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The Facebook Pixel: from true love to Trojan horse?

Last week Facebook informed their advertisers about an enhancement to the Facebook pixel. According to the Social Media giant they will start to ‘send additional event data, including button clicks and related page metadata’ in order to ‘improve ads delivery and reporting’. It is obvious that this is yet another approach of Facebook to enlarge, their already massive, database of user-level data. The question is: what are the implications for advertisers?


Pixel update announcement

Love at first sight

I have to be very honest: The Facebook pixel (hereafter: pixel) and I have been in a relationship for a very long time. She gives me a lot of features I need in my life as a social strategist. She converts my website visitors into useful segments based on profiles, not on cookies. We use those segments for multiple purposes.

  • First of all the pixel gives me insights about my different website segments on demographic level but also on interest level, which language they speak, where they live and which devices they primarily use. This data is extremely valuable and easily extendable to other marketing activities, also outside the walls of Facebook.

  • We can also analyze the amount of overlap that exist between segments. How many people that visit my page are already in my customer file? More info about this feature can be found in another blogpost I wrote on Marketingfacts (Dutch).

  • Of course there is also something in it for Facebook with these website segments: Facebooks’ advertising solutions offer a variety of ad types and objectives to retarget your website visitors in order to transform them into customers.

  • To scale-up your prospecting campaigns Facebook also finds people that look-like your current website visitors with look-a-like audiences. We’ve seen great results in the past years with those look-a-like audiences.

  • Beside putting website behavior into segments the pixel also tracks behavior and connects on-site conversions to advertising efforts (campaigns). With event-tracking it also optimizes campaigns.

In summary: through the pixel I can find out who is visiting my -or my clients’- websites (insights) and I can try to convert them into buyers through retargeting. The pixel also helps me understand which of my campaigns actually deliver business results (event tracking) and helps with maximizing delivery to those campaigns (optimization). That should be love at first sight.

Any downsides?

I have to be honest again: I shouldn’t be naive. Of course I know, deep down in my heart, that Facebook uses all the data (for some of my clients more than 5 million pixel loads a day) that we send them through the pixel to make their user database richer. The insights that I use for my campaigns will also be used by Facebook to make their targeting more precise. If we make an audience for one of our retail clients that includes website visitors that have been looking for diapers, Facebook will obviously use this data to verify or enlarge their ‘Parents’ audience. On the other hand, if we target males aged 25-50 that are ‘interested in sports cars’ for one of the automotive clients it is also very likely that the selection of that group of consumers is based on data coming from competitive (automotive) brands. First conclusion: We win some and we lose some?

Update to the Facebook Pixel

Okay, so what is changing with this Facebook Pixel? I dove into the development pages of Facebook to find a technical explanation of ‘send additional event data, including button clicks and related page metadata’ and this is what I found: ‘The Facebook Pixel will be able to send button click data (e.g. order form submissions including form field names and button names) and page metadata (e.g. data structured according to Opengraph or Schema.org formats) from your website to improve your ads delivery and measurement and automate your pixel setup.’ This basically implies 2 things:

  1. Automated Event Tracking
    Before the update Facebook wasn’t able to automatically track custom events like view content, add to cart and purchase. With the basic set-up the only event that was measured was a page view event that didn’t include any product information (i.e. brand or price). Of course there are a lot of advertisers that have set up these additional events to track and optimize their campaigns, either way, this was our own choice. We opted-in for this. With this update to the pixel, Facebook will be able to analyze your website and track those events. We shouldn’t underestimate the amount of value that lies in the intent data that can be captured with add-to-cart or purchase actions all around the world.

  2. Structure & Meta-data
    To help Facebook understand those millions or even billions of consumer behavior actions on a daily basis the pixel will add meta data to those actions that is structured through formats like Opengraph and Schema.org. Website builders use those formats to optimize SEO rankings. For example:

Opengraph (this is a protocol developed by Facebook) includes descriptive information about the action. If someone leaves a rating for a restaurant, someone checked out a book summary or looked for some additional information about the new Samsung TV that just entered the market. Additional to these actions the author of the website can add Opengraph meta-tags about the action. For a product view the author could add: brand, color, availability, EAN code, material, price, sales price and 30+ other variables.

Schema.org is similar to Opengraph (which is developed by Google and Yahoo) and also includes additional information about movies, books, places, products, etc.

To summarize these findings: Facebook will be able to autoconfigure events that include valuable intent data from the advertiser website (product view, add-to-cart and purchase). Furthermore, Facebook will be able to understand and analyze the billions of touchpoints a day (which we call consumer behavior) with help of meta-data that it will send through with the enhanced pixel. That sounds amazing, to Mark Zuckerberg at least.

Disclaimer: we are able to opt-out for this functionality by adding extra code to the Facebook Pixel. In reality the majority of advertisers won’t even notice the change or doesn’t know how to change the pixel appropriately.

A sidestep to Dynamic Product Ads

Remember this article by AdWeek? To help you summarize the article: in the beginning of 2017 Facebook expanded their 'dynamic product ads' that could only be used for retargeting to prospecting. In this interview with AdWeek, Maz Sharafi director of product marketing at Facebook, said: "The top feedback and most common type of feedback that we hear is, 'Hey, can you help me drive sales beyond people visiting my website and app, including new customers?'". Facebook gives some more explanation on their website: “Facebook dynamic adverts automatically promote products to people who have expressed interest on your website, in your app or elsewhere on the Internet.” This addition to dynamic product ads enabled marketeers anywhere in the world to promote a product to a consumer that didn’t necessarily express interest on the advertisers website or app: it could come from anywhere on the web.

Connecting the dots

Linking the expansion of 'dynamic product ads' to prospecting with the update to the pixel we can conclude that Facebook has created an immensely powerful tool for e-commerce. It offers advertisers the possibility to target people that have shown interest in your products anywhere on the internet and it gathers this data by billions of touchpoints the pixel delivers on a daily basis since it starts to auto configure events and therefore intent data. It can theoretically show Product A of Retailer B-Markt to a consumer that was considering buying this product at C-Markt.

Winners and Losers?

The mentioned above is not something completely new because advertisers who already set up those events already shared this data, but it is likely that they also benefit from the pixel integration by running retargeting campaigns. Advertisers that have a huge amount of traffic but did not choose to implement events because they lacked interest in running advanced product retargeting campaigns will suffer most from this change. They are giving away a lot of intent-data of their website visitors, while not taking advantage of this within campaigns.

On the other hand, who could come out as winners in this case, are smaller retailers with smaller amounts of organic traffic. They can take advantage of all the intent data their larger-scale competitors are giving to Facebook. However, it is questionable how valuable this intent data is going to be in the long run. When the data becomes ‘publicly’ available it will become a commodity while the uniqueness disappears. With more advertisers bidding on this data prices will go up and only Facebook will benefit.

From true love to Trojan Horse?

While I always believed that the insights we gather from the pixel was a return for the advertising dollars we send to Facebook every day, it now seems to turns out that we pay those insights by giving away our data for free to our competitors. We fell in love with the Facebook Pixel, however when our years together passed more and more reasons appeared to believe that I was too gullible and the Facebook Pixel could now turn out to be a Trojan Horse: we embraced the Facebook Pixel as a gift from god, while it could now turn out as a competitors confederate chasing for our achilles heel.

I’m really curious to hear your thoughts about this change! Please leave a comment to discuss.

Link to the official announcement of Facebook:
https://www.facebook.com/business/help/1292598407460746

==Original post: http://socialstrategist.nl.transurl.nl/2017/05/02/facebook-pixel-update/ ==