The most common question businesses ask before investing in digital ads is: does my ad spend actually result in more sales? Broad attribution windows, complex tracking technology and the plethora of overblown “success stories” available online has led to well-deserved skepticism of digital attribution. Although we typically see 1.5-4.5X more overall sales when we run digital ads for our partners, every business is unique.
Follow the four steps below to prove whether digital makes a difference for your business:
Understand How Pixels Work
Much of the concern regarding attribution comes from not fully understanding how pixel technology functions. Once you fully grasp how pixels work, it becomes clear whether your attribution is reasonable or not.
A pixel is a piece of code that allows a technology provider (like Facebook) to recognize and track users. If you were selling products directly on Facebook, they wouldn’t need one. But since you’re selling product off their website (hence why they call them “off site conversions”) they need a way to follow that user to the end.
When your device (phone, laptop) gets to the end of a purchase, if the business has installed a Facebook Pixel on that page, the pixel recognizes your device and tells Facebook that you made it there. Then, Facebook can see which of the buyers took action on Facebook ads within your attribution window. This is how they decide the purchase value of your ads.
Decide Your Attribution Window
Attributed sales value is the monetary value or sales count you understand to be earned from a given ad. The attribution window is the period of time a fan needs to take an action within, for their purchase to count as being attributed to your ad.
Typical media agencies use 1-day view and up to 28-day click. This means that if a fan buys a ticket within 1 day of viewing an ad or 28 days of clicking an ad, they count that sale as attributed to their ads.
We believe this is far too broad to be considered reasonable. We use the much more conservative 1 day view, 7 day click attribution window. We feel that if a fan bought within one day of seeing an ad or within a week of clicking it, it’s reasonable to assume that the ad influenced the fan to buy.
Attribution windows are subjective, depending on what you believe to be reasonable. You are free to decide to what works for you. What’s important is to stick with your choice once you’ve decided, so you can make fair comparisons between providers and campaigns.
Distinguish Between Direct + Offline Sales
Pixels track direct sales, wherein the same device interacts with the ad and makes the purchase. These sales are called “offsite conversions” on Facebook, as they occur off of the Facebook website, but use their pixel to inform the network of the purchase.
Unfortunately, fan behaviour is often more complex than this case. Imagine you’re on a bus scrolling through Facebook, and you see an ad for an event. You click the ad, explore their website and decide you want to buy. Once you get to the ticketing website, you realize you need to install an app using your mobile data (nope), battle with a mobile unfriendly interface (double nope), or whip out your credit card on a crowded bus (oh heck no). Either way - you’re not making the purchase from your phone in that moment. You arrive at your friend’s house, convince them to come with you, jump on their computer and buy. Facebook has no idea that you’re the same person that clicked the ad on the bus, because you’re logged in as your friend on Facebook (or not logged in at all). However, when you bought that ticket, you provided your name, email, mobile number and several other uniquely identifiable qualities about yourself. Same goes for if you go to a box office or phone into a help line.
This is where offline conversions come in. Facebook defines offline conversions as conversions occurring at a physical store. However, if you as a business have access to your ticket provider, you can ask them to send you a list of everyone that purchased that day. Then, through an integration, you can send Facebook a list of that day’s buyers and ask them to cross reference it (anonymously) with anyone who clicked ads within your attribution window. If anyone in that group matches your buyer list, you can choose to consider their conversion value ($ spent) as being attributed to your ad.
Many ad providers do not track offline purchases. Whether it’s too complex technically for them to achieve, or they lack the appropriate integrations with Facebook and ticketing - they choose to ignore these sales when reporting on ROI. This is why most ROI for Facebook ads is dramatically lower than anyone who tracks offline sales. When choosing a provider, make sure you partner with someone with the technical capacity to track and optimize for offline purchases, as you’ll end up with far better metrics and overall sales.
Conduct Lift Tests
Lift tests are experiments that indicate whether or not your ad efforts are actually resulting in an increase - or “lift” - in sales. They look at overall sales from a given audience in a given period, not just sales attributed to your ads - therefore, whether you track offline conversions or not, the results will be the same. They operate under the standard A/B testing model, wherein you target one part of your sample audience with ads, and deliberately exclude another part of your sample from targeting.
Whenever you’re conducting a test, it’s important to minimize the amount of variables present in your experiment. We recommend conducting lift tests during a generally stable sales period (i.e. not during a major on sale, or during a volatile season like Christmas, etc.) where you expect to make about the same amount of sales per day. You also want to test them towards a qualified audience that you would typically expect to earn conversions. Doing lift tests on brand new audiences is not going to give you as conclusive results, because it’s possible they don’t convert at all.
Facebook offers the ability to conduct lift tests at the same time towards the same audience. You can also conduct them manually, by targeting similar groups of people in steady periods of your promotion cycle for similar amounts of time.
We conducted several lift tests with our music festival Facebook ad partners, and saw between 1.5-4.5X more overall sales in a given period from a given audience (not just attributed sales) when we ran digital ads. This is likely because so much of our target audience is new every year, active on social media and familiar with online purchasing. Your business and audiences will behave in their own ways, so we encourage you to conduct your own tests to see if digital makes a difference for your business.
Need help testing your business? Want to learn more about Facebook ads? Apply for a free consultation.