Should businesses trust Facebook advertising?

I had interesting discussion on Twitter the other day around the general trustworthiness of Facebook versus Google. This was in response to a post I wrote about how Facebook had backhandedly admitted that it was squeezing reach to encourage use of its promotional products.

I argued that Google appears more trustworthy because of their consistency with their ad product.  At the time I really didn’t have any substantiation of the relative trustworthiness of Facebook relative to Google, but maybe now I do.

It turns out that some small businesses are suing Facebook in U.S. District Court for not sufficiently verifying the clicks on their CPC (cost-per-click) advertising product.  And the standard that they use as an example?  Google.

What should Facebook be responsible for?

In the Facebook Advertising Click and Impression Quality, they say this about how they ferret out bad clicks:

“A variety of prevention and detection methods are used to identify suspicious or potentially invalid activity on your ads. To reduce the risk of abuse and improve your ad performance, we use tactics such as capping the number of times any ad is shown to a person, regardless of whether they click on the ad. We also work to detect and invalidate clicks that appear to be automated, repetitive, accidental or abusive. We look at numerous data points for each click and traffic patterns across the site. If we detect or are alerted to suspicious or potentially invalid click activity, a manual review is performed to determine the nature of the activity. You will not be charged for clicks that are determined to be invalid.”
The problem is, you have to take their word for it.

You see, Google is party to the Interactive Ad Bureau (IAB) Ad Verification Standards.  Among other things, this means that their CPC ads have been audited to determine that Google is being earnest to filter false clicks.  It doesn’t mean that competitors aren’t running up your AdWords tab, but known miscreant sites and robots aren’t.

Facebook is a part of the IAB, too.  They don’t do external audits of their CPC practices, though.  So, businesses that advertise have to trust that Facebook is going to have their best interests at heart.

What this means for businesses advertising on Facebook

There has always been a portion of Facebook activity that has been noise.  One of my favorite explanations of this was Merry Morud’s great analysis in Search Engine Watch which estimated that 17-28% of clicks on a particular ad could be bots.

Businesses should expect noise on Facebook.  And they should have clear metrics in place to determine whether Facebook Advertising is achieving their objectives.  This should be a practice regardless of trustworthiness of Facebook’s ad product.  If Facebook’s honesty is a concern it seems that the metrics could be tested with greater frequency, and that alternative advertising methods (such as AdWords) should be considered.

But is honesty REALLY the measure?  Probably not.  Trying to develop a viral campaign on might align you with truthful people, but it’s not going to accomplish much.  Having good measurement in place to judge whether Facebook ads are successfully doing what you want them to is probably a better solution.  And my guess is that businesses that are sore about fake clicks should have had known about it a long time before they blew $1000 on advertising (one of the plaintiffs in the lawsuit spent $1000, one spent about $700).

If businesses develop thoughtful campaigns with good metrics, they don’t have to worry about who they trust.  And to me, that seems like the best case scenario.



Jim Dougherty

Jim Dougherty

Writer and chief of miscellany at
I'm the guy that wrote the article you just read. Sorry for the typos.
  • Eugene Farber

    Even with the possibility of fake clicks on Facebook, it is still one of the most affordable platforms to advertise on. And you’re absolutely right, people should do their due diligence before investing that much money into anything.

    I think the problem for these companies is that they weren’t running effective ads. There may be fake clicks, sure, but if you are running effective ads, it’s still worth the investment on Facebook. There are plenty of companies that see a lot of success with it – and I’m sure they’re not suing :).

    • jimdougherty

      Thanks, Eugene. I think as everything it depends upon what you’re trying to accomplish and which Facebook advertising tool you’re using. Of course this can be said for any medium that is used for advertising or marketing.

      I don’t know about the effectiveness of the two companies in question, but they sure weren’t paying a lot of attention to what was going on there! Thanks so much for reading and commenting and for sharing your view on FB ads!