If you’ve run ads with Meta Ads Manager, no doubt you’ve seen the “results” column in the reporting data. In many cases, it’s the most important one to watch for gauging success. It relates to the deepest, most fundamental engine of the advertising system – traditionally called “optimization,” but now labeled “performance goal” in Meta Ads Manager. Learning about the performance goal-“results” relationship is the most important lesson there is about using Meta Ads Manager.

Playing fetch

Have you ever played fetch with a dog? You grab a stick or something, say “fetch,” and then throw it for your dog to find and retrieve. That’s a good example for how the Meta Ads system is built to work. You tell it what you want; then its job is to try to get it. What it will fetch depends on your instructions. There is a list of performance goal options Meta offers by default that require no additional setup or tracking configurations. These actions are ones that the Meta system can count on its own, such as views of ads (aka impressions), link clicks on ads, video views on ads, purchases in Meta-hosted Shops, and taps on an ad’s call button. Then, there are other performance goal options that require the implementation of tracking technologies, such as the Meta pixel code, the conversions API, and event code snippets in places of significance (such as web pages that indicate conversion actions). Some examples of these performance goal options include landing page views, website purchases, website content views, subscriptions (like email newsletters), or website lead form submissions.

Standard events: The essential categorization

When key events occur as a result of Meta ad views, the events must be categorized to define their significance. For categorization, Meta offers a menu of common advertising goals that it calls “standard events.” Standard events categories include: purchase, lead, add to cart, contact, donate, subscribe, initiate checkout, start trial – among others. Standard events are an essential component of the “fetch” system because they relate to consumer behavior. For example, one daily user of Instagram might like to buy jewelry based on the ads they see, while another daily user might never make online purchases but sign up for email newsletters often. Standard event actions inform the system about who likes to do what and when. Perhaps a particular Facebook user likes to purchase golf gadgets, apparel, and accessories every Sunday. Now, here’s the real kicker: When it comes to standard events, Meta doesn’t just employ your own ad campaign data to learn consumer behavior; it employs all campaign data from all campaigns ever run in its history! That is a lot of data, and it all goes to work for you when you give the “fetch” command.

Custom events

Custom events are events that don’t fit into any of the standard event categorizations but can still be tracked. There’s no limit to what actions could be added as custom events if they align with these principles:

  • The actions being tracked should have value for guiding advertising improvements and decision-making.
  • There must be a way to track them based on technological (or some non-technological) means.

Here are some examples of actions that can be tracked with custom events.

  • Time one page – You can set a specific time threshold for web page viewing, such as views of at least one minute of a particular web page. This can be an indicator of true interest on the part of the viewer.
  • Page scroll depth – You can set a percentage of scroll depth threshold to be tracked as a custom event, such as when a visitor scrolled 90% of a page. This also can be an indicator of true interest on the part of the viewer.
  • Podcast play
  • Internal link clicks
  • Video view

Note: Google offers a free tool called Google Tag Manager that makes all the above custom events possible through built-in tracking “triggers.” These triggers offer the necessary technology to detect when these actions occur. When they do, a tracking code can get sent to the Meta Ads system to inform it that a custom event took place.

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Campaign objectives (are another story)

When you start to create a campaign in Meta Ads Manager, the first thing you need to decide is which campaign objective to choose. The choices are leads, sales, awareness, engagement, traffic, and app promotion. Don’t confuse this selection with the performance goal option. The campaign objective is not at all the same thing. The objective is a general theme of the campaign. Your selection for the objective will determine what options and settings will be available as you continue creating the campaign, including which performance goal options you’ll have. The performance goal, which is the specific “result,” is chosen at the ad set level.

Think of the campaign objective as you would a section of a restaurant menu; You decide to get something from the Pastas section, the seafood section, or the burgers section, but later decide which specific item.

Performance goal-“result” options

The “results” column metric will reflect the number of successes based on your performance goal. For example, if your performance goal is calls, the results column will give the number of calls that were received in the time frame being examined. If your performance goal is reach, the results column will display the number of people reached in the time frame being examined, etc.

Another important column that usually goes next to the “results” column is the “cost per result” column. This column is an after-the-fact equation that’s calculated based on the number of results and the total cost of the ads. For example, if $100 in ad spending led to 10 calls (performance goal = calls), the cost per result would display as $10. (Remember, though, you are not actually charged by result; you are normally charged by impression – whether results occur or not.)

Here are some performance goal options that might be available depending on your choice of campaign objective and conversion location.

Maximize reach of ads — Ad will be served to the maximum number of people.

Maximize number of impressions — Ad will be delivered to people as many times as possible.

Maximize ad recall rift — Ad will be served to maximize the total number of people who will remember seeing your ads.

Maximize ThruPlays — Ad will be delivered to get the most video plays of 15 seconds or longer (or complete view if the video is less than 15 seconds in length).

Maximize 2-second continuous video views — Ad will be delivered to get the most views of 2 continuous seconds or more.

Maximize number of landing page views — Ads will be delivered to people most likely to click the ad’s link and load the website or Instant Experience.

Maximize number of link clicks — Ads will be delivered to people most likely to click on them.

Maximize daily unique reach — Ads will be delivered to people up to once a day.

Maximize number of page likes – Ads will be delivered to the right people to help you get more Page likes at the lowest cost.

Calls — Ads will be delivered to get the most calls possible.

Maximize number of conversions – Ads will be delivered to those most likely to take the defined conversion action. (Options include: Purchase, Add to cart, Initiate checkout, Start trial, Donate, Add to wishlist, Add payment info, and others.)

Maximize number of conversations – Ads will be delivered to those most likely to respond through Messenger, WhatsApp, or Instagram

Maximize number of leads – Ads will be delivered to those most likely to become a lead.

Maximize number of app events — Ads will be delivered to people most likely to take a specific action at least once.

Maximize number of app installs — Ads will be delivered to people most likely to install your app.

Performance goal tracking – overview

For the performance goal options to be useful, there must be a way to track when they occur. Some of them are trackable without any additional setup by the advertiser because the events occur through Meta technologies. For example, things like link clicks on ads, taps on phone call buttons, page likes, ad impressions, and Messenger conversations (among others) all happen directly on Meta technologies, so there is built-in tracking for those actions. Other events happen outside of Meta technologies and require the use of the Meta pixel and/ or the conversions API. Their job is to detect actions on websites or in mobile apps and then report that data to the Meta Ads system.

For events that happen outside of Meta technologies, there is a special interface for event management and monitoring. It’s called Meta Events Manager. Through Meta Events Manager, you can:

  • Install tracking mechanisms to a website or mobile app (such as the Meta Pixel and conversion API)
  • Configure particular actions to be counted as events, including applying the relevant category
  • Test the events to see if they are tracking properly
  • See data over the previous 28 days about events that have been occurring

When it comes to tracking through Meta Events Manager, there are three approaches to event tracking. (This gets confusing, but it helps to put them in context for why they exist.)

Standard events – As I mentioned above, these are events that are categories of actions that are commonly useful for advertisers.

Custom events – These are events that advertisers might find useful but fall outside of the categories of actions offered by standard events.

Custom conversions — Custom conversions are like a quirky cousin to standard events and custom events. They offer a different technological approach to tracking and thereby have some superpowers that standard events and custom events don’t have. There is an overlap of what they can do; for example, a page view conversion action could be tracked with any of these three event tracking approaches. But here are some capabilities that only custom conversions offer:

  • Custom conversion events can be set based on URL rules (not coding).
  • Custom conversion events can be set based on specified/ filtered occurrences of other events.
  • Custom conversions can be shared through the business manager structure.

A key difference between custom conversions and standard or custom events is related to aggregation. For example, the standard event “Leads” will count the number of leads brought in by a campaign, ad set, or ad. But what if there are three types of leads that your website brings in? The Leads standard event won’t distinguish the types; It will only count the total. In this case, you might want to create custom conversions that distinguish the types. To do this, you would base the custom conversions on the Lead event but specify that the confirmation page URL has a particular word or phrase in it (assuming each type of lead has its own confirmation page URL).

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Performance goal – triple duty

The performance goal-“results” relationship is the power engine of the ads system, and it serves more than one function. It actually serves three, each of which can be critical to finding success with ads. They are:

  • Tracking – For seeing the results of ad spending in the past (how many leads, purchases, link clicks, etc.)
  • Optimization – The performance goal, fetch function that can seek more “results” in the future.
  • Custom audience building – Custom audiences can be built based on many of the performance goal events (such as lead forms, website purchases, video views, and more). Advertising to custom audiences is commonly referred to as “remarketing.”

Learn more about Meta Ads remarketing

Column presets

You can customize the columns when looking at results data in Meta Ads Manager. You can choose only the ones you want to see and then save that arrangement as a custom preset to be seen again. Also, there are several pre-built presets you can choose from based on themes, such as: Sales, Engagement, Delivery, Video engagement, Traffic, and others. But the default column preset is called Performance, and it offers the “results” column as the first metric. That is fitting since the performance goal-“results” system is at the core of the ads system.

In Closing

I have been running ad campaigns through Meta Ads Manager for over a decade now, and (admittedly) I did not fully understand how the performance goal (aka optimization choice) and the “results” metric were the core engine of the system for way too long. I hope this article made it clear to you and that it will benefit you in your current campaigns and campaigns to come.