24th October is an important day in the life of Facebook’s user tracking: the Facebook Pixel. Just a few thoughts that you might have been already read but maybe some of them is quite new: Intelligent Tracking Prevention, switching to first party cookies, fbclid URL parameter, updating your Google Analytics settings, updating your cookie policy… already done with everything? If not, let me explain you what is happening and what you need to do especially if your business is located in the EU.

Facebook Pixel update of October 2018

Not just for WordPress sites

This article is not specifically for WordPress website owners and also not just for Google Tag Manager for WordPress users since the Facebook Pixel is used widely on many pages. You should be prepared for the change regardless of what content management system you are using.

Safari: “The First Avenger”

Protecting the privacy of internet users is a hot topic nowadays and different browsers handle this situation in very different ways. Safari from Apple is maybe one of the few players who does not have much business interest to start blocking technologies that deliver lots of $$$ to other companies (where Google and Facebook is leading the list of course). Also Apple is well known for its “user first” approach. It is very easy to add the “privacy first” term to this tagline. Since many more internet users were frustrated about how other companies collect data to use this dataset to target ads, especially with the remarketking/retargeting technology, Apple introduced with Safari the so called Intelligent Tracking PreventionΒ (ITP), which started to limit the capabilities of the so called 3rd party cookies.

Without going into deep technical details: 3rd party cookies are still one of the main building blocks of the online advertising industry which are necessary not just for conversion tracking (and through this for automated bid management) but also for remarketing/retargeting features to work. 3rd party cookies are also being used to track user activities on websites they are visiting to build interest profiles which advertisers can target with relevant ads.

Apple fine-tuned ITP in v1.1 and then released the 2.0 version of this technology this year which completely killed the use of those 3rd party cookies. Safari is having ~6% share on the browser market globally on desktop, but nearly 19% on mobile devices which makes this limitation a significant change that can lead to lost conversion data and also lost revenue if we think of the advertising perspective of this technology. Since Mozilla is on the same track with Firefox and Firefox has much larger share on the browser market, you can imagine how important it is for the adtech industry to recover some of the lost data πŸ™‚

“The Rise Of The Planet Of The” first party cookies

Google reacted quickly last year since they already had a tool that used a 1st party cookie to track user behavior on your website: Google Analytics. They have also updated the tracking codes of Google Ads (formerly known as Google AdWords) to use 1st party cookies for tracking purposes.

Microsoft has updated Bing Ads’ Universal Event Tracking code with the similar goal and technology. Facebook is quite late in this game as they announced the necessary shift only couple of weeks ago. They will use 1st party cookies with newly created Facebook Pixels for sure and existing pixels will start to use this context as well after 24th October.

“The Golden Circle”: the click tracking parameter

Google, Microsoft and Facebook use now the same approach to track ad clicks: they are passing a so called click tracking parameter to the URLs of ads and on Facebook, we can see that this also applies to simple Facebook Page posts without any active paid activity. Let’s say you have this landing page URL:

https://gtm4wp.com/

Adding this as an ad URL in Facebook Ads, the actual URL that the user will land on will be this:

https://gtm4wp.com/?fbclid=somerandom1234

The same will happen with Google Ads (using the gclid parameter) and with Bing Ads (using the msclid parameter)

This click ID will be a unique ID for your ad click for a particular user and will be regenerated on each time the user sees your ad and clicks on it. Using a Facebook Pixel on your website, this ensures that the 1st party cookie that Facebook Pixel is using from now can connect the user interaction (a conversion event for example) to the right ad click. Without 3rd party cookies, this might be the only technique to keep tracking of your users on your own website.

“The Blacklist”: new cookies used by the Facebook Pixel

Reading this brief history and also the way those companies deal with the issue can make you believe that you are done and you might only need to use a simple switch to get ready. But the bad news is that this is not the case and you have some items on your TODO list that you might not see yet.

First of all: especially in the age of GDPR you might have a page or popup window where you list all the cookies your website is using and a short description about them. Have you updated this with the new cookies of the updated Facebook pixel?

If not, you should as there are 2 new cookie names that should be definitely included on that cookie policy page:

  1. _fbp: this cookie will hold the unique ID of the user, similar to how the _ga cookie is working with Google Analytics
  2. _fbc: this cookie will be only set if the user has landed on your page with a fbclid URL parameter and you guessed it: it will contain this click ID to be used to track back Facebook Pixel events to the Facebook click

“Saving Private” Google Analytics: Update your view settings

Ok, that part might sound weird: why should you change anything within Google Analytics just because the Facebook Pixel has changed how it is working?

The answer is however simple: the new click tracking URL parameter could ruin your Site Content report! Google Analytics reports each page path it sees on your site as a different report line in the Site Content report. A new line is being created in this report even if one character in the page path changes. And this change can also happen after the ? character which is usually followed by the so called query string. The query string is mainly used to give the page some parameters to properly render: for example the order of items shown on a list page. Query parameters are also being used by tracking technologies: this is where your campaign tracking parameters show up if you are using Google Analytics and this is where Facebook is adding the click tracking parameter fbclid now.

With that, each ad click on the same landing page could result in a different line in your Site Content and Landing Pages reports.

Facebook Pixel: fbclid parameter in Google Analytics reports

But there is a very easy to setup option in Google Analytics which can prevent this fragmentation: the “Exclude URL Query Parameters” option on the “View settings” page. Just go to the admin area of Google Analytics by clicking on the gear icon in the left bottom corner of the UI and then click on the View settings menu in the view column:

Google Analytics: VIew Settings

Scroll down a bit to see the “Exclude URL Query Parameters” section of the page: here you can enter a comma separated list of URL parameters that you want to exclude from your content reports and tell Google Analytics not to see and process those parameters. Here you can enter fbclid and if you are also using Bing Ads, you might also want to enter msclid as well. Luckily you do not need to bother with gclid and utm_* parameters as they are automatically excluded from content reports.

Google Analytics: Exclude URL Query Parameters

Remember to set this option in each of your views!

“The End”

Now you are much better prepared to use the updated Facebook Pixel from the legal perspective as well as with a proper measurement setup.