The Danger of Facebook Ads

Traps, Snares and Pitfalls You Should Know Before Starting a Facebook Ad Campaign

This post is all about the issues and pitfalls I encountered with Facebook advertising and since Facebook’s ad creation guide is so simple I’ll keep the detail of the precess very minimal. Late in January we decided to start a Facebook advertising campaign for the Ask Adam League. What followed was a very simple and easy to understand process yet an eye opening one at that.

Creating the ‘Creative’

Step 1. Design Your Ad. Facebook has a way of making everything uniform including the ‘creative’ of the ad that you are developing. And I find it humorous that the act of any creative process of the ad development is taken away from the user and is almost completely automated. Anyhow, the process of creating the ad is presented below in brief, only for those who are interested in the criteria that I put in the ad.
Here’s the design of the ad and you probably have seen a billion of ads just like this, because they are all generally the same.

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Problems:

  • URL Display Problems – Note that Facebook will NOT allow you to input a URL within the “Body” text field (this is automatically put in from the “URL” field and will be displayed just below your ad title). Worse than that, you wont even know if your URL will be put into your ad especially if you are a first time user since the preview field does not generate the URL in the ad.
  • Certain Text is a No-No – Too many capitalizations in your text are a red flag as well. Our first ad run was with the tag “Think for Yourself, Listen to Adam”. Facebook had a minor freak out and stated that the ad might be rejected due to too many capitalized letters. The fact that these 4 capitalized letters would even be mentioned as an issue shows the extent of the control that Facebook will have over your ad (I ended up not having a problem with the letters but was still concerned about future ads).
  • No Text Formatting – Facebook does not allow you to format the text in the body. What I mean by this is that you cannot make indents in the text, make double-spaces or even choose when there is a line break. All of this is auto generated and you have absolutely zero control. This means that tags like “Think For Yourself, Ask Adam” can lend themselves to some funky formatting and not look the way you want it.

Step 2. Targeting. I didn’t have an issue with designing how I wanted my ad to be targeted. I found the interface and directions to be clear and very nice actually. Here is where you choose the location of your targeted ads and other criteria like demographics and interests. We went with 20 to 30 year old males in Austin TX who are interested in video games.

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There are some other nice features here as well that I wont go into. What’s especially awesome is that there is a constantly refreshing “Estimated Reach” window off to the right that shows how many people are likely to view your ad.

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***I have no idea that my reach would only be 600 when a month ago the same ad creative and targeting parameters got me to 35 grand worth of pairs of eyeballs. I snapped this pic when recreating the process for the case study and got this number. Very odd.

Step3. Campaigns, Pricing, and Scheduling. This is where you set the parameters for how much you will pay for the ad, the name of the ad and how long it will run. Much of this is self explanatory. Just know that under ‘Pricing’ you will determine if you are going to pay for Impressions (how many times the ad loads on a person’s page) or Clicks (how many times a person clicks on your ad taking them to where you want them to go). And this leads me into the most mystifying aspect of Facebook advertising.

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Facebook and the Ever Increasing Bid Rate

A quick explanation on how you pay for cost-per-click on Facebook is the ad recipients that you target will determine how much you pay for each click. You enter in a maximum bid for how much you want to pay and during your campaign your ad will go up against other advertisers for hitting that target demographic. If you have the highest maximum bid for that target demographic then your ad will be displayed. Facebook auto generates a suggested bid rate depending on the criteria of your ad and targeted demo and gives you a window (i.e. $0.90 – $1.40). This is important to understand when I talk about a very important issue in Facebook’s advertising platform.

Here’s the chart of clicks and impressions throughout my entire ad campaign, from the beginning of February to the 23rd. You’ll notice a lot of plateaus and huge drops in the click rate due to a very mystifying phenomenon. I’ll explain below.

1. I found the game. Here is a list of of dates throughout my ad Facebook ad campaign. Take note that the dates are generated from Facebook and are listed from oldest at the bottom to newest at the top. There are a few things to note here.

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You will see that ad impressions slowed to a crawl through February 9 and I wasn’t getting any clicks. This was because of my inexperience with Facebook advertising. What I failed to notice, until Feb 9, was that the suggested bid rate for my ad shot up way beyond what my initial bid was (from just over a buck to almost 3 dollars a click!) Unfortunately, and possibly consciously, Facebook does not provide your suggested bid or your actual bid retroactively. Why did the Facebook suggested bid rate go up? Was it because there was more competition for the ad space all of a sudden?
When this happened there was one thing on my mind:
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“It’s a trap!”

2. I played the game. From the 10th through the 17th the suggested bid rate started to climb very steadily until it reached 5 and-a-half bucks (for a single click mind you!). As the suggested bid rate went up I cranked up my bid rate as well since I was seeing less impressions throughout the day and my ads weren’t being shown. So to be clear, I was getting less impressions as the suggested bid rate was going up. Unfortunately, the suggested bid rate is not reflected in these charts since I was gaming it every day (basically cranking up my bids as the suggestion was rising). You’ll notice that I was getting significant clicks and impressions but my average CPC was high. Why was Facebook suggesting a higher bid rate (over 5 dollars) while my actual CPC was around $2.50? It’s very strange indeed that there was such a large gap between these two numbers. I felt like I was being baited. Perhaps like having a carrot in front of a horse helping to drive the wagon. The ever increasing suggested bid rate meant that I was paying more and more for clicks while my CPC went up drastically and leveled out inconsistently with the suggested bid rate. By the 16th I had a very high maximum bid (almost $5).

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3. I changed the game. (well, I’m not that cool) I changed my ad ‘creative’ to see if I would get different results and hopefully higher amount of clicks and conversions.

This change was to try and take the ambiguity out of the ad and let the ad recipient better understand what they were clicking on. Perhaps that would lead to more clicks and hopefully conversions. The new ad creative seemed to reset the suggested bid rate back down to a buck and-a-half so I cranked down the maximum bid. But again, as the day and days went on the impressions and clicks were low and the suggested bid rate kept rising. So I boosted the maximum bid several times a day as Facebook kept raising the suggested bid rate. I was literally chasing down the ad recipients that weren’t seeing my ads because the rate kept climbing. And by the 23rd, you can tell I had enough of the increasing average CPC. Game over.

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What I Learned About Facebook Ads

In reality, I still have a lot of experimentation to do with Facebook Ads. The point of our advertising campaign was to get conversions (convert ad recipients into full fledged Leaguers). This didn’t happen for those who clicked the ad and could be for several reasons (i.e. they didn’t like what we had to offer, they didn’t’ know what we had to offer, the 30 minute podcast running times may scared them off, we reached the wrong potential audience, etc.)
This summary isn’t meant to tell people if they should or should not use Facebook to advertise their products, service, brand or cause, but rather to show you my experience as a first time Facebook advertiser and the potential problems I saw with it. I can write all day on the speculations as to what Facebook’s seemingly deceitful rising suggested bid rate means, or why they overly control the ad creative on the site. But I’ll leave those conspiracy theories to others.
For the beginning Facebook advertiser, they will find the ad platform to be simple, easy to use and fun. And that’s why it is so dangerous. One can waste a lot of money if they don’t know what they are doing. Admiral Ackbar might not be completely correct because Facebook Ads ‘can’ be a trap.

5 comments

  1. Gina

    Great info, very interesting. I had a feeling fb was up to something. The first couple days of my new ad got me a couple clicks, now nothing. I was hoping fb ads would be like Google Adwords, set it and forget it, but maybe not so! :(

  2. Donald Sinatra

    Right, I’ll have to run more tests but it appears that the suggested rates keep going up while the while the actual CPC levels out depending on your ad targeting. This would effectively raise your ceiling for ‘potential’ cost-per-click and not the actual cost. The potential for being robbed is there.

  3. Lina

    I am doing lots of testing with ads too.My ideas is that the more targetted the ad is, it would be more expensive.With this theory, I bid low as 50 cents on ads that have a large targt (3 million or more).I noticed that your social category is always zero.I look for percentages here because it is where fans see friends that liked the page/ad already.Maybe if you search on how to get that number up, you will get help from their friends and can lower your bids to less than a dollar.

    Thumbs up to your post.

  4. Donald Sinatra

    Thumbs up on your comment. Thanks for your input.
    I do have to say that when I started my Facebook Ad campaign back in February and I was targeting 20 to 30 year old males in Austin TX that liked video games, I was getting around 22,000 individuals. The strange thing is when I grabbed the screen shots for the case study to replicate what I did before, I was getting a zero reach. I just punched in the same criteria today and I’m getting 17,400 as my estimated reach. Very bizarre. However, I will run some tests later on to determine if you are correct about the cheaper ads if the reach is larger. Thanks very much for posting, it is always appreciated.

  5. Sara

    fantastic article. I’m just about to foray into social media marketing and I learnt a lot from your experiences. Thank you very much!

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