Why Your Facebook CTR Isn’t What You Think

May 5, 2015

Are you being misled by Facebook’s ad performance? If you are advertising to drive website traffic chances are it’s true. The click stats provided in Facebook reports do not 100% reflect traffic driven to your website. The way clicks are tracked creates an overinflated view of ad performance. Learn why this happens and how you can run more accurate reporting.

Decoding Facebook Ad Analytics

In order to understand how Facebook ad reporting is misleading, you’ll need a good handle on the metrics. Some of these metrics are unique to social media advertising. Here’s a refresher.

The Facebook Ads Manager dashboard provides metrics to show results for various ad types. These ads types generally include clicks or engagement. Click ads are used for promoting website URLs. Engagement ads are used for promoting photos, videos, generating engagement and building awareness. Here are key definitions.

Click-Through Rate (CTR): In advertising this is the rate which users are clicking on an ad in relation to how many times the ad has been seen. It provides an understanding how well creative and targeting perform. The higher the better.

Cost Per Click (CPC): If you’ve set-up an ad to bid on clicks you’ll be charged each time someone clicks the ad, not every time they see it. The lower the better.

Clicks: This is simple. Number of clicks on the ad.

Here’s where things get interesting.

Social advertising adds another dimension to clicks. Traditionally digital advertising such as Google Ad Words provided one action, clicks on the ad. An ad click does one thing, link out.

Social advertising, on the other hand, creates a wonderful combination of earned and paid media. This added dimension includes actions such as clicking the like button, commenting, and clicking to share it with friends. Some combination of these social actions are available on all social ads. For this reason social advertising separates click metrics into two categories:

Clicks: Clicks anywhere on the ad including the website link, the like button, resharing, etc.

Website Clicks: Clicks on a website link, only.

Most social ad platforms do a great job of differentiating these metrics in reports.

Pinterest ads provide one ad type with the goal of website clicks. It reports website link “clicks” and CTR exclusively for promoted pins.

[Pinterest Ad Report]

Twitter provides several ad types with various goals similar to the way Facebook is structured. Twitter differentiates “link clicks” and reports only this metric on the “website link” ads. The cost per click and click rate are based on link clicks in this context.

twitter link clicks report

[Twitter Clicks Report]

With Facebook this is not the case.

Making Sense of Facebook Ad Reporting

Here are three common ways a website link is promoted in ads and how Facebook reports on it.

facebook ad types

[Facebook Ad Types]

Boost Post From Facebook Feed

This is the most common scenario where you “boost” a post from your Facebook page that links to a blog or other web page. The default for this ad type is to buy reach while optimizing for engagement. Facebook displays website clicks on the boosted post ad summary and not much more. The resulting CTR in the Ads Manager reports ad clicks not link clicks. Not ideal for promoting website traffic.

Boost Post From Ads Manager

Let’s say instead you use the same Facebook post (e.g. linking to a blog) in a campaign created through Ads Manager to “bid for clicks”. It makes sense for driving website traffic, right? Sorry. Facebook will not report clicks on your website link. It will report clicks anywhere on the ad including the like button. See example below and click for full-sized images.

This ad summary highlights cost per engagement, although I had bid for clicks. That’s not what I paid for. The table detail shows that my ad resulted in 95 clicks with a CTR of 1.331%. I advertised a website link bidding for clicks so you would think this reflects the traffic driven to my blog. It doesn’t. It reflects clicks anywhere on the ad including the like button.

Facebook boost report

[Facebook Boost Report]

Clicks To Website Campaign

Now, what if you didn’t boost a Facebook post at all but created a “clicks to website link” ad built from scratch? This is the cleanest and most purpose-driven ad type for website traffic from Facebook.

Sorry again. The CTR will not reflect the ad goal. Facebook highlights two relevant metrics; website clicks and cost per website click. Yet continues to provide a CTR based on all ad clicks. It is the only CTR metric provided in the entire report.

In my “website link clicks” campaign example below, Facebook reports an average cost per website click ($0.25) and website clicks (1,453) in the topline summary. That’s pretty relevant to what I bought. The table detail reports clicks (2,725) and CTR (4.473%). In this context those metrics are misleading. If you run ads frequently that click-through will make you say, “Wow!” and make you do the happy dance.

Facebook web click ad

[Facebook Ad Report, Website Link Clicks Campaign]

Facebook’s CTR is overblown because it accounts for all clicks anywhere on the ad, not clicks exclusively on the website link. It would be confusing to compare a test campaign for the same ad across Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest because Facebook would appear to be outperforming. This is something marketers often do. It’s how I discovered the inconsistency.

Calculating True Facebook Link Clicks

I can only hope that Facebook isn’t trying to trick advertisers to look more competitive. These numbers are misleading to the average marketer who is used to seeing click-through rates in Google Adwords that mean one thing, website traffic. Or, inexperienced small business owners.

Maybe they’ve built a beast of an ad platform that gets messier as more features are added. The Amazon of advertising. Maybe they’ll change it after reading this. I’ll keep dreaming! Until then, here’s how to manually calculate your true Facebook website click metrics.

(Website Clicks / Impressions) x 100% = Click-Through Rate

Ad Spend / Website Clicks = Cost Per Website Click

Be careful not to get impressions mixed up with reach. You have to dig to find your impressions data in Facebook. Here’s an example of where to find these numbers and calculate Website Link CTR and Cost Per Website Click. I am using an ad bidding for clicks containing a boosted Facebook post featuring a blog link.

1. Open the campaign from the Ads Manager.

2. From the campaign view, click on an ad set and then on an ad to expand the details.

click ad

[Campaign View in Facebook Ad Manager]

From the expanded view of an ad we can gather that it received 54 website clicks.

Facebook ad performance example

[Ad View, Actions]

Now we can calculate the cost per website click:

Ad spend $30 / 54 website clicks = $0.55

We’ll need website clicks to estimate our Facebook ads click-through rate next, so write it down.

4. From the same expanded view of an ad, click on the Impressions tab. Hover your cursor over each data point and add up your impressions. (There are other ways to pull this data, this is the most straightforward for our example.)

Facebook ad impressions

[Ad View, Impressions]

54 Website Clicks / 7,140 Impressions) x 100 = .75% Website CTR

Facebook reported a CTR of 1.331% on this ad. I thought I was doing good! In fact, it isn’t meeting my threshold for a good CTR, which is 1%+. With more transparent ad reporting accurate to my goal, I’d have had the opportunity optimize my creative and targeting to improve ad performance.

The Problem With Facebook Ad Reporting

Facebook advertising metrics are confusing in the way Facebook presents them. They use a standard industry metric, the click, as the primary metric for ads intended to drive website traffic. Facebook’s click includes clicks anywhere on the ad including the like button. Reporting numbers in this way overinflates Facebook ads click-through rate, cost per click, and total clicks. This results in the perception ads have performed much better than they have. In some cases at a cheaper rate than they really were for link clicks. You can avoid this by understanding the difference between “ad clicks” VS. “website clicks” on social ads, and manually calculating true click metrics.

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  • Sebastian

    Thanks for this article. It helped me understand FB better! I really don’t like the FB is doing its reports. I see (and found others too) my stats in GA and FB are pretty far apart. Sometimes FB reports up to 50 % more clicks. I struggle to see exactly how many users came to my website – even though I am using UTM-URL tagging.

    What I didn’t understand in your article. Do you say it is possible to see exactly how many clicks my website got? Not those clicks on other buttins within FB. Just those pointing to my example.com

    • Hi Sebastian, Yes you can see number of clicks on your ads by changing the column view on your campaign to “performance and clicks”. In website clicks ad types, the default report view will show link clicks. On boosted posts link or photo the dashboard will default to performance showing clicks anywhere on the ad. Since this was written, Facebook changed the ability to run the ‘clicks’ ad type on boosted posts. Now you can only buy on engagements (or impressions I believe). The best spend for traffic is to run a web clicks ad NOT a boost from your page feed. I also experience a large difference in clicks reported vs visitors in Google Analytics. It is a big problem Facebook doesn’t answer well in its forums. -Melonie

      • Sebastian

        Thanks Melonie! I think I found where the trouble comes from 🙂 The Audience Network. Users coming from the AN had a quite high bounce rate and about ⅓ to ½ of them closed my website before GA could load. Without the AN clicks and stats in GA are almost the same.

  • I tried this equation on two different ad results.
    (Website Clicks / Impressions) x 100% = Click-Through Rate
    I used my reported link clicks/ impressions X 100 and came to 1.79% which was almost identical to what Facebook told me; 1.80%…. The other result was identical both at 1.50%
    So don’t know if there has been an update in Facebook ad software since this post.. It is a very HELPFUL equation and I want to say many thanks Melonie.

    • Hi Lynn, Facebook did in fact update the ad platform since this post was written. I am glad to hear your equation is checking out. They no longer display CTR for all clicks on “web link” ad types in the report summary. I’m not sure on boosted posts, however. You’ll want to display the report using the drop down to show more stats to find CTR links vs CTR all on boosted posts to be sure. Thanks for writing.