Last week I Tweeted what was probably my hottest take ever on Facebook ads:
“I've been doing some Facebook Ads audits for clients. There are still "Facebook experts" out there advocating for traffic campaigns. Wild!”
I broke my own rule with this one: I offered up some “best practices” by implying that Facebook traffic campaigns are never effective. 35 comments later, I stand corrected. There are situations where Facebook traffic campaigns can contribute to a profitable customer acquisition strategy.
Because Twitter doesn’t lend itself to longform, nuanced takes, I wanted to use this space to share what I learned: when traffic campaigns can work, and when they probably won’t. But first thing’s first…
Most of you reading this use Facebook advertising as a vehicle for acquiring new customers for your eCommerce business. Those are the terms in which most performance marketers understand Facebook: it’s about the cost of customer acquisition relative to your average order value and lifetime value.
Not everyone uses Facebook ads in this way. In fact, many large brands run their digital marketing strategy on a completely different mental model. They’re attempting to generate a certain number of impressions with the belief that a percentage of those impressions will eventually convert online. If you want more sales, you need to build more upstream awareness.
Which of those mental models is the “right” way to think about Facebook ads? It depends. If you’re a large brand that advertises across multiple digital and “IRL” channels, the impressions theory holds some water. In this situation, Facebook is one of many channels working to create mental availability for a brand.
If you’re a smaller brand that primarily advertises on Facebook, the impression model won’t work for you. You don’t have enough scale to build true mental availability via Facebook ads. And you’ll run out of cash waiting for your upstream traffic to trickle downstream and convert.
Facebook traffic campaigns have a bad reputation because they’re the usual advice you receive from Facebook’s own advertising reps when your account is underperforming. Can’t break even on conversion objective ads? Try filling your funnel with traffic campaigns!
As outlined above, this advice may work for large brands with multi-channel advertising strategies. But it almost never works for smaller, performance-focused brands. In some circles, traffic campaigns have become a symbol for how out of touch some Facebook reps can be with the realities of small businesses.
That being said, traffic campaigns are sometimes positioned as a “hack” for driving lower cost conversions. The cost to drive a visitor to your website is always going to be lower with a traffic objective than with a conversion objective. And that’s because traffic campaign audiences are not necessarily “in market”–the audience is larger, but they’re also less likely to convert.
I’m going to outline a few situations where traffic campaigns are commonly mis-used. But I want to add a major caveat to this section. There are some brands who break all the rules and succeed with campaign setups that defy common sense. So try these ideas if you’d like, but cut your losses quickly if they don’t work out for you.
Some marketers and brands try to use traffic campaigns to hack their way around low daily budgets. But Facebook ads (no matter the objective) need to reach a certain scale relative to your AOV in order to work.
Here’s an example: A brand is selling a line of $120 dog beds. If they’re able to achieve 2x return on ad spend, they’ll need to spend an average of $60 to acquire one customer. If the brand has a daily budget under $60, it’s going to be almost impossible to acquire customers efficiently. You’ll be making less than one sale per day, and this will negatively impact Facebook’s ability to find qualified customers for you.
This brand may think to itself “Traffic campaigns will drive a lot more website visitors for the money. Maybe I can convert more people that way.” But the audience you’ll get from a traffic campaign is typically not in “shopping mode”. You’ll need to drive more site visits to generate a conversion, so your cost to acquire a customer will increase, and your ROAS will decline.
If you’re starting a brand and plan to use Facebook as your primary acquisition channel, give yourself enough budget to drive at least 3-5 sales per day. You can calculate this budget using your site’s AOV (or the price of your hero product) and an estimated ROAS between 1 and 2.
If your brand sells products in several categories and/or has a seasonal component, you’ll have a multitude of potential objectives. Fashion brands are a great example–men’s product, women’s product and various sales and promotions can easily add up to 10+ different messages each month.
Sometimes a brand has too little budget to spread across too many messages, so they’ll use traffic campaigns to get a certain number of eyeballs in front of each message. Or certain messages don’t get delivery in conversion campaigns, so the brand will use traffic campaigns to force scale.
This is a case of a KPI (impressions) divorced from any strategic objective. Why do you want people viewing your messages? So they can act on them. And traffic campaign audiences are less likely to act. Use Facebook to promote the messages that convert best, and use lower-cost channels like email to share the rest.
The next time a digital marketer tells you they’re “building awareness”, ask how they plan to measure “awareness”. In many cases they won’t have an answer. Yes, top of marketing funnel activities hypothetically build awareness. That doesn’t mean every traffic campaign is going to build awareness effectively…especially if your budgets are limited.
“We need to build awareness” is often code for “we have hit a local maxima in Facebook performance.” Sometimes a traffic campaign is the answer. But sometimes the issue is the product, not the marketing. If you’re going to try this, make sure you have a solid system in place to measure it.
I thought this had been fully debunked, but it came up again in the Twitter discussion. The idea behind “seasoning the pixel”: run some traffic campaigns to your site to quickly populate your pixel with browse and purchase data. Then use this data to improve your ad targeting, leading to improved campaign efficiency.
This strategy is usually recommended to brand new businesses with no historical data. You’ll go further faster and for less money if you use broad targeting and invest in quality ad creative.
We’ve covered all the scenarios when you shouldn’t use traffic campaigns. Now let’s get into the good stuff: when you should.
Remember: traffic campaigns send you a wider pool of users that aren’t in “shopping mode”. But that doesn’t mean it’s impossible to convert these users. You’ll have a better chance of doing so if your product has broad appeal. What gives a product broad appeal? It solves a common problem, could be used by both men and women, and has an accessible price point.
Impulse buys are also more likely to pull a site visitor into “shopping mode”. How many times have you gone to Target intending to buy “just one thing” and walked out with a $100+ bill? Those are impulse buys: low cost items with visual appeal and, usually, a tempting visual hook. You can imagine the product in your daily routine, and the price is low enough to reduce friction.
I’m going to admit that mega-budgets like these are not my area of expertise. But Facebook Ads heavy hitters David Herrmann and Jake The Ad Nerd both recommend traffic campaigns as a complement to conversion campaigns when daily budgets reach the mid-five figures. When you’re spending this much, sometimes it does take a little something extra to maintain the efficiency of your conversion campaigns.
Most brands who scale to this level have already optimized their ad creative and landing pages to the hilt. This optimization gives their traffic campaigns a better chance of converting users at a reasonable cost per conversion. Most brands who achieve this scale also have a third party attribution modeling solution in place, so they have a clearer picture of what the traffic campaign is really achieving.
Sometimes you do everything right and, for whatever reason, the CPMs for your conversion audiences are prohibitively expensive. This could be due to scale, seasonality, or the nature of the audience that you’re targeting.
If you’ve done everything you can to address site speed, user experience, landing page design and creative, you may need to go up the funnel to reduce costs. Objectives like add to cart, landing page view and (yes!) traffic should all be tested and considered.
Traffic campaigns work best when one or more of the following is true:
And if you need help tracking your campaigns, give Triple Whale a try.
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