The Problems with Facebook Ads Optimization

Facebook’s ads optimization systems are powerful. They have a ridiculous amount of data they can use to make sure that the right people who are most likely to act will see your ad. But while powerful, there are some inherent problems.

This doesn’t mean that Facebook ads optimization is bad. It means that there are some specific circumstances and settings you should watch out for, if not avoid.

In this post, let’s talk about how Facebook ads optimization works, the scenarios that could create problems, and the ways you can mitigate them.

How Facebook Ads Optimization Works

It’s important that you understand how Facebook ads optimization works. Once you understand how optimization functions, you will begin to predict the potential pitfalls.

While you set an initial “pool” audience in the ad set, Facebook knows that some of the people within that audience are more likely than others to perform your desired action. Facebook will try harder to reach those individuals while avoiding those more likely to result in a wasted impression.

The “desired action” is key. Some people are more likely to click, others more likely to view a video, and still others more likely to convert. All of these audiences and qualities are different.

At the bottom of your ad set, you choose the action you want Facebook to optimize for.

Facebook Ad Optimization

Per Facebook:

Choose the event you want to optimize for in your ad set. Your selection affects who sees your ads to get you the desired outcome. For example, if you choose to optimize for link clicks, we’ll show your ad to the people most likely to click your link.

The pool of people changes depending on your optimization event. This is important. In theory: Optimize correctly, get more desired actions and save money on waste.

Facebook Doesn’t Care About Quality

Let’s think about how Facebook’s automated systems can be misled. In the case of most actions, Facebook doesn’t care about quality. They only care about getting you the most of these desired actions for the lowest cost.

Some people click a lot. Some people comment and like a lot. Videos may hang up in a person’s news feed more than others.

Take a look at the engagement on your ads. Do you ever get angry reactions? Do you get people who complain about seeing your ads in their news feed? Do you get spam or worthless comments?

Guess what? This is all engagement! If you optimize for engagement, these are people who are likely in the pool of desirable people to reach. Facebook will see this engagement as being successful since engagement is what you asked for.

Some people click ads. Sometimes people click them by mistake. Some have terrible internet speeds and the page fails to load. There are also fake profiles and bots that click on things to appear real.

Take a look at the visit quality from your ads in Google Analytics. How long do they spend on your website? Do they immediately abandon?

Facebook sees all of these clicks and visits as being equal. If you optimize for Link Clicks or Landing Page Views, Facebook will use these people in your pool of potential targets. And when they click, Facebook will see your ad as being successful.

Why? Because you told Facebook you wanted link clicks or landing page views. That’s what you got! Success!

But… You care about quality.

Quality Matters

Of course, you want quantity AND quality. You definitely don’t want the lowest quality engagement. Luckily, there are some ways to mitigate it.

First, you can trust Facebook much more when optimizing for purchases, value, or conversion leads (someone who ultimately buys after a lead). These are difficult for Facebook to misunderstand and screw up.

I understand that you can’t necessarily optimize for purchases all the time. So, I want to give you some things to consider when assembling your campaigns that can help limit low-quality results.

Broad Targeting and Optimization

One of the biggest dangers to attracting low-quality results is using broad targeting for surface-level optimization like engagement, video views, and link clicks. Facebook will have no problem finding these actions, and you’ll probably get them cheaply.

Consider using tighter audiences for these optimization options. Target custom audiences, page followers, and precise interests.

Country Targeting

Most advertisers understand that bots and spam seem to come from some countries more than others. No country is immune, of course. It’s all a matter of balancing risk and reward.

Especially if you aren’t optimizing for a “quality” action, be selective about the countries you target. Otherwise, Facebook will simply find the cheapest clicks and engagement from the cheapest countries while potentially avoiding the countries where you get business.

Do some research to uncover where your paying customers come from. That should be your starting point.

You should also consider adjusting how Facebook targets people by location. By default, you will reach people who “Live in or were recently in” the countries you select.

Facebook Targeting Locations

While it may make sense for some businesses to target those who are traveling to and from a country, it may make more sense to focus only on those who live in the countries you’ve selected.


There’s only one placement I have strong negative feelings about, and that’s Audience Network. If you’re not familiar with this placement, it includes the apps and websites that monetize themselves with Facebook ads.

Facebook Placements Audience Network

I’ve found Audience Network to be a huge source of accidental clicks and even click fraud (my account has been refunded several times due to Audience Network click fraud). If you’ve ever used an app and clicked on an ad by accident when it popped up unexpectedly, you understand how accidental clicks can happen.

It’s not that you should never use Audience Network as a placement. If you optimize for purchase conversions and you’re getting purchases from that placement, keep it. Because if those purchases don’t happen, Facebook will show ads to that placement less and less.

The problem I’ve seen is when optimizing for link clicks, landing page views, and engagement. Facebook will see those accidental clicks (and even click fraud) as satisfying your goals. If you ever run a traffic campaign with results that seem too good to be true, that may be because they are.

The reality is that this is how optimization is supposed to work! You asked for clicks. Facebook sees they can get you a lot of clicks within Audience Network. Suddenly, you start spending a big chunk of your budget within that placement, leading to more clicks. Facebook thinks they got you what you want.

You should check to see if the bulk of your budget is being moved to Audience Network. You can do this by using the Placement Breakdown.

Facebook Placement Breakdown

Then check the quality of that traffic in Google Analytics.

Impact to Custom Audiences

Beyond generating misleading ad results, ignoring the inherent problems associated with Facebook ads optimization can lead to a watering down of your custom audiences.

If you indiscriminately run traffic ads that drive low-quality traffic, you will start building low-quality website custom audiences.

Facebook Website Custom Audiences

If you fail to mitigate issues related to low-quality engagement, you will start building low-quality page engagement custom audiences.

Facebook Page Engagement Custom Audiences

These are often go-to audiences for advertisers to target those who are closest to your brand and most likely to act. But, if you’re not careful, you will damage their effectiveness.

Traffic Alternatives

There is a solution to the traffic optimization problems. What we want is high-quality traffic. We want people who spend a lot of time on our website or scroll through the entire post. We want to avoid the accidental clicks and quick exits.

The solution is custom pixel events and optimizing for conversions.

I’ve created two different custom pixel events to track quality traffic (I created a blog post for each on how I set them up):

Instead of running a Traffic campaign that optimizes for link clicks or landing page views, I create a conversions campaign that optimizes for conversions (with a Quality Traffic Custom Event as the conversion event).

Facebook Conversion Event Quality Traffic

This makes sure that Facebook measures success by optimizing for and seeing more high-quality traffic visits. The result is that the cost per click will certainly be higher, but I’ll also generate more quality traffic.

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Your Turn

I hope this post has helped you better understand how Facebook ads optimization works, the potential problems it can cause, and how you can mitigate those issues.

Have questions? Let me know in the comments below!