How we tried Facebook Ads again and wasted time and money... again.

Facebook Ads are in focus of great many web-marketing conversations now. One may almost get an impression that a new contender to Google throne is here. Not so fast!

We have tried Facebook to promote BoonEx Dolphin a few times. Back in 2010, then in 2012 and again in 2015. Failing miserably every time. Let's examine...

Social ads for social software - perfect fit?

BoonEx target market is webmasters. Or wannabe webmasters. People that want to create niche social networks, online clubs, dating sites, etc. They don't have to be overly tech-savvy. In fact they just need to have general understanding of computers and social networking business. They just need to have an idea and desire to make their own website, instead of building on someone else's platform (like Facebook Pages or Ning).

In theory, Facebook should be a perfect fishing ground for our prospects. Especially Pages admins that may want to upgrade to their own site. Additionally, Facebook users generally have decent understanding of value of operating a social network.

Well, first attempt was not profitable, but not completely fruitless either. Having invested just over $10,000 in 3 weeks, we returned a whopping $2,200 in sales. Facebook traffic was cheap in 2010, mind you.

On the second go we already had a Page with about 1000 likes and tried advertising both the page and our site directly. On about $4000 investment we had one sale. That's $399. Nice and round 10% ROI without counting the time spent for campaigning. Oh, well.

And finally, third try - the new shiny Facebook Ads everyone talking about in 2015. The ones you can fine-tune to target people of specific age, interest, locality, connections, you name it. Our page has just under 2000 likes. We've tried 12 different forms of "boosting" with various banner formats, titles, landing pages and targeting. Each at different times of day, week and month. Each with different budget allocations. Our product and site, meanwhile, have the best average conversion rate ever recorded. Total spend over 3 months - $8000. Total return - $0.

So, what's with all the fuss?

Oh, I know exactly why there're so many erections happening. In fact, we were excited at the beginning of the try #3 as well.

Facebook Ads team has figured out that there are 2 kinds of advertisers.

  • Business Operators
  • Marketing Departments

Business operators, like us, need the ads to return sales. Show me the money!

Marketing Departments need to convince everyone at the Monday meeting that they did their job well.

Facebook, in our experience, does not deliver any kind of acceptable ROI. But, after their latest updates, they deliver a whole bunch of mumbo-jumbo numbers that make you feel warm and fuzzy about the results.

You get likes, engagements, reach... all in tens of thousands, or hundreds of thousands. You'd feel like a super-star marketer broadcasting on national television. Until you check your conventions and see that only a meagre number of visitors actually made it to your site, and 88-90% of them bounced right away. That's as bad as the infamous Stumbleupon Paid Discovery (which at least was self-aware enough to only charge 5c per click).

Well, Marketing Department will say things like "it's not just about sales, it about exposure, brand recognition and... well, reach". And, looking at Facebook's revenue reports, there are enough companies happily pumping their cash into this smartly crafted bubble.

People don't go to Facebook to spend money

Plain and simple. Facebook isn't about making money-decisions. People come to Facebook to "veg-out" after they've been busy searching for stuff on Google, bidding on eBay and shopping on Amazon. Facebook is the television of the 21st century. And the "21st century man" is a kind of man that is ad-blind. So, if you're hoping to get any value from Facebook ads, be prepared to NOT get monetary return on your investment and spend a lot to receive any noticeable real traffic to your sites.

Oh, and there's the point of spending your time managing Facebook page, giving space on your site for Facebook badges of all kinds and fiddling with all those ads, while you could be typing in long-tail phrases into Google AdWords.

I would just direct my efforts elsewhere. And I will.

What's your experience?

You can see I sound bitter. I know it's not just our failure, because the same site, similar ads and even lesser effort give consistently better results on other channels for us. But still, maybe it's all our fault. Maybe we're doing something wrong.

Does anybody have positive experience with latest iteration of Facebook Ads in real-money terms? Please share!