Facebook Tracking Pixel Changes and What It Means For Advertisers

Your Facebook tracking pixel is changing, here’s how and why.

decoding and tracking the customer journey

The fear of an iOS update is a real thing. You know it’s coming, you’ve been warned that “your system will update at 2am”, you go to sleep content at night and then when you wake up & look at your phone, and your whole world is upside down for about 30mins. 

Similarly, Facebook’s attribution changes rolled out as the clock struck midnight on January 19th, and you could hear the collective ‘gasp’ throughout digital marketing teams the next morning. It caused a massive spike in Google traffic for people searching for related terms. 

Search trend data for searches relating "Facebook Attribution" - shows line graph from Google Trends
Line chart showing the collective gasp from people involved in Facebook advertising (data from Google Trends)

What happened? 

On January 19th, 2021, Facebook removed the 28-day attribution window. The default option will now be a 7-day window. 

But what is attribution? 

First, we need to address the changing customer journey. It is essential to understand the vast amount of touchpoints a consumer might go through before they convert. People look for information about products and brands, and then weigh all the options (Think with Google, 2020).

Illustration of lady holding phone connected to a shopping cart with large squiggle in the middle representing the complexity of the customer journey
The customer journey is often not just a straight line from marketing channels to your shopping cart or donation page

For example, Someone might be prompted on Instagram by seeing someone wearing a t-shirt they like. They then do a Google search for the Brand and look at the website. They then go away and do other things before seeing an ad for the company on Facebook later that night, they then click through to the site and add the item to cart but do not purchase. Three days later they receive an email saying they’d left the item in the cart and they come back to the site and make a purchase. 

Attribution is the “credit” given to each of these touchpoints. Without attribution, we might give the email all of the credit, but it was Instagram who got his interest and Facebook that got customer’s details so the email could be sent. 

Right, but what is an attribution window? 

The attribution window is the time allowed for a conversation to be recorded. 

In our t-shirt example, if the customer had seen the Facebook ad but had not bought their t-shirt for eight days, it would still have been recorded using a 28 conversion window. Because the attribution window has changed to 7 days, it will not register a conversion for the customer’s Facebook ad. 

Why did this happen to me?

In short, “unspecified privacy initiatives” that are on their way. What we know is that Apple has made significant changes to how they share data from their users with other platforms. Apple data will now only be available within the 7 day window and there are added delays in reporting. This means we will not have real time reporting from iOS systems and we’ll have less data than before. Google are also phasing out use of third party cookies (full explanation in our recent blog).

This is in response to hardware changes (Android & Apple) and regulatory changes (changes to privacy laws), along with growing concern from consumers regarding their privacy online.  

Privacy has become a big issue for consumers, and rightly so, there have been some significant data breaches over the last couple of years. Here we are seeing big tech trying to self-regulate and make changes before they face stricter regulations. This space is going to be interesting to watch (and adapt to) over the next few years. 

Facebook says the privacy changes will “limit business ability to measure people’s interactions across domains and devices. Among those limitations is the ability to limit conversion events back to an ad across longer attribution windows” (Facebook Official Announcement)

Facebook has also suggested that a 7-day window is a more accurate measure of ad performance. It’s probably true, a lot can happen in 28 days (we’ve all seen that movie, zombies, arghhhh).  

Zombie Apocalypse scene
It’s not quite on a par with 28 Days Later, however the adjustment all marketers will have to make as result of these changes will take time and sometimes be slightly painful

What can we do about it? 

At a base level, you’re going to see fewer conversions, and this might result in a decrease in return-on-ad spend. However, do not panic, it will be normal to see a drop in conversions, and we’ll all get used to working with a 7-day conversion window. 

We have previously stressed the importance of a/b testing, which will become even more critical with less conversion data. 

At Digital Ninja’s, we continue to take a holistic approach to data analysis. All digital channels need to be reviewed, and this is why we utilise reporting tools like Google Analytics and Google Data Studio to show graphical representations of advertising performance over time.

If you are worried about Facebook’s recent changes or have any questions regarding your digital marketing strategy for 2021, contact us!