Attribution setting
Ad set level attribution setting for reporting

Facebook supports the following four windows under the new attribution setting:

  • 1-day click
  • 7-day click (default after prompt ATT enforcement)
  • 1-day click or view
  • 7-day click or 1-day view (initial default)

RIP 28-day click, 28-day view, and 7-day view window attribution settings. Us businesses with longer buying cycles will miss you. 

Which Facebook attribution window should I use?

The answer to choosing which attribution window to use is—you guessed it: It depends.

The default is 7-day click or 1-day view which generally works for most businesses. But it isn’t great for everyone.

If you’re selling a lower-priced item that could be considered more of an impulse buy, then that 1-day click window might be better (and reflect better results). 

For example, let’s look at Still Novel’s custom framed Birth Stat product.

Still Novel framed Birth Stat ad
Still Novel framed Birth Stat ad

Here’s an example of a product that you would at least want to test using both 1-day and 7-day windows. It’s a $60 product that you can create in minutes. More than likely, if a viewer is interested, they’ll head straight to purchase without much thought.

Then there’s this example from Lessonly:

Lessonly Facebook Ad

Nobody that sees this is going to make the choice to sign up for Lessonly for the team on the spot. If anything, it could spur the start of a conversation with their team. It’s not a quick decision. It needs budget allotment and approvals.

The only 1-day conversion that is going to happen (most likely) is a link click or a demo. If they’re trying to report and measure new customers accurately, the 7-day window is necessary. 

Use your best judgment to choose a window that aligns with your product, the price point, and the average buying cycle. When in doubt, test. 

How to report on attribution

The honest truth is that it’s really freakin’ hard to prove Facebook Ads attribution across multiple data sources. Data discrepancy is a huge problem. Google Analytics will never perfectly match your Facebook Ads report. Your customer relationship management (CRM) tool will also probably be different from Facebook.

This is an issue that’s extremely hard to avoid. It’s going to happen. Somebody might view an ad on their work computer (which isn’t signed into Facebook or their personal email), then remember it later and purchase the item on their phone. Even with the best tracking, Facebook may never get that credit.

Because of this, it’s pretty crucial that you decide on a source of truth. If you’re always going back and forth, you’ll never figure it out. If you’re reporting solely on Facebook Ads, use the reports available in Ad Manager as your single source. It’s always going to show much more accurate results because of the way it tracks data.

Google tracks via cookies which works at its best if a user is signed into their email on Chrome. Yeah, not always likely. Facebook on the other hand uses user-based tracking that relies on a User ID. Most people are always signed into their Facebook (and usually across devices).

To give yourself the best chance at the most accurate data, you should have your Facebook pixel installed, events properly set up, and a Conversion API in place to more accurately track conversions from any users that have opted out of iOS14.

If you’re measuring Facebook Ads impact across all your marketing, you’ll still need to look at Google Analytics. Google Analytics will provide a realistic picture of the role Facebook plays compared (and in addition) to other sources, especially when you’re looking at assisted conversions.

Facebook top of funnel
In this example, Facebook plays a huge role at the top of the funnel - source

Pro Tip: Be sure to set up all your important conversion events in Google Analytics just like you did for Facebook.

Ads attribution is hard, but it isn’t impossible

There is no denying that Apple’s latest iOS 14 update has forever changed the advertising scenario. To make matters worse, setting up and monitoring Facebook analytics along with other reporting tools can also be complicated if you don't have the right guidance.

But that’s the thing: the process is complicated—not impossible.

Thanks to Facebook‘s attribution setting, Conversions API, Events Manager, and Google Analytics you can easily keep track of your audience conversion activities. This will eventually allow you to make informed decisions and help you optimize the heck out of your ads.

Chapter 9:
Facebook Ads Optimization & Reporting

What You’ll Learn: Master optimization routines so that you can continuously improve the performance of your Facebook ads.

Chapter 11:
Facebook Ads Statistics

What You’ll Learn: Learn about industry averages and be ahead of the game with always up to date costs, pricing, and statistics.