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Facebook Cracks Down on 'Fat-Finger' Accidental Ad Clicks

By Published on .

If a person bounces back from an ad in less than two seconds, Facebook won't charge for the click.
If a person bounces back from an ad in less than two seconds, Facebook won't charge for the click. Credit: istock
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Facebook wants to fix the pile-up of "fat fingers" and hair-trigger mobile ads that lead to unintended clicks.

The company has decided to stop charging advertisers in its Facebook Audience Network if a person clicks on a mobile ad but backtracks within two seconds. That's a telltale sign of an accidental click, according to Brett Vogel, Facebook's product marketing manager.

It is also setting new requirements on ad formats in the audience network so they are less quick to register a click and send people to a new page.

Facebook Audience Network, or FAN, is an ad network used by apps, games and publishers to serve ads like the ones served on the social network. Facebook sells the inventory to its customers but lets them reach beyond its own properties.

The changes affect only FAN and not Facebook's own mobile properties, which don't run the kind of ad units that most exacerbate the problem. Some publishers make it too easy to click on ads, likely hoping to boost their fortunes on pay-per-click buys. It's particular easy to mistakenly hit an ad, for example, when a game that requires tapping the screen a lot suddenly serves a pop-up.

"It may be short-term profitable for publishers," Vogel said, referring to cashing in on inadvertent ad clicks. "But it doesn't add any value for people or advertisers. And it's not in the long-term interest of publishers looking to sustain a profitable business."

Facebook on Tuesday announced the updates along with changes to the ways it reports metrics to advertisers. It will now offer a "gross impression" stat to advertisers, showing them how many total views an ad received, including impressions that don't show up on their bills such as those caused by bots.

The company has been making an effort to improve its transparency with advertisers ever since a measurement failure last year gave brands with bad data about performance on the social network.

Fat thumbs and accidental clicks are a problem as old as mobile, and so long as there are advertisers that cut corners and publishers with bad ad formats, people will frustratingly hit an unwanted ad.

"Invalid clicks are a pervasive issue, particularly on mobile devices," said Jalal Nasir, CEO of Pixalate, a digital ad measurement company. "Many marketers still optimize toward clicks, and some sellers are taking advantage of this by optimizing their placements and code to generate more invalid clicks and reap the benefits. The ability to identify and eliminate invalid clicks should be on everyone's checklist."

In apps, display ads have a 5.8% accidental click rate, according to Pixalate data from July. Facebook's ad network is primarily used inside mobile apps.

"Optimizing" away from click-based campaigns could be the key to solving fat thumbs. More sophisticated advertisers are starting to demand outcomes from ad campaigns and not just clicks. There is a certain breed of ad buyer that is more concerned with racking up clicks at a low cost per-click, even if that costs the brands that employ them in the long run.

"We're trying to get clients out of those wrong metrics," said Floriana Nicastro, mobile product solutions manager at MediaMath, an ad tech platform. "All some advertisers want is a low CPC and they aren't checking what happens after the click."

MediaMath, Facebook and others are trying to move the advertisers to care about sales downloads, store traffic and not just these clicks.

At this point, talking about clicks and fat thumbs could just be a distraction in the face of more pressing metrics issues for Facebook, according to Jason Kint, CEO of Digital Content Next, a publisher industry group that often finds itself on the other side of issues with the social network.

"Brands are focused on a more mature advertising ecosystem to help build desire and demand yet this is optimization of lousy direct response metrics," Kint said by e-mail. "The entire discussion is akin to your mail carrier preventing your junk mail from getting wet."