By now you should all know how effective Custom Audiences are. What you may not know is that lots of users gamed the system (and broke Facebook’s ToS and probably many privacy laws while they were at it) by creating custom audiences with Facebook User IDs they were not authorized to use… until now. Facebook is finally cracking down on scraping.
The method is simple. The internet is flooded with shady marketeers selling software or browser add-ons that can scrape Facebook to obtain User IDs. It is easy and damn effective.
Want to target members of a laser-focused group for your market? Simply upload your tool of choice and let it crawl the group’s pages, gathering all visible users’ IDs. Want to target a competitor’s page which is not listed as an interest in Facebook Ads’ precise targeting? No problem! In just a few minutes you can generate a txt file containing the user IDs of every user that ever interacted with any of your competitor’s posts.
But is Facebook scraping really effective?
Yes, it’s extremely effective. Not only can you target a specific group or Facebook page’s users, you can also target the most engaged users.
One of the biggest problems with Facebook Ads precise interests is that many brands are buying fans from shady companies selling 100,000 likes for $10. You get what you pay for: your new users are bots, fakes, or the best case scenario is that the new likes come from real users, but they are not at all interested in your brands. And here’s the kicker – when you market those brands you’re going to target all those crappy users as well, lowering you campaign’s effectiveness.
By using Facebook scraping tools you could bypass this problem. These tools only collect the user IDs of users who have engaged with the page’s posts. By doing so they give you only the IDs of really engaged users; those likers really ready to be targeted with ads through custom audiences. I’ve seen affiliate marketers achieve incredible performance using this method.
So, why didn’t we tell you about this before??
Because they’re just quick fixes. We want you to succeed and build a long term, profitable strategy to grow your business with Facebook Ads. You can only achieve this by understanding Facebook Ads and building a predictable framework to promote your product and scale your advertising as you grow.
Tactics like scraping Facebook User IDs are just shortcuts. They work well but they are totally unpredictable, they come and go every couple of months and could get you in serious trouble – like having your advertising account banned or even being sued for breaking privacy laws. If you’re going after easy money for a couple of weeks that’s fine, but if you want to grow your business they’ll do more harm than good. And that’s not what we want for our customers.
Don’t believe me? Here are some examples of damage done by other similar tricks:
- SEO: Demand Media, owner of popular websites such as eHow, based its business on content farms. Its sites became huge portals full of crappy content meant only to generate traffic from Google. When Google cracked down on spammy content Demand Media lost 42% of its traffic in under a month.
- AdSense: Publishers used crazy tactics to earn money with Google Adsense. For example they created pages on generic topics such as cooking, then they hid high-paying keywords like “lawyer consulting” near adverts to trick Google into displaying very lucrative ads for lawyers instead of more relevant ads about cooking. Of course Google found out and disabled their accounts, leaving them with a $0 revenue stream.
- Facebook: We reported before some crazy tricks to get cheap likes for Facebook pages. Not only have these people got pages full of crappy, disengaged users, they’ve also had their advertising accounts banned and, in some cases, their pages shut down.
So why are we telling you all of this now? Because Facebook just ended the scraping game!
Just this morning, in the weekly update from Facebook we immediately noticed an announcement regarding Custom Audiences:
You must now include the App ID when creating a CA built from Facebook IDs or App-Scoped IDs.
This is just an elegant way to say: STOP SCRAPING. We’ve already talked about this in our Custom Audiences guide, but as a reminder, you can only create Custom Audiences with users that gave you permission to use their personal data. Of course you have no authorization to use Facebook User IDs. The same problem may apply to email addresses and phone numbers but Facebook has no way to check how you acquired those. On the other hand Facebook can be sure that the only way you may have legally obtained a User ID is via the user using your Facebook app.
Here’s what happens in Facebook Ads Manager when you create a new Custom Audience and select that you want to upload a file with Facebook User IDs:
You are immediately required to enter the app ID for the Facebook app from which you gathered those IDs. We experimented to see what would happen if we uploaded randomly-picked user IDs using the app ID from one of our apps and we can confirm that Facebook is validating whether the uploaded IDs really used the app.
An error was triggered and the scraped Custom Audience was rejected.
Importantly, using external Facebook Ads Managers like AdEspresso still seems to bypass the control. This is only to be expected as the change has just been announced and it takes time to implement the new validation. Don’t count on this loophole to last for long however. Pretty soon there will be no way to upload Custom Audiences that you have obtained through Facebook scraping..
So why is all of this good news?
Well, if you’ve been Facebook scraping it’s good news because you’ve got the most out of it and you’ve managed to avoid having your account banned by Facebook. But playtime is over and now it’s time to play by the rules. Don’t think that Custom Audiences are useless without this shortcut, they’re still the most effective way to target users on Facebook. You’ll just have to find a good strategy to legally attract leads to add to your audiences. Luckily the opportunities for this are endless: offer ebooks, webinars, freebies, tools… all in return for the users’ emails.
If you’ve avoided Facebook scraping (well done!) it’s good news because this move from Facebook levels the playing field. Your competitors and other advertisers will have to follow the rules and won’t have an unfair advantage over you from using underhand tactics any more. But the really good news is that right now they’re probably lost. They’ve developed their strategy around a short-lived trick and now have to start again from scratch, while you’ve invested your time in mastering a great and long-lived Facebook Ads strategy… now it’s your turn to have the advantage!