There’s a major change coming to Facebook Ads Manager—and you probably aren’t aware of it.
At the end of last month, I began hearing rumors that Facebook was going to remove its default 28-day attribution window for ads. A few blog posts about the change popped up, but there were no official announcements. So, I reached out to Facebook Ads Support to find out what was going on.
The Ads Support rep had no idea what I was talking about.
Finally, I found one small article about the update buried in Facebook’s Help Center. We’re now one week away from this update and we still haven’t received any communication from Facebook itself.
In a nutshell: Facebook has removed its default 28-day attribution window in Ads Manager as of January 19, 2021. That window means that when someone clicks a Facebook ad, the ad can claim credit for any conversions the customer makes within 28 days of clicking. When you set up an ad, there are multiple attribution windows to choose from, ranging from one day to 30 days. Facebook sets 28 days as the default, so naturally, that’s what many advertisers use.
After the change, Facebook will limit the maximum attribution window to just 7 days. Any conversions after that will not be attributed to the ad click.
It’s astonishing—and, frankly, irresponsible—that Facebook would choose this time to push an update that could seriously impact Ads clients. The fourth quarter has just begun, and for many ecommerce businesses, it’s the busiest and most important time of the year.
Facebook cites “upcoming digital privacy initiatives” as the reason for the change, likely referring to Google’s initiative to remove third-party cookies from Chrome. Safari has limited cookies for years, and new iOS updates require user permission for apps to track activity across other apps. But none of these new privacy initiatives are scheduled to happen in 2020.
This attribution window decrease adds unnecessary stress for businesses that are already navigating one of the most stressful years in recent memory. And to make things even worse, there’s been a lack of clear communication from Facebook, even as they rush to make a big change in a very short time frame. To further complicate the situation, none of the Facebook representatives we contacted knew anything about this update.
While this update won’t affect overall revenue outright, it will change the benchmarks for any businesses that were previously operating with a 28-day attribution window. Your ads will be delivered like usual, but since ads will only be able to take credit for the conversions that happen within 7 days of a click, the total conversion volume attributed to ads will decrease.
However, if you follow Facebook’s recommended campaign structure, the 7-day conversion window is already a focus, since conversions within that window determine whether an ad set exits the learning phase or not. This update looks like another way that Facebook is forcing advertisers to think about conversions within a short window, and to rely more on Facebook’s AI-driven dynamic marketing capabilities to drive conversions.
The Facebook API will still be able to access data using a 28-day attribution window until the new digital privacy initiatives are actually implemented. So if a 7-day attribution window is too short for your product or business, you could devise a temporary workaround by pulling 28-day attribution data into a custom dashboard and using that as your new source of truth for Facebook ads reporting.
To prepare for Oct. 12, you should download the historical 28-day attribution data from your Ads Manager today. It is unclear whether this data will be available after the update takes place, so don’t wait.
The next thing you can do is compare the performance of different attribution windows within Ads Manager. The main metrics that you should compare between windows are Return on Ad Spend (ROAS), Purchase Conversion Value, Purchase Volume, and Cost per Purchase. Review the difference in purchase volume between the different windows. Are most of your purchases coming from click attribution or view attribution? What does your ad frequency look like (how often do people see your ads)? Is there a large difference between the purchase volume/ROAS in the 7-day click window as opposed to the 28-day click window?
These answers will reveal what 7-day attribution benchmarks look like for your business, and this will help you set goals for your paid media going forward. Since you’ll be making paid media decisions based on an attribution window that reports fewer conversions, you could wind up reducing your paid media spend, which in turn could lead to reduced revenue in the long run.
We took a look at a few ecommerce accounts that we manage to see how this will affect their Facebook Ads reporting and to get a better understanding of how their benchmarks will change. We set the time frame to the last 60 days, and compared ROAS, Purchase Volume, and Cost per Purchase between a 28-day click + 1-day view window and a 7-day click + 1-day view window. On average, when changing from a 28-day window to a 7-day window, we saw a decrease of 10-20% for both ROAS and Purchase Volume as well as a 15-20% increase in Cost per Purchase.
However, this update will not affect all businesses equally. The biggest impact will be on advertisers who have a longer time to conversion: high-price items, product launches across multiple weeks/months, free trials longer than 7 days, etc. Here are some examples of how that might play out.
Example 1: The expensive purchase
Let’s say you’re a luxury clothing brand, and you’re running ads for your new collection. A customer clicks on your Facebook Ad and discovers a $900 coat they like. But since that’s a high price, they don’t buy right away. Instead, they wait until they deposit their next paycheck and take care of essential bills. Then, eight days after first seeing the coat, they type your URL and complete their purchase.
In this scenario, the 7-day attribution window will not give any credit to the original ad that brought the customer to your website. (If they happened to click another one of your ads within the 7-day window, that ad will get the attribution credit. And if they saw one of your ads in their feed within 24 hours of their purchase, credit will go to that ad.)
Example 2: The free trial
You’ve decided to launch a new app by offering a free trial—which we know can be a great way to hook customers. And, suppose you’re feeling generous, or you have learned from research that people need to spend some time with your app in order to commit. So you run Facebook Ads that say “Try our new app free for up to 14 days.” Anyone who clicks, starts their free trial, and decides to pay for the app within 7 days—before the trial is up—would fall within the new attribution window. But anyone who completes the trial before buying would not.
Facebook has done a terrible job at communicating information about this update. It’s hard not to conclude that this whole thing is driven by Facebook’s own agenda, with no regard for the businesses that advertise on its platform. The steps I’ve outlined above should give you enough to start making educated decisions about measuring ad performance after October 12, but the reality is that many businesses will not have time to prepare properly before the change hits.
If you have questions, concerns, or would like some guidance as you evolve your Ads strategy, please reach out. A Part and Sum strategist would be happy to help you navigate this last-minute change and understand how it will impact your business.