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What Conversion Tracking Can Tell You About Facebook’s and Google’s World Views

Published: October 22, 2012

Author: David Rodnitzky

third party dataWay back in 2011, Facebook offered conversion tracking for their PPC advertising. The tracking left much to be desired (for example, it gave 100% credit to view-through conversions!), but it was better than nothing. But within six months of unveiling their system, they pulled the plug. Today, if you want conversion tracking on Facebook, you need to pay for a third-party tool like Optimal Social or Nanigans.
Contrast this to Google. Google offers free AdWords tracking, free analytics tracking, free Webmaster tools tracking for SEO, and a free container pixel. Google does work with third-party tracking systems (like Marin Software or SearchForce), but I often get the sense that they would prefer not to. For example, most third parties that connect with the AdWords API must pay for usage and are subject to on-demand code reviews by Google engineers.
Put another way, Google believes that power comes from controlling data and Facebook believes that power comes from dissemination of data. Google offers conversion tracking (and phone tracking, analytics, SEO tracking, and so on) because it is enables them to present data to advertisers in a way that encourages investment in Google properties. For example, view-through conversions weren’t a part of the AdWords UI until Google acquired DoubleClick and their massive display advertising network. For more detail on this theory, see my article on Search Engine Land.
Facebook, on the other hand, goes to great lengths to allow third parties to leverage Facebook data. Consider all the gaming companies that have developed multi-billion-dollar business on Facebook, the millions of web sites that use Facebook Connect to register users and encourage discussions, and the company fan pages with millions of fans on Facebook. Facebook’s success has been driven by its willingness to partner with others. As such, it isn’t surprising that Facebook continues to let third parties develop superior conversion tracking and ad management systems than its own native applications.
For advertisers, it’s hard to go against the respective strategies of each 800-pound gorilla. Just as many companies have switched from paid analytics platforms like Omniture  to Google Analytics, I believe it is only a matter of time until Google offers its DoubleClick for Search campaign management platform to advertisers for free, at which point the choice between a paid third-party platform and a “good enough” free Google tool will drive many advertisers to DoubleClick. Similarly, Facebook advertisers patiently waiting for Facebook to develop an awesome AdWords-like UI and tracking system will likely eventually realize that a third-party tool is a necessity for their success.
– David Rodnitzky

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