Advertiser Confusion Led to Shutdown of Facebook Conversion Tracking Tool

By Kim-Mai Cutler Comment

When Facebook closed a private beta of a conversion tracking tool earlier this month that would have allowed advertisers to see whether users actually visited their website or made purchases later on, it raised questions about the effectiveness of the social network’s ads.

But engineers on the product say confusion among users led to the product shutdown, according to a page on Quora, a question-and-answer site founded by Facebook’s first CTO that’s popular with many of its employees.

Speaking on his own and not officially for the company, software engineer Cliff Chang wrote:

Basically, there are a lot of small reasons we got rid of it, but the main driving reason was that our advertisers were bad at using it. Some hilarious percent of people who generated pixels never received a single impression on them, and of those that did, a lot of them just threw them directly on their landing page. This was probably our fault in making the product hard to use, but this resulted in a lot of operational overhead for our user support.

Chang said he wrote the code to turn the product off. He added that few advertisers used the product properly outside of agencies that were already using competitive products. Without the tool, advertisers now have to calculate their own ROI or use a third party tool.

Another intern who worked on Facebook ads, Amar Anand, said that conversion tracking wasn’t really appropriate for Facebook’s style of advertising, which focuses on consumers earlier in the buying cycle. In contrast, Google’s ads target consumers when they already have a decent idea of products and services they want and search for them.

“Instead of conversion tracking tools, tools that measure brand lift and brand engagement are much more relevant to the Facebook ads product,” he said.

He wrote:

Facebook ads will still drive sales and brand recognition, but ad clicks will not drive those sales in the short term.  Someone looking through photos of their friends is not going to simply see a Sony ad, click on the ad, and then buy a TV.  They may be compelled enough to like Sony’s fan page and read about updates, contests, and promotions from Sony and then be convinced to buy a Sony product down the line.  But ad clicks on Facebook will not lead to many direct response sales.

Of course if Facebook or other third-party tools can’t definitively prove that the site’s ads eventually lead to increased purchases or sales, even if it’s in the very long run, enthusiasm from marketers about the social network’s performance ads may wane.

One Facebook advertising client, Taylor McKnight, who works with music site HypeMachine and two other startups, expressed some skepticism about Facebook’s ability to deliver conversions. He said he used the tool for a few weeks and didn’t see any conversions, so he stopped using the product.

“I literally laughed out loud when I saw they discontinued conversion tracking a week later,” he said.