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The ‘Meta halo effect’: The secret weapon of search tracking

By Jane Wareing, Social Team Manager

Space & Time


Opinion article

January 15, 2024 | 7 min read

Space & Time’s Jane Wareing examines a ‘halo effect’ from Meta ads – and outlines how to optimize your advertising strategy to make the most of it.

A blurry, colorized image of a person with a bright halo

Space & Time on Meta ads' halo effect / Ramez E. Nassif via Unsplash

In digital advertising, understanding the true impact of your campaigns is crucial.

While Meta ads don’t always see the highest last-click return on Google Analytics, they can be highly effective at driving consumer discovery. That’s a significant halo effect. And through search tracking via custom conversions, we can begin to shed light on how it works.

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Meta and search tracking 101

Meta’s custom conversion feature means that you can create metrics in the platform, allowing you to track the number of people who have landed on your website via a search engine, after seeing (or clicking on) a Meta ad.

This this works by setting up conversions using Meta’s ‘referring domain’ and ‘URL contains’ parameters and inputting filters to ensure you only pick up website visitors who came through search domains. Depending on how your paid search URL tracking is set up, you can split this simply into ‘paid’ and ‘organic’, or you can dig deeper and split them by campaign types – for example, ‘brand’, ‘non-brand’, and ‘performance max’.

This further split allows you to see the effect of your ads on these different campaign types. For example, in a brand awareness campaign, you may further prove the effectiveness of your advertising through A/B testing and comparing branded search conversions alongside typical brand awareness metrics.

Setting your objectives

Tracking Meta’s halo effect can benefit various types of campaign, targeting different stages of the conversion funnel. This is especially valuable for products or services with longer purchase cycles, as it can illustrate the more immediate impact of your Meta ads and the role they play in driving last-click conversions from other channels.

Either way, there are three key reasons to set up search tracking for your Meta activity, regardless of your product or service.

First, it helps you to understand the true value of Meta ads. By tracking how these ads influence your website traffic, you can measure their effectiveness and make data-driven decisions to test or amend audiences or creative.

Second, you can use it to drive consumers earlier in their purchase journey. Meta ads can act as a catalyst for potential customers to start searching for specific keywords, especially branded keywords. Understanding this can help you create more engaging and educational content to guide them through the conversion funnel.

Third, it opens up the opportunity for highly engaged retargeting audiences. By knowing which users arrived at your website through search engines, you can create retargeting campaigns that specifically target them, increasing the chances of conversion.

Does it work?

We’ve tested this with clients. With one, for example, we gained increased insights into the discovery our Meta ads were driving, including over 86,000 landing page views after searching on Google or Bing during the first month of recording this data.

We also set up a retargeting audience based on those who had landed on a client’s website after searching on Google. Testing this against our original dynamic retargeting campaign, the retargeting campaign delivered a 4.3x higher return on ad spend and 71% lower cost per purchase, as well as a 39% higher click-through rate when looking at Meta attribution data.

When diving into Google Analytics last-click attribution data, we saw even more favorable results, with an 18x higher purchase rate and 4.96x higher return on ad spend for the search retargeting audience compared to the original dynamic retargeting audience. This shows the value of specifically targeting this highly engaged audience, and Meta’s value as a final driver to purchase for this group.

Using search tracking to understand Meta’s halo effect allows you to make informed decisions to optimize your advertising strategy based on key results, as well as offering new retargeting audience opportunities. While customer journeys are available to view in GA4, concrete results within the Meta platform showing the effect of its advertising on other channels can go a long way in proving that Meta ads have a more significant role in driving discovery and conversions than traditional last-click attribution might suggest.

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