Advertising on Facebook is like running a marathon in a lot of ways.
Yes, seriously. Give me a minute to explain.
Running a marathon obviously isn’t a sprint where you just shoot out like a rocket, give it everything you’ve got at once, no option of a plan B and it’s over in seconds. It’s a long, steady drive toward a final goal, with a great deal of strategy, planning and re-adjusting in play before reaching the end goal.
In much the same way, your Facebook advertising strategy is a long, ever-changing drive toward a final goal, with a great deal of thought and retargeting involved along the way.
But there’s one even more significant way marathons and Facebook advertising are linked.
It takes a great deal of time, effort and perseverance to train for a marathon. And a similar investment when building out a Facebook ad strategy.
So when you get out there for that race, or start putting out those ads, you want credit for your efforts, right? And it would be helpful to know how you’re doing along the way.
I mean, who wants to cross a finish line for a whole marathon only to have the timers say, “Nice work. We didn’t time anyone or rank finishers, but you did good…I think.”
Runners also need to know the split times for each of their 26.2 miles along the way so they can re-adjust accordingly to cross the finish line at their goal time.
In much the same way, you need to know how your ads actually did as far as achieving your intended goal(s), be it brand awareness, higher sales or an increase in web traffic.
You also need to know how you’re doing along the way to be able to re-adjust and hit these goals spot-on.
How do marathons track runners? With time chips attached to their shoes.
How do businesses track Facebook ads? With Facebook pixels.
Why use Facebook pixels?
Because you wouldn’t want to just put out those Facebook ads and then cross your fingers for a bump in sales the next day.
How will you know if what you did is the cause for the increase and not some other factor? Which one of your ads is making the greatest impact? Should you pull this one and replace it with that one?
If you’re not tracking traffic, clicks, engagement, etc. and building out analytics you’re NOT:
- Attributing credit to the performance of your ads
- Taking advantage of data that can help you target your audiences better for a greater ROI
You wouldn’t want to run a marathon without tracking your time.
So why deploy an ad campaign without tracking its performance?
The Facebook pixel: What is it and how do I get one?
Not a big technology buff? I hear ya.
You’ve got a web team or you’ve outsourced IT support and the build of your website for a reason. Or maybe you’re a closet web guru.
Either way, the Facebook pixel isn’t exactly as complicated as you may think, perhaps based on your initial impressions or hearsay in the social media marketing world.
How do you find it?
Click ‘Create a Pixel’ under the Facebook pixel tab in Ads Manager. Next, you need to name it, preferably something representative of your business because you only get one pixel per ad account. Then just accept the terms, hit ‘Create Pixel’ and Voila! Pixel created.
It’s composed of two elements:
- Your base code, the string of numbers
- An event code, the weird-looking letters that look like this: ‘init’.
We’ll get into more detail about events later, you just need to worry about the base code for now.
So how do you add your pixel base code to your web pages?
Head to the ‘Pixels’ page in Ads Manager and hit ‘Actions > View Code’. Then copy the base code (again, the numbers only) and paste it between the ‘head’ tags within the code of the webpage(s) where you want to track actions (<head>here!</head>). To add it across every page of your website, you can paste it into your website template.
Too much techy mumbo-jumbo? If you’re using WordPress to host your site, they offer plug-ins to make this easier. Otherwise, hopefully you have an in-house web guru (or one available for consult), or you might even consider hiring a temp or a part-time assistant to help fill in the gaps when needed.
Now that you’ve done all of that, it’s time to learn what a Facebook pixel actually does.
How familiar are you with Facebook ad targeting?
Before getting into the purpose of using a pixel, you must fully understand how Facebook ad targeting works.
Because that’s essentially how Facebook pixels helps your ads perform better – by getting them in front of the right people, people within audiences that you’ve built out of collected data and selected preferences.
If you’re an active Facebook ads user, you’re probably pretty knowledgeable when it comes to ad targeting and building out Core, Custom and Lookalike Audiences.
But if you’re not, or if you think you might need a refresher, take a few minutes to read up on Facebook ad targeting and audience options before continuing.
The Facebook pixel: What do I use it for?
Your Facebook pixel is used to track, optimize and refine audiences for your Facebook ads. Its three fundamental uses are:
- Tracking ad performance (measures conversions and attributes them to particular ads)
- Optimizing ads (for higher conversions based on particular actions or events)
- Retargeting (helps you better refine your Custom Audiences for more effective remarketing efforts)
Let’s break them down separately to give you a clearer picture of each one.
1. Tracking ad performance
We all know what a conversion is, right? (When the person visiting a particular page of your site does what you want them to do/takes the action you want them to take, e.g. makes a purchase, subscribes to your newsletter, etc.)
Facebook pixels can help you keep track of these conversions (so you can optimize future ads) via both Custom Conversions and Standard Events.
Custom Conversions are pretty straightforward.
All you need to do is head to ‘Custom Conversions’ in your Facebook Ads Manager, click the ‘Create Custom Conversion’ button and complete the form as follows:
Pixel: Paste in your pixel base code.
Rule: This section is asking you for the URL attributed to the ‘thank you’ or landing page the website visitor reaches after taking the action you are looking to track – the URL that represents a conversion has been made.
Category: Here, you can name the particular type of Custom Conversion you’ve just created for your own reference so that when you’re going back to review performance you’ll know that this Custom Conversion represents, for example, a ‘Lead’ having been captured.
Then just click ‘Create > Done’, and you’re good to go!
Standard Events are a little more complicated.
With Standard Events, you’re basically attaching little bits of event code to your base pixel code and tracking those particular conversions.
Event codes reference an ‘event’/action that has taken place on one of your tracked web pages, such as ‘add to cart’, ‘search’, ‘complete registration’, etc.
There are actually nine Standard Events you can track using your Facebook pixel. The complete list, including the standard event code attributed to each of these actions, is available on Facebook’s website.
So how do you track conversions using Standard Events?
Remember when you added your pixel’s base code to particular pages of your website? Well now, you’ll be including an event code along with it, in a format that looks something like this: fbq(‘track’, ‘Lead’). (Psst! I know this is more of the techy HTML language stuff. If you ask your web guru about it, he’ll think this part is totally simple, trust me.)
So now, you can keep track of when each of those particular actions happened, based on the event code.
Pretty cool, huh?
Just remember to paste the Standard Event code you want to track into the Facebook pixel on the ‘thank you’ page/page that represents a conversion has taken place. Many people make the mistake of placing it on the page beforehand instead (the one requesting the action, e.g. “Subscribe to our newsletter here!” page).
Now, all of this doesn’t really matter unless you can actually get your hands on some data, right?
That’s the easy part.
Just find the campaign you’ve been working on in your Facebook Ads Manager and head to the ‘Columns: Performance’ dropdown menu to select ‘Customize Columns’.
Then click ‘Websites’ in the left column of the pop-up box, and choose the action you were looking to track (‘Lead’, ‘Purchase’, ‘Add to Cart’, etc.)
A column then will show up in your Ads Manager, allowing you to view the results attributed to that particular action.
One more thing to take note of: You’re only allowed 40 custom conversions per Facebook ad account at any given time. That means that once you’ve hit the maximum, you’ll have to delete one to add another.
2. Optimizing ads
“Ad optimization” is just a fancier way of saying you want to create an ad that is specifically geared toward the right audience with the intent of getting a specific conversion/event to occur.
To do this, you’ll head Ads Manager to create an ad, where you’ll be asked to select an ‘objective’ for your campaign.
Objectives fall into one of three categories:
- Awareness: brand awareness, reach
- Consideration: app installs, traffic, video views, engagement, lead generation
- Conversion: conversions, store visits, product catalog sales
In many cases, when your main objective is to get a visitor to take a straightforward action on your site like subscribing to a newsletter, you’ll want to choose ‘conversions’/increase conversions on your website.
This is essentially telling Facebook to ‘optimize’ your ad by making sure it gets seen by the right people within your target audience (those most likely to convert/take the action).
How does Facebook know how to do this?
Because you’ve already been tracking the type of visitors that tend to take that action – through the Custom Conversions you created!
You just select which specific Custom Conversion you want your ad optimized for and Facebook will find other users who are the most similar to those who have already taken that action and boom: optimized!
The coolest thing about this is that at the same time, Facebook is continuing to track your conversions. So over time, you’re building a stronger and stronger audience off of more and more audience data.
Marketer or not, most people who surf the internet know what retargeting is and probably aren’t even aware of it.
Know how when you’re shopping on one site, say Target, you don’t buy that watch you were looking at…but then a few hours later you’re scrolling through a news site and a Target ad featuring that same watch shows up on the right rail of your screen?
Yup, you’re being retargeted. Tracking cookies from Target.com followed you as you surfed and triggered the ad on the news site to display the product you didn’t end up buying.
Facebook can do the same thing, by using the information from your pixel to retarget your ads to visitors that have taken a specific action on your site.
You get to be the master of determining whatever action it is that you base your retargeting ads on, be it visiting your website, putting a product into the cart and leaving before purchasing, etc. Just make sure that for whatever action you choose, your Facebook pixel is set up on the webpage where that action is made.
Let’s say, for example, you want to create a retargeting ad aimed toward people who have visited your website.
Head to your Facebook Ads Manager, select ‘Audiences’ under ‘Tools’, then ‘create audience’, ‘custom audience’, then ‘website traffic’.
Next, you’ll be prompted to select the specific type of audience you want to target from a drop down list based on their actions on your website (anyone who visits your site, people who visit specific pages, etc.), the length of time you want to track these visitors (1 day minimum to 180 day maximum) and then you can attribute a name to your audience. To finish and save, hit ‘Create Audience’.
When you finally create your Facebook ad, you will select this particular Custom Audience as the one you want to target (you can find it by the unique name you selected when creating it).
Now, from this point forward, when Facebook users visit your website (the action you based your Custom Audience on in your retargeting ad) and later head back to Facebook, they’ll start seeing your ad show up to retarget them over whatever period of time you selected.
Why Facebook pixels, and tracking in general, matters
Albeit extra steps and a little mind-boggling at times, utilizing Facebook pixels to help you track, optimize and retarget the people most likely to make a conversion on your website offers you a huge marketing advantage.
So it goes without saying that tracking is also important elsewhere in your digital marketing objectives – not just when it comes to social media marketing.
And just like a Facebook pixel is used with Facebook, you have a litany of additional tools at your disposal, designed to help you track and optimize your digital marketing efforts across the board.
Here are just a few to get you started:
- Google Analytics can help you track visitors’ browsing paths and actions taken on your website.
- Hotjar creates heatmaps based on visitors’ website activities so you can optimize your web pages for greater interaction.
- Hootsuite helps you analyze your various social media channels by creating periodic performance reports and allowing you to search, track and organize social updates by mentions, hashtags, etc.
- Sendlane is an easy-to-use platform for creating, deploying and measuring the performance of email marketing campaigns.
- ClickPerfect monitors click-throughs on your website, in your e-mails, etc. to help you track conversions and discover analytical insights via a single platform.
Primed for your next performance
See, I knew what I was talking about when I said Facebook campaigns are like marathons.
In both cases, it’s important to know how you’re doing along the way so you can make adjustments before reaching the finish line.
And on top of just tracking performance, making use of your Facebook pixels, and tools like those listed above, allows you to attribute value to your advertising efforts and make sure you’re getting the greatest return on your marketing budget.
This way, you can better direct your focus toward putting out ads that are actually moving the needle to accomplish whatever your main advertising objective may be: brand awareness, more traffic to your website or even a boost in overall sales.
Finally, once you’ve made it to your end goal, you’ll want to measure and record your actual results.
Because the more you understand how far you’ve come and all you’ve achieved, the more you’ll be primed to make your next performance even better.
And who doesn’t want better results?
Which leads to the last question you should be asking yourself after reading this post…
How soon can I get started?
Once you get going on implementing Facebook pixels into your ad campaigns, I’m interested to know, is your main focus on:
- Better insights?
- Something else?
Drop me a line in the comments below and take a second to like/share this article.
When he isn't working, Alex enjoys meeting new people, reading and playing guitar. You can also find him cruising on his Yeti skateboard and exploring Southern California!
Latest posts by Alex Everhart (see all)
- Traffic Academy: Get In the Driver’s Seat! (Part 2) - January 14, 2018
- Traffic Academy: Get In the Driver’s Seat! (Part 1) - January 7, 2018
- 5 Tips to Improve Your Visual Content Strategy - December 10, 2017