UPDATE Facebook’s Off-Facebook Activity Tool: Its Impact on Advertisers and How to Respond

by | Jan 30, 2020 | Impressions

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Update 1/30

On Tuesday, 1/28, Facebook rolled out the “Off-Facebook Activity” tool which is an update to what we used to refer to in this article as “Facebook’s Clear History Feature.” We’ve updated the terminology to match the new name of the tool, but otherwise everything Nate wrote in August still applies.

Similar to last summer’s removal of third party behavioral data from the platform, Facebook is rolling out a new feature that will further weaken the platform’s audience targeting. Aptly named “Off-Facebook Activity,” this feature will allow users to clear the data Facebook has gathered from their off-Facebook activity, a potentially sizable blow to Facebook’s targeting capabilities.


What is the Off-Facebook Activity tool?

Off-Facebook Activity will give users more control and transparency into Facebook advertising — specifically on how their data is collected, shared and used. Users will have three options for how they interact with their data (if they even care to).

  1. Users will have the opportunity to view a summary of their off-Facebook activity that Facebook has compiled.
  2. Users will also be able to disconnect their history of all past off-Facebook activity data that Facebook has compiled.
  3. Users will have the opportunity to disconnect their history from any future activity. While the user can pick and choose the apps and sites they want disconnected moving forward, all apps and sites will lose their saved passwords.

In turn, the user will have to enter their login information every time they want to use their products. Very clever Mark — Facebook = 1, Clear History feature users = 0.

While this feature has the potential to “redeem” Facebook’s reputation (at least in some respects), Off-Facebook Activity is housed in the Settings component. Some speculate that they’ll make it harder to find in the future. The last thing Facebook should be doing is making it as hard to find as deactivating your account is!

But, I digress. Off-Facebook Activity is a step in the right direction and it will undoubtedly impact advertisers on Facebook’s platforms. While the extent of the impact is yet to be seen, there are a number of strategies advertisers should consider leveraging when this feature is launched.

Arrow Bulls-eye Icon for Facebook's Clear History audience targeting affects

How to keep Off-Facebook Activity from affecting audience targeting.

For the sake of conversation, let’s assume a large amount of users end up clearing their past and future history. This will inevitably reduce the amount of users you can narrowly target, forcing you to rethink how you structure your ad set audiences.

Group Behavioral and Interest Targeting

A good strategy to mitigate Off-Facebook Activity’s impact on behavioral and interest targeting is to group together behavioral and interest targets with high overlap into fewer ad sets than you usually would. 

This will help prevent under-serving the budget while also minimizing audience overlap.

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You need to ensure that the creative strategy is the same for each segment you combine.

For example, one ad set for those interested in cake/ice cream AND desserts, as opposed to breaking them up into two ad sets.


Bucket Look-A-Like Audiences Into Larger Groups

Another technique you’ll want to consider are Look-A-Like (LAL) audiences. With Off-Facebook Activity now rolled out, the first thing you’ll want to check is the size of the LAL audiences you have built out. 

If you see a considerable decrease in reach, you should consider bucketing them into larger groups. This will help ensure that the LAL audiences have enough reach to spend the budget. Just make sure you don’t build them larger than you need to, as this will decrease the similarity the larger you make them. 

For example, creating a LAL audience of 1% similarity (2.1M users) vs. 3% similarity (6.3M users).


Increase Retargeting Windows

One other quick and easy change you can make is increasing the window length of retargeting (RT) audiences. In doing so, the advertiser will combat the potential decrease in users from their retargeting pools, as those who clear (and keep their off-facebook activity cleared) will be removed from all retargeting audiences. The larger the window, the more people in the pool.

For example, a 90-day RT window (25,000 users) vs. 60-day RT window (15,000 users).


Use First-Party Data

Despite allowing the user to clear their off-Facebook data, this tool will not allow users to clear themselves from being targeted via first-party data. Not only can you build custom audiences with this data, you can also build LAL audiences off of it as well. Both of these audiences will remain a very strong tactic for targeting users. 

For example, any uploaded prospect/customer information used to target them on the platform(s).

Arrow branching off into three icon for Facebook's Clear History


Also try adding or combining placements.

In addition to audience targeting strategies, another way to combat Off-Facebook Activity’s negative impact is by adding additional placements (e.g., audience network, Instagram stories). 

About 80% of Facebook users are also on Facebook’s family of apps at any given time, increasing the chance of reaching your target audience when using any of their other apps. This not only increases the different ways to reach your target audience, but it can also help drive a lower cost per outcome. 

When the automatic placement option is selected, incremental placements were found to lower the cost per conversion by 71% and bring the brand 2.1x lift when compared to campaigns running Facebook-only placements (as according to a 2017 study).

While adding additional placements seems like an easy enough optimization, you’ll want to be cognizant of the effect this may have on your creative and copy when displayed on different inventory. Different placements may demand different creative sizes, so Facebook allows advertisers to add new creative to adapt these size differences. 

If you don’t choose to do this, you’re subject to Facebook’s mercy in resizing the creative to match the placement’s requirements. Facebook’s recommended dimensions (1920×1280) are different than Instagram’s dimensions (1080×1080). 

"CBO" text icon for Facebook's Clear History

Consider the Campaign Budget Optimization feature.

While the jury has yet to make a decision on whether or not
Campaign Budget Optimization (CBO) will hurt a campaign’s performance, it has been recommended by internal sources at Facebook as a lever to consider pulling now that Off-Facebook Activity has taken the stage. 

As Facebook defines it, CBO is a way of optimizing the distribution of campaign budget across your campaign’s ad sets that “…automatically and continuously finds the best active opportunities for results across your ad sets.” 

Although the advertiser can set minimum and maximum budgets by ad set, CBO will essentially help ensure the full budget is spent by distributing the campaign’s budget as it sees fit. 

The inherent goal of CBO, as Facebook puts it, is to maximize a campaign’s results (and its corresponding cost) as it relates to the set event optimization. 

If your bid strategy is optimizing towards link clicks or landing page views, then you’d want to stay away from CBO. Optimizing towards impressions, though, will help ensure that the budget is spent thanks to the fact that CBO operates in real-time. 

That said, CBO would be one of the last resorts I’d use to combat the impact of Off-Facebook Activity’s rollout.

funnel icon for Facebook's Clear History

Optimize for the right event.

If you’re running lower funnel campaigns, you may want to consider this last lever worth mentioning. Low-funnel strategies commonly target more refined audiences, in both character and size – both of which reduce inventory. 

For campaigns with niche or high-value products with fewer purchases, you may want to consider moving your “conversion” event up the funnel. 

Due to the number of optimization events that must happen to get an audience or ad set out of Facebook’s learning phase, campaigns that don’t produce many conversions already are going to have an even harder time if people clear their history. 

By moving up the funnel, you will find it easier and quicker to get past the learning phase threshold (which is 50 events by the way), thus improving one’s overall optimization. 

While the advertiser might value the lower funnel events much more than events higher up, this strategy will produce greater knowledge to Facebook algorithms about the type of audience that is willing to engage with one’s business or product. 

In turn, Facebook will optimize towards the right people (i.e., use the budget more efficiently) quicker than they would if they were still stuck in the learning phase.

For example, instead of optimizing towards “Conversions,” optimize towards “Landing Page Views.”

At the end of the day…

While some of these tips might work for one campaign, they may not work for the next. Knowing what works for your campaign is a trial-and-error process and should be treated as such. 

Once you understand the inner workings of Facebook’s algorithms and the relative impact of various optimization techniques, you’ll be much better equipped — not only for managing and improving on the campaigns, but also adapting to the many curve balls Facebook will inevitably throw your way.

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