If you’re in the performance marketing industry, chances are that you’ve had your Facebook ad account disabled more than once. As the digital marketing world evolved, so did the online scams, regulations and, marketing methods.
The recent crackdown and lawsuit against companies using link cloaking to circumvent Facebook advertising policies is the last episode of the cats’ and dogs’ war that has been going on since the Facebook Ad platform was first launched.
In this post, I will try to explain what is behind some of the account bans you’ve suffered, what the Facebook Ad review process really is, and how you can avoid having your facebook ad account disabled.
Trying to circumvent the Facebook Ad review system
You tried to circumvent the Facebook automated ad review systems, in any shape or form. In 99.9% of the cases, there is no way to overturn this decision.
The consequences of this sanction, is that everything connected to the business account gets affected (or shall I say infected?). Whether it’s the payment method, the pages, the ad account and the pixel data. If you’ve run a few campaigns, it might mean nothing besides the logistics.
However, for some marketers we are talking about huge amount of audience data, built over years and massive investments.
If you are an agency, the implications can be devastating if not fatal.
The most frustrating aspect of this ban, is that sometimes, you don’t even know that you’ve done something wrong or what exactly led to the account ban.
You wake up one day with a notice on your facebook ad account.
I recently posted a poll on the Facebook Ad Buyers Group asking this simple question:
How many people got their Facebook Ad account banned, and don’t know what is the reason behind the ban?
To my big surprise about 80% don’t know why!
What could be the hidden reasons behind your “non-attempt” to circumvent the Facebook Ad review system?
- Direct affiliate link
When you post an offer link directly on your ads. This is a no go! Not only you have no control as to where the traffic is going, but Facebook will simply not let you run these ads. Too many attempts to advertise direct links will get your facebook ad account disabled.
- Direct linking campaign
You use a campaign tracking software that provides a redirect campaign URL. Regardless of whether the campaign goes to your landing page or to an affiliate link, the ads will be disapproved. Too many attempts will result in your account being disabled.
- Your Facebook Pixel has been set on the Offer Thank You Page
Some affiliate networks, have been kind enough to accommodate your request to add your Facebook Pixel on the offer thank you page. Since you are a great social media marketer, you will certainly bring tons of conversions. The problem, is that other marketers have their pixel on the same thank you page, and you don’t know whether they are playing any dirty games with Facebook. If one gets banned, it’s the domino effect, which will impact you and probably others in the same “bucket”.
- Your Landing page outbound links are “smart” redirects
This is more subtle, as your campaign URL is your website landing page, but the outbound links (call to action URLs), are smart links pointing to various offer links based on GEO, Device or other criterion. Whether you control the redirect or not, Facebook might see these links as cloaked links, which try to circumvent the system.
This last case has some nuances that are worth looking at because they tend to be confusing, and can often lead to disaster.
Tracker’s call to action URLs
If you’re using a traditional tracker, you are probably familiar with the “call to action” URLs or otherwise called Click URL. These URLs have in common that unless you catch the campaign’s tracker cookie first, they will trigger a blank / 404 page.
While this method can prove to be very efficient when running pop up campaigns at scale, it has its downsides, especially when trying to run on Facebook Ads or running affiliate campaigns on Google Ads.
Why your tracker’s Click URL might be a “deal-breaker”?
It’s fair to assume that the automated ad review system, runs multiple tests on your ads before (dis)approving them. These diagnostics might include going through your ads from various locations, devices, connections and browsers.
Needless to say that as soon as the final URL points to a different landing page from a different location, your ad will be disapproved.
Then, the “bots” simulate different browser configurations. And this is where things start to get complicated.
What happens next is that this error will get logged in Facebook database, your ad will first be disapproved, and eventually your facebook ad account disabled.
Now, if you ask me, there is nothing wrong with these CTAs URL. They are part of your marketing stack and you’re probably not trying to do anything misleading. Except that Facebook sees them from a different eye especially when the same types of links show up regularly and across many accounts.
Tracker’s footprints and patterns.
As I mentioned earlier, errors are logged into databases. They are cross-referenced, mined and processed by machine learning engines.
Then, patterns are discovered, tested and back-tested against millions of ad accounts in order to find positive and “false-positive” cases.
Finally, they are factored into the automated ad review process so that your ads are approved in seconds rather than hours.
And surprisingly, one day you wake up and your ad account has been disabled. You check the various Facebook Groups and you realize that You are not alone.
Why is the ad review process so important?
To understand the big picture of the ad review process, one simply needs to follow the money.
First of all, Facebook being Facebook, they are accountable for what is advertised on their network. We all know too well the kind of impact rogue advertisers can have on the world’s order, don’t we?
Then, considering the magnitude of the fines they get each time something goes sideways, they need to protect themselves and their shareholders.
Last but not least, is the fact that every second in the review process counts.
According to Statista, in 2019 Facebook ad revenues reached north of USD69 Billion.
Let’s do some maths…
When you look at the problem from this rather simplistic perspective, you realise that every little annoyance in the process has to vanish.
But let’s look now at some of the patterns Facebook might see as annoying.
What does Facebook sees as an annoying pattern?
The Facebook team did not wake up one day and decided to sue a cloaking service provider out of the blue. While I am not familiar with the service itself, after reading the Facebook press release, suing them was a no brainer, and one can only ask himself:
Why did they wait so long?
They first noticed some advertisers high spent, all having the same technology footprints, the same type of hosting, landing pages stacks, link patterns, etc…
Then they dug deeper to find out what was really going on and the rest is history.
Some of the known patterns:
- Link URL structure
- Domain Whois privacy protection
- Recent Facebook profile accounts with high spent
- Advertiser behavior – sign-in locations, browsers, payment methods
- Marketing stacks such as tracking software, analytics
- Not using the Facebook Pixel or firing it through iframes or piggyback
And this is probably just the tip of the iceberg, as Facebook being Facebook and knowing that it’s all about Data, they probably have a tons of other metrics and data-points.
Is your tracking subdomain giving you up?
One of the classic assumptions is thinking that having your domain hiding your tracker will somehow make you anonymous. You are even willing to pay a premium fee for that. While it’s true that a tracking link being on the same domain as your site looks sexy for John Doe, Facebook will easily find the trail leading to the real server – even behind Amazon Web Services load balancers.
So while you are happily paying for a “premium feature” that allows you to have your own tracking domain, you are in fact sending the bad signals to the automatic ad review process. The first one is obvious, as it indicates that your Click URL is a redirect. But the less obvious is that because your subdomain is a CNAME pointing to a domain shared by hundreds of other marketers, and using the same Click URL patterns, you either join a segment that might raise suspicion or you quickly make it to the top of the S… list.
Naturally, that alone is not a sign that you are doing anything wrong. But if too many “lookalike” advertisers are caught circumventing the ad review process, “using” the same server your subdomain points to, you will be an unfortunate collateral damage.
On the other hand, if your site carries a standard analytics tracking code, like Mixpanel, Google Analytics or Adobe Analytics, you will fly under the radar and you’re pretty sure that they will not count toward your “risk” assessment.
What would you do if you were given the task to protect the ad review process? Would you try to learn the industry that is seen as constantly trying to circumvent the ad review process?
Being located in Israel, we have the chance to know and work with some of the world’s best cyber security experts. They are are the good hackers that build systems that defend enterprises and/or personal computers against the bad hackers.
Do you think they’d be experts if they didn’t know how the bad hackers were operating? Probably not.
That’s probably how the guys at Facebook, Google and other ad networks operate. They 🕵️♂️ the enemy, so they can better 🤼 it!
They probably send “undercover” employees to sign up for affiliate programs, industry forums, befriend with influencers… Yeah, exactly like in the spy movies.
I would read Bloomberg and pay attention at what marketers say, what they do and how they do it, especially when it directly involves Facebook Ads.
“…and ban accounts that broke the rules. But affiliates evaded them using a subterfuge they call “cloaking.” It was easy, especially if you were running …”Zeke Faux for Bloomberg (March 27, 2018)
Understand: Running the ad review process is like running a counterintelligence service. You plant spies, analyze content, behavior, collect and correlate data, until you can make an informed decisions.
Unfortunately, like in every good spy novel, there are always collateral damages where good guys like you are often caught in the crossfire.
How to avoid having your Facebook ad account disabled?
While the same rules apply to all Facebook advertisers, Affiliate Marketers need to be extra careful. One particular reason for that: as an affiliate marketer you only control one part of the funnel.
Facebook Ads policies
It goes without saying that you must follow the Facebook Ads Policies.
Affiliate Networks and Offers
Promote offers from premium affiliate networks like CJ, Impact, Rakuten or TradeDoubler. Not only, you are almost guaranteed to promote legit offers, but because these affiliate networks enforce strict terms on what you can or can’t do, you minimize your chances to be caught in a crossfire.
Another important consideration with premium affiliate networks is the fact that they do not use smart redirects. Since they promote premium brands and retailers, they are not allowed to redirect a visitor that clicked on an American Express offer, to a Capital One offer, just because the GEO target didn’t match the original offer service area.
If you’re wondering why, it’s a blatant trademark infringement, and it can be seen as misleading advertising.
Protect your Facebook Business account
Your Facebook Business account is an asset that will grow in all directions as long as you protect it. In fact, when you start buying ads on Facebook, your data becomes an asset which you can leverage indefinitely across your campaigns. So protect your Facebook Business account, by not sharing it with partners who might harm it. Don’t share assets across business accounts that could negatively affect each others.
Avoid Smart Links
Do not use any types of smart links on your landing pages. As explained earlier, as soon as the redirect doesn’t behave consistently it will be flagged as a link cloaker.
Blocked countries: even if the offer is not available in specific GEOS, the link must redirect to the same URL.
This is something that might not sound very “smart” but in this particular case, being right is better than being smart.One way to do this, is by using deep links, so you can define where the link is actually pointing.
Safeguard Your Facebook Pixel
Don’t place your pixel where others marketers have theirs. Even if the merchant uses Google Tag Manager to load your pixel specifically for you, the fact that the triggering page is the same can tie your pixel and account with the wrong guys.
Since the Facebook Pixel holds your data, consider it as an asset which value grows over time. And once it gets suspended, all the data that you gathered gets losts.
Wrap up, best practices and solutions.
When you are notified that your facebook ad account is disabled, you are generally given a very blended reason. Considering that they see you as a “fraudster”, they probably prefer to keep their trade secrets for themselves, rather than disclosing the inner details of their ad review process.
So besides the written rules to which you must comply, there are subtleties that only experience will reveal.
Generally speaking, making optimal and proper usage of Facebook Business tools, will help you make the most out of your Facebook campaigns. Not only, you will benefit from the extensive set of optimization engines Facebook provides, but you will also signal to Facebook that you embrace their system.
Another consideration is that the Facebook automated review system is probably also uses these tools to gauge your account risk level.
For example, if you use the 2 Factor Authentication to secure your account, it’s unlikely that you’ll trigger any alerts when logging into your business account from a remote beach in Mexico.
Big issue is that I traveled to Mexico and the international IP address triggers our FB business manager account to get disabled.Kyle A.
Also, if you use the Facebook pixel across your site and make appropriate usage of your conversions to optimize your campaigns, the Facebook Ads system will use this data to rank your ads account accordingly.
Can AnyTrack help you prevent your Facebook ad account from being disabled?
While AnyTrack alone can’t help you avoid the next account ban, it comes with features that are designed to work with Facebook. These features indicate to Facebook that you’re not hiding anything behind link cloakers. The AnyTrack platform has been built from the ground up to enable performance marketers to access the very same tools top advertisers have access to when advertising on Facebook.
Key features for affiliate marketing on Facebook
The Facebook Pixel Server Side API
Since the Facebook Pixel is the ultimate measurement tool for tracking campaigns and building audiences, we’ve integrated both, the Facebook pixel, and the Server-Side API (Facebook doesn’t have a Postback URL.)
This way, you are not only accurately tracking all your conversions back to Facebook, but you are also sending a clear signal to Facebook that you are trying to make the most out of the tools they provide.
Because redirects are to be avoided at all costs, AnyTrack tracking method is 100% redirect-less.
Working with a redirect-less tracking software has a lot of positive implications in your marketing flows:
- The Final URL you set in your Ad is your landing page URL
- The offer links placed on landing page are the links provided by your affiliate programs
- You don’t need to configure offers and offer links in AnyTrack.io
- You can promote 1 or 10000 offers on your site, and they will all be tracked.
As soon as you add the AnyTrack TAG on your site, it will AutoTrack the outbound clicks events to your Facebook Pixel (and Google Analytics).
AnyTrack will AutoTag links with subid (click_id) parameters needed to further track conversions from affiliate networks.
Facebook is considered to be one of the best traffic sources for performance marketing. They have taken the digital advertising model forward, through innovation, data-mining and an extraordinary advertising and targeting model.
All these technologies and methods are available so you can advertise to nearly 2.5 Billion users, selecting, tailoring and refining your targeting. Facebook is all about data. Data is the foundation of Facebook. Data is what fuels Facebook growth.
Whether it’s consumer data, user data or advertiser data… All this data is collected, processed, compiled, and analyzed in order to provide a safe environment for the consumers, and a way for advertisers to bring consumers to their business.
Yet, the data is also what will get your account banned if you don’t play by the rules or use the wrong tools to run your campaigns.
Disclosure & Disclaimer: The points that I raised in this post are my own opinion. They are based on conversations with marketers, many years in the advertising industry, stories from customers, partners, colleagues, and my passion for spy novels.
The assumptions made as to how Facebook runs its ad review process, and how they allegedly “spy” on the affiliate marketing industry to protect the ad review process, are the result of my imagination. I have no proof, nor did I receive any insider information or confirmation, from Facebook current, former employees or contractors. You can read more about how Facebook deals with political and cyber threats here.
The recommendations that I’ve put forward are not a guarantee that your ad accounts will not be disabled now or in the future.
Lastly, I am fairly sure that others have also some ideas and conclusions of their own. You’re welcome to join the discussion below and add your advice.