Goodbye, Facebook and your useless results. [UPDATED]

Over the last couple of years, we've been testing Facebook Ads and AdWords to see which one works better for bringing in new traffic to UNA.IO. Here is what we've learned.

 

With Facebook, you get incredible "results" that don't matter.

The Facebook test spanned about a year and a half, with now just over a million users "reached" and overall spending of over $4,500 (USD).

Each campaign and ad had a different combination of settings - target audience, format, language style and goal (clicks, engagements, likes, etc.). We also made sure to try different landing pages, such as the UNA Facebook Page, articles at UNA.IO, articles at Boonex.com related to UNA and even articles at Andrewboon.com, which would promote UNA in some way.

In all cases, Audience was selected with interest in social networking software, open source CMSs or some associated topic.

In most cases, Audience was limited to English-speaking countries, such as US, UK, Canada and Australia. Only a few ads also included India, Singapore, Russia and some Europian countries like Germany, Italy, France, etc.

In total we received:

  • Almost 20,000 page "likes" for UNA Page at Facebook
  • About 15,000 "likes" to various boosted posts.
  • About 5,000 mixed "engagements" (likes, clicks, shares, etc.)
  • Over 18,000 clicks.

Looks pretty good for a $4500 budget, right? If you think so, you are exactly the kind of customer Facebook strives on.

When we examine the real results, using Google Analytics, here's what we see:

  • Total of 1851 sessions generated for UNA.IO.
  • Less than 2 pages per session (while average pages per session excluding Facebook is under 5.34).
  • Over 66% bounced (while average bounce rate excluding Facebook is under 39% for UNA.IO).

We also had just over 4000 sessions for Boonex.com, with largely similar KPIs.

So, first, no matter how you slice it, at least 10,000 of those clicks reported by Facebook are nowhere to be found. When this question is raised with Facebook Ads support, they routines reply that the discrepancy is due to different traffic counting methods used by Google Analytics and Facebook. Take it as you will, but I have never seen any visitors observed by any other traffic tracker (we used Intercom, KISSmetrics and Mixpanel) that wasn't counted by Google Analytics. I call bullshit on this one.

Anyway, let's talk about ROI. After all, even if there is some -lie- discrepancy involved, it's no drama as long as we profit from the whole thing.

In our analytics, we track revenue, account registrations and downloads. With Facebook ads, in total we received...

  • Downloads: 0
  • New Accounts: 0
  • Revenue: $0,00.

Ta-da! A whole lot of "Facebook results" and no results.

Perhaps the worst part is that all those ads required quite a bit of time to set up, monitor and adjust. With 41 campaigns in total, even if each one is taking half-an-hour, that's 20 hours out the window.

Another interesting observation about Facebook "reactions" is that many of them are completely irrelevant. We received comments like "Nice selfie!" or "You look cute." for posts about software that had no image of a person or anything remotely related to comments like that. As if Facebook just randomly thrown in some comments from elsewhere to make the numbers look better.

 

Google is expensive, but it works.

In contrast, our latest campaign with Google AdWords has a total spent of A$640 (about $510 USD), which generated 604 clicks and 62 conversions (signups and sales). That translates into a conservative estimate of about A$778 return.

These are the results of a very simple display ad pointing to the homepage. It can be further optimised by A/B testing different landing pages, target audiences, keywords and ad types.

In other words, even in most simple form Adwords "results" translated into profit for us.

We will use and observe Google Adwords for a few more months and will share more details on overall performance, tips, tricks and mistakes to avoid.


Verdict

Clearly, there is no reason for us to continue using Facebook Ads in any shape or form. Our Facebook page continues collecting 10-30 likes every day somehow, which also never bring any meaningful results anyway, so we should ignore that as well.

Besides spending money on Facebook "boosts", we should stop spending time on Facebook page, too. This post will be the last one to be shared on our Facebook page. The page will stay active, but not supported. We keep it only to prevent fake UNA pages from presenting like out official resource (which happened before with Boonex), but we will not support it in any way. It's just a waste of time.

As for Google Adwords, we will continue experimenting and will share more details in coming months.

 

Why such a difference?

Google is generally used to find things. You usually already have something that you need in mind before using Google, and it just helps you to find it. Therefore, if your product is targeting an established market and fits certain predictable search query, Google is the best way to market it. 

Facebook is used to kill time. Much like in the days of television, ads are unsolicited and mostly perceived as annoyance. Facebook Ads team figured, however, that if the ad looks like like a post and if it has some cool image attached, then millions of people that indiscriminately click/share/like everything that catches eye, may actually engage with the ad. They won't buy anything, but they will click something. That click can be sold to a marketer that doesn't have to watch the company bottom line. 

Well, maybe (an this is a wild guess), just like with TV ads, if you have a huge budget and your product doesn't fit existing market, then you may successfully use Facebook to create awareness about your offering, especially if it's POP enough to catch a viral sharing wave. For example, you invented drone-socks that fold and move themselves to a drawer. Nobody is going to search for that, so you'd have to run a Facebook campaign. For everything else, just stick to Google. 

 

UPDATE:

These are answers and clarification following comments we received so far:

 

The only way a FaceSucks advert could have worked is if it was targeting web developers on FaceSucks

And we did, as much as we could. When it comes to targeting developers, Facebook won't let you actually target those who develop Facebook apps, or have registered for API keys, for example. You can only target by interests, which we always did, selecting interests, and here's what we had:

Didn't help much and actually I never found any evidence that any of the people who "liked" our posts actually had interest in those categories. Their feeds are usually littered with a random mix shares.

 

Have you done any kind of trial with Instagram or Pinterest?

Facebook will automatically place your ads on Instagram if you want. And we did try it. For example one of the campaigns had this:

Not a whole lot, but still nearly 2000 clicks from Instagram just for one campaign. Oddly enough, Google Analytics hasn't registered 194 clicks with average visit duration of 28 seconds, which is even worse than Facebook proper (52 seconds). Go figure. Maybe Instagram users have an extremely short attention span?

 

You said you spent $4,500 on a year and a half campaign, which amounted to over $100 a day. Those are the numbers that don't add up.

I mentioned that we raised an issue with Facebook during a period when the spend was sitting at $100/day.  That's when we had 3 boosts running together, each for 3 or 5 days. Facebook boosts are usually short-term. So, our spending of $4500 over a year and a half is because we only came back to Facebook Ads when we had something to promote, which could potentially interest a typical Facebook user. We tried a total of 41 different campaigns so far, including Page promotion, post boosts, direct website promotion, boosts optimised for clicks and boosts optimised for reactions.

 

My whole point to posting this comment is simply to illustrate that if facebook didn't work for Andrew Boone, fine it didn't work. But that does NOT mean that it was facebook's fault that it didn't work, OR that it won't work for anyone else. The most successful business people in the world KNOW that when something doesn't work, the direction to look in to find the problem is inward. Outside forces almost NEVER have anything at all to do with failure, ever.

My "by default" sentiment is always to look for what I have done wrong and what I could do better. This is the ONLY reason why we've spent so much money and so much timing try to figure out Facebook Ads. As I said, we tried different approaches over different time periods, with different kinds of ads, targeting, locations and placement. Still, I acknowledge that someone else could have done a better job, but considering that we do have reasonably good understanding of web marketing, social networks and web software; plus having tried many different advertising and analytics platforms I am confident that if we failed to benefit from Facebook Ads, then 9 out of 10 people would fail as well. 

You see, we didn't do any special "hacks" and our product is proven. We have a long-term record of conversions and know how each visitor performs on average. Using your "tools" analogy, we have tried many different tools, and already know which tools work. It's a matter of simple comparison. Just look at this:

These are referrals from social networks, all to UNA.IO - same site, same product. First, note how Facebook and Instagram have average session duration of under 1 minute, while all others have 4 minutes or more (you can disregard Hackernews, since it was a quick experiment and most clicks are our own). 

Now, look at Google organic and paid results:

We only started CPC campaign for UNA recently and had 670 sessions, which resulted in 70 sign-ups so far:

So, more than 10% conversion rate. For whatever reason, when people from Facebook come to exact same page, conversion is ground zero. Oh, we had ONE conversion from Facebook, which happened yesterday! Perhaps someone is trying to prove me wrong. :)

Moreover, I am showing the numbers from those that could actually be registered by Analytics. We tried KissMetrics and MixPanel to see if maybe Google Analytics is making Facebook look bad, but the results are about the same. Facebook, on its end, reports results in order of magnititude better than we see on-site. Here is just one campaign, optimised for clicks, with simple text+image ad-set, linked directly to homepage (as close to AdWords as it gets):

As you can see, we've spent just over $400 on that one. Got over 9000 clicks. We know that our average revenue conversions sit between 50c to $2 per new user at 30day tracking, depending on source quality. So, 9000 clicks should make a good difference, right? Let's see what we got in reality:

So, instead of 9000, we actually had only 854 sessions for this campaign. 747 users. That's 53c per user acquisition cost already (Adwords is about $1). Next, session duration is 42 seconds, while Google CPC is over 3 minutes. And not a single sign up

All in all, I don't think that we should entirely blame it on our own mistakes. Back in early 2000s I made a huge mistake and bought into some "$100 for million visits" email marketing scam for one of our sites, which performed very similarly. Huge numbers reported by their system, 10 times less reported on our end, no sales, skewed graphs and wasted money. 

If you tried to change brake pads with a tool like Facebook Ads, you'd find that it attaches to the nuts just fine, rotates them, shows a fancy gauge saying "pads are now changed 350 'mega-times'", but as soon as you take it off you see that nothing happened. Then you pay for it.  :)

 

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Comments (25)
  • Thanks for the very detailed report. I hate Facebook for the reasons that you have invoked. Also, do not rely on Facebook to bring intelligence to your site, and unless there are exceptions it only brings people who have nothing to say.

    The work of Facebook, including its advertising system is essentially to collect data and thus to establish a complete profile of its users while generating profits since the personal data are the black gold of the 21st century.

    As you say, someone who has understood this and is looking for something else, will look elsewhere, not on Facebook.

    Well, I'm sorry for the $ 4,500 thrown in the trash, but happy to read that you drop this factory to make cretins.

    Happy also that you do not do it in silence, but that you clearly share your opinion.

    I would be even happier if you find very quickly a solution to the problem addressed here:

    https://una.io/page/view-discussion?id=420
    • FB is greedy monster. But it's monster with very efficient notification system, strong logical building and stable UX. Which means that it will beat us and will keep our potential customers in his pocket until we'll CHANGE OUR APPROACH.
      • I'm totally understand the difference btwn Boonex and FB. And I can imagine what resources FB have and Boonex do not. And considering this I'm very sorry that our (yes, I mean OUR) resources not going to development of first_needs_parts (push, for example) but to account/persons duet (for example). Which, maybe, can serve 15% of UNA administrators, but push will serve 101%.
        You're talking about community help? Very nice. I'm here to give you this help. I'm talking about need of push close to 4 yrs that I'm here in Boonex. I can't remember that "push" was declared as next milestone. Simple as it. For me it means that I'm wasting my time and wasting my money. For 3 yrs I hear the same response from my potential users: "No push - not relevant". Ppl are opening account, trying it and going back to FB. BECAUSE that they don't want to enter site every minute to check what's up there.
        It's a thousand pities!
        • We've started experimenting with Push in Jot Messenger and understand it a lot better now. Interestingly, Web-Push is still not supported by iOS and can only be implemented via native apps. Notifications update in UNA and Dolphin is the most important update we have on the roadmap, and now that we've learned more about the technology we shoudl be able to implement it reasonably efficiently.
          • Ok. IMHO native app with push - it's very not bad idea, simple to user and efficient. It was in Dolphin (poore one, need to say) why not to adapt it to una? But, please, don't cut Wall from there, as from Dolphin's one.
          • Further on interaction with both Google and Facebook. When we started noticing these problems with Facebook, the only way to raise the issue was to post to their support forum, where they reply with massive delay and with canned "we just count them differently" response. And that's in during the period where we had 3 boosts running, with daily budget of over $100.

            Google, on the other hand, assigned a manager who called and walked me through a few tricks and helped to improve campaign settings, including some steps that helped us, but were not necessarily advantageous for Google. Thats during a $20/day budget period. Right after the call I doubled the budget.
            • Awesome and detailed analysis. Thanks for doing the legwork and sharing it so that we can learn from your experiences. I agree Facebook Ads haven't been productive or profitable on any site we've worked on.
              • Thank you for sharing. I am yet to hear any positive feedback about Facebook ads where advertisers had any benefit besides all those meaningless "reactions".
              • GREAT ARTICLE! I must say, I've experienced the same results with Facebook ads. Useless! Facebook users comment and 'thumbs up' ads, but they DO NOT buy or sign up. I've noticed many FB users will negatively comment on ads or start conversations on the ad's comments that have nothing to do with the ad itself. Waste of money.
                • I tend to think that it has to do with the intention that people have when using Facebook. It's more of a procrastination platform than a tool for any particular purpose, an so even if we see something valuable on Facebook, the timing and mood is not conductive to anything by browsing the feed and clicking "like".
                • But without FaceBook, where would we share our cute kitten pictures?

                  I have never understood why advertisers think that FaceSucks is a viable platform. It is only useful for those that can target the users; such as knowing that daughter got knocked up and then start putting nappies adverts on her page.

                  You wasted $4500 and you should have known better. The only way a FaceSucks advert could have worked is if it was targeting web developers on FaceSucks. How many web developers are using FaceSucks as web developers and not just personal pages? As I said, FaceSucks adverts might work if you are selling nappies to teen girls that get knocked up by their boyfriends.
                • Facebook - excuse me, Fakebook is nothing but an ad agency and a poor one at that. Thanks for the warning.

                  All the talk about 'bringing the world together' is self-deceit and dishonesty.

                  Hoodie Boy is a shrewd rip off artist who screwed his friends over from the start. Why would he not screw over everyone else in his path?

                  Then, there are all the censorship issues also in play - even at Google. Which is why we need a decentralized platform like UNA.
                  • I have only dipped my toes into the FB Ads thing after all the raving about it by online marketers who are always completely honest? And from my small spend I can gather that it's a system that works in-house and pretty much useless for advertisers with small budgets.

                    Theres always raving on FB about how specific and targeted you can get but when you go to place an ad it tells you your ad is too targeted, widen your reach... WTF?

                    I always thought FB itself was full of people looking to waste time and entertain themselves and maybe some of that involves buying something but I doubt many actually do considering the actual size of the member base.

                    Like you suggest it seems to me to be just a way to get the word out as wide as you can but with small budgets thats pretty useless unless you're a local business targeting your own home town which completely negates the main reason people start internet businesses... to go global? Ah well so much for big... see more dreams and fast success. haha.

                    Oh congrats on the Drone Socks idea, get it copyrighted or I'm gonna nick it. You said it all and thanks for the insights. Much appreciated.

                    Also, maybe I am being naive but the idea of advertising my community on someone else's seems a little like "giving it away" but then I like the in-house idea and think that you need to find a way for people to get straight into your front door without having to go through someone elses? but that would take a massive budget? I am just into independence as far as I can possible be so thank Boonex for making Dolphin available to me.
                    • Thank you for the comment, Stephen! I do agree that it might work for large company to create buzz or awareness for a new product, but for 9 out of 10 small to medium businesses it's a waste.

                      As for ideas, I personally believe that ideas are near-worthless. Even the very good ones don't mean much until you execute them, put effort to market and maintain them, etc. So far, I've seen far more benefit in being open than secretive.
                      • I always act on ideas I believe are worth following so I value ideas but the very word "idea" implies something of the mind and not acted on and must admit I have met a lot of people who don't act in general never mind when a possible good idea hits them.
                      • Thanks for putting these figures together, we were going to start advertising and marketing thru FB in the next few months. Now we won't waste our time! Have you done any kind of trial with Instagram or Pinterest?
                        • Hi,

                          First I'd like to say, there's many many things I don't like about facebook, starting with Mark Zuckerberg. However, your story about your results mean absolutely nothing at all to me. Why?

                          It reminds me of something that just happened to me.... I recently went to visit my son who lives a couple of states away. He's an ace mechanic and he makes a killing at it, so naturally he has a garage that Jay Leno would be envious of, complete with every tool you could imagine that a mechanic might ever need. Well, while I was there I needed to work on the brakes on my car, so I asked my son if I could use his garage and tools.

                          After about an hour and a half of struggling with trying to change my brake pads, I became so frustrated that I just gave up. Seeing that, my son asked me what the problem was. Because I didn't want to admit that I had no idea what I was doing, I jokingly said, "it's your tools, I don't know why but they just won't work for me".... see more My son then helped me change my brake pads after we both had a good laugh about my comment. But, can you imagine how utterly stupid my comment would have sounded, had I been seriously blaming my shortcomings on the tools I was using. Sounds pretty ridiculous doesn't it?

                          The truth is, no matter how much you might not like facebook or Zuckerberg, many many thousands of people make millions and millions of dollars from using the advertising tools and methods that facebook provides. Another cold hard truth, that most people won't admit to, is that they've entered a business that has an extremely small chance of ever being successful to begin with, with a product so flawed only God can fix it, relying on incompetent friends and family members to make it a success, so naturally they blame everything and everybody except their own shortcomings.

                          I'm not saying you're not justified in deciding to drop your facebook advertising. Maybe you are. You are right about the numbers not adding up. You said you spent $4, 500 on a year and a half campaign, which amounted to over $100 a day. Those are the numbers that don't add up. By my calculations, a year and a half is 540 days, times $100 a day, is $54,000. So basically if you spent $4,500 in a year and a half that's $8 a day. Which is a far cry from $100 a day.

                          My whole point to posting this comment is simply to illustrate that if facebook didn't work for Andrew Boone, fine it didn't work. But that does NOT mean that it was facebook's fault that it didn't work, OR that it won't work for anyone else. The most successful business people in the world KNOW that when something doesn't work, the direction to look in to find the problem is inward. Outside forces almost NEVER have anything at all to do with failure, ever.

                          I've been watching boonex literally for years and years now, and what I'd like to see you do is, first of all, fix your product if that's possible. Secondly, learn how to market it. And thirdly, tell us what DOES work. For years now I've heard how "we're getting there" and "this is going to be THE end all to all the problems" and all that kind of hype. NONE of that kind of stuff is helping anybody, even you. Please STOP blaming everything and everybody for years and years of failures that rest squarely on YOUR shoulders.
                          • Thank you for pointing it out. I have no opinion on Mark Zuckerberg personally and indeed try to question myself first in every situation where I fail. That's the reason why we tried 41 campaigns and spend so much money. Now, I am convinces that very few people can actually make Facebook Ads works for them, and I find it difficult to find any evidence of the opposite. There are some positive reports from early Facebook Ads days when their ads very incredibly cheap. There are also some positive reports from marketing people, who can "sell" those fake results to their employers or customers in some form. Direct ROI observations that show these ads making money in mainstream situations is nowhere to be found. Like I said, sometime you can get it to work when your product manages to create that "viral" magic, but in general I think it's a lot like national TV - only good for huge companies that can blow huge budgets to create awareness about new products.

                            I've... see more also posted more detailed update following your other questions ($$$, numbers, etc.). Please have a look in the main post now.
                          • I think the problem with FB is that the problem with FB is that it mainly presents advertisements to the users, which are based on their alleged interests.
                            Another problem will be that many users just want to be informed without any effort. Nowadays, hardly any page is accessed separately to rowing through streams there. I notice this also by the example of my own community, which has meanwhile more than 30 members, but still stumbles in front of it. And this despite constant updates, which are distributed via FB, Google+, LinkedIn, Twitter and others. Who would like to get an idea of it: https://humaniac.eu (Invision Community Suite 4.2.2)
                            • When the community is more "generic" like Facebook, it is imperative that the common "Feed" aggregates all content updates in an efficient manner. This is not a trivial task and may be different for every site. Depending on size, activity patterns and structure of connections the feed/timeline may have to be tuned differently.

                              Some communities do just fine without any feed at all. For example, when public communication is contained within one module (like Discussions or Posts), and the rest is private (Messenger, Convos, etc). Or when the site is entirely based on connecting and private engagements (dating, adult, job search).

                              UNA is designed to work either way. You can run just a few modules and focus on that, or run many and aggregate via Timeline. As your community grows, you can adjust what to display in timeline, which modules to deactivate and which to bring forward.
                              • Yes, and Dolphin allowed me to work in this direction and I did exactly what you describe with some success thanks to its great versatility just have a good idea, after just playing with the Swiss Army Knife to evolve.

                                But ... he's getting old Dolphin. You know, when I play a week with UNA, and I come back to Dolphin, I feel like I've been in the past for ten years.

                                In fact, UNA is a young horse that I want to bet on. If I look at the work you've done over a year, I think it can quickly become a real racehorse.

                                It's hard to keep from taking Facebook as an example, but where will Facebook be in ten years? Who can answer this question? You may be surprised.

                                All mountains have a summit. In addition, you can see that we are entering an exponential speed in the air of mass surveillance, do not you think that one day people will overdose?

                                I believe, then virality, push, sharing, yes maybe but without abuse, a middle ground, neither... see more too much nor too little, yes very well, but ...

                                I remind you that a European directive foresees to prohibit notifications activated by default.

                                My opinion is that it is not necessary to bet on all this for the future.

                                Two ways of seeing things.

                                1. Build a very interesting, intelligent, pleasant, honest site, make people want to come and see what happens there, forgetting to make them feel at home.

                                2. Make a site like it already exist, thousands, and do ding ding every 30 seconds on their smarphones to remind them that it exists.

                                So, if I helped you to chase the bugs lately, it's because I think you're going to provide me with a tool that will allow me to go in the direction of the first hypothesis.
                              • For myself (a community owner) and most likely UNA, advertising Your Chocolate in someone else's Chocolate Store is.... well not a good move. IMO.
                                • I had similar zero conversion results for our small FB campaign for professional photography for dating profiles - very much a consumer service - I was surprised at zero bookings. I am also a web developer as a day job and have a client who wants to run an ethnic dating site, so I am glad I tracked you down from your blog articles, which look like a better marketing channel for you :) - will be checking out UNA for sure. On the unrelated note - I really want to see UNA samples functioning as a dating website or at least a list of modules that is needed for a dating website such as core+ module1 + module2 etc.