How Facebook is Stealing Millions From Advertisers

Facebook earned a whopping $2.59 billion in Q4 of 2013.  It did this with 1.23 billion users a month, and with revenues split roughly evenly between mobile and desktop.

Facebook is a company (obviously) driven by ads – it’s their main way to make money.  So of course it’s in their best interest to maximize the amount of money marketers have to pay to reach their target audience.

And unfortunately that’s where the dirty little secret comes in…

Buying Fake Likes and Shares

I’d imagine that everyone reading here realizes that it’s very, very easy to buy Facebook likes and followers.  You can see people offering various packages of FB marketing packages at sites like Fiverr or SEOClerks.   I suspect that way less than half the people who buy those packages realize that all of those 5,000 likes for $5 they just bought are from bots and not real people.

I suppose at the end of the day it doesn’t matter too much if those are real or fake, right?  Sure, it inflates their like numbers and makes them look more popular.  But what does it say when a site has 10,000 followers but zero likes or comments?  Something wouldn’t sit right with visitors (or at least the ones that pay attention).



Buying Facebook Ads

So what’s the right way to do it?  Of course Facebook says that it’s to buy ads!  They let you do it based upon impressions or on an action (a like), and most importantly they give you a crazy amount of options to select from to target your audience exactly.  For example, I can target my ads towards females aged 25-30 living in Phoenix, Arizona and like cats.

How amazing is that?  Assuming I can craft a good sales message, my sales should be off the charts for anything and everything I want to promote, right?  After all, it is a completely laser targeted audience.

Over the past year there has been a crazy amount of products released selling the secret recipe for riches using Facebook.  Even that great marketer Ryan Deiss has released a couple of products promoting easy profits using Facebook ads.

After all, if I can buy likes for .01 (or less!), it’s crazy easy to build a list to start marketing to.

  1. Pick niche
  2. Launch FB ad for .01 likes (following basic steps)
  3. ???  [add to mailing list, sell teespring shirts, insert favorite marketing gimmick]
  4. Profit

Of course I try to stay current with trends and proceeded to make 6 Facebook groups that now have between 10,000 and 80,000 fans.  The groups ranged from dieting to TV shows to political figures, just to get a good feel for the various markets, and I was able to get the likes for very cheap.  (And in targeting people to market to to obtain Likes, I was very targeted in my ads)



But when it came time to monitize, the profits just weren’t there.

In digging into the issue, I quickly came to realize that user engagement was quite low.  This means that if I’m making a post to my George Bush page with 80,000 fans, very few people see it and even fewer like/comment on it.

You see, Facebook doesn’t show your posts to everyone, even if they like your page.  Many people don’t realize that fact, and, in my opinion, it’s a bad user experience.  Facebook initially drips out your post to a handful of people and based on their engagement levels, decides whether to show it to others.  And, over time, if your engagement level is low, even fewer people will see it.  Talk about a crazy death spiral!

Many groups attempt to get around this by posting silly like/share photos or asking people if they like Coke or Pepsi better.  Sure, they’re inane posts, but it drives up engagement (which leads to more people seeing posts and ultimately leads to more monitization for the page owner).


big-bang-stupid-screenshot big-bang-normal-post

Notice how the dumb post gets way higher engagement than the typical light hearted post?  Seems like Facebook is really encouraging high quality content by leveraging engagement so heavily, isn’t it?

Now back to my example pages that I grew via Facebook ads.  My engagement was quite low compared to the organically grown groups, even when making silly posts meant to boost engagement.  So I took a step further and found that a very large number of the likes on my ad-grown pages were from obvious spam accounts that had very few posts and liked TONS of other pages.

And even though I targeted my ads to a US demographic (as seen above), the most popular city is Bangalore, India.  Odd, isn’t it?



What’s Actually Happening

I believe Facebook is totally and completely overrun with bots.  These bots will click like on dozens/hundreds/thousands of pages, all in an effort to camoflauge the activity of the people buying through marketplaces like Fiverr.

What leads me to that conclusion?

  • A majority of the paid FB ad likes are from low activity users with thousands of other likes
  • The engagement is very low across the board from very precisely targeted visitors

Check out this video someone posted detailing exactly the same issue:

How Can Facebook Fix This?

Interestingly, I don’t think Facebook will ever fix it because it’s just not in their interest financially.

Think about it…  I want to build a group and I try the organic approach, finding that not only is “going viral” like trying to catch smoke, but it’s too slow.  So I pay Facebook for ads for likes on my page.  The default settings of ad campaigns will end up costing you 10x more than if you use tactics for “penny likes”, so I end up paying Facebook more for ads than if I researched things heavily.  Now I have tens of thousands of likes and am happy.  But when I post, I find that my reach is relatively tiny.  What do I do? Pay Facebook to boost my posts so more people see them.

There is zero incentive for Facebook to fix the fraudulent like issue.  The only thing they need to do is pay lip service to keeping out the spammers so that businesses still trust that Facebook is operating in good faith.  So every now and then Facebook makes a big show about cleaning things up while the issue still goes on every day.

For Advertisers, We Have a Solution

Believe it or not, as advertisers we can get around this problem while working within the tools that Facebook gives us.  It’s a bit more involved than the normal 30 seconds it takes to create an ad, but it will generate amazingly better results for your campaign.

The solution, in three easy steps:

  1. Find pages that match your target demo
  2. Find people who are already engaged with that page
  3. Extract that user list and build a custom campaign targeted JUST to those users.  It’s a bit involved the first time, but you can find some good instructions on Facebook.

Pretty simple, yet amazingly effective.  As in night and day better results.

And what type of site would we be if we didn’t actually give you a way to automate the process?!

We originally had our own tool to do this, but it was a bit clunky (and of course not our core business).  But we’ve found a tool that does this so much better.  It’s got an amazing amount of flexibility – you’re going to love it!

Please, don’t waste any more money on boosted posts or buying likes that aren’t pointed at a specific user list.  If you have extra money to blow, just donate it to a good charity like the Human Fund!

Again, the key is to laser target custom audiences of engaging people.  Fewer bots, no wasted clicks and money.  And these guys have the solution locked up.  Go give it a shot and see your ROI skyrocket.


48 thoughts on “How Facebook is Stealing Millions From Advertisers

  1. Skip says:

    Cannot access this tool. It keeps asking me to sign in and I am already signed in. Any suggestions?

    1. Jeremy Boyd says:

      You have to log in again to the tool.

      1. Ed says:

        Same problem here, just keeps telling me wrong password although I’m already logged in?

        1. Jeremy Boyd says:

          Are you using your Username?

      2. Ed says:

        Doh! I was using email address to login. It’s working now, thanks!

  2. Jerret says:

    What do you do after you’ve compiled these targeted users? Run FB ads to them?

    1. Jeremy Boyd says:

      That is correct.

  3. S. says:

    Hello, is it possible to get you cool Engagement Tool a “mass import” for users in a campaign? At the moment, you have to click 2 times for every single person to draw them in the campaign. This would be a cool feature if you can “autoselect all” to get them in a campaign. Thank you!

    1. Brian says:

      Yeah, if it was possible to add a feature where we could bulk add or check of multiple users that would be great.

      1. Justin Anderson says:

        Hang tight on this… We’ll make an update soon, hopefully.

    2. Jeremy Boyd says:

      We added support for adding multiple users to a campaign at once. You should try it out.

  4. Brian says:

    This is a great tool. Not to be greedy but I have to ask. It doesn’t list all of the people that like a page. For instance I searched a page that has about 20, 000 + likes. But when drill down it doesn’t show all 20k. Is this a limitation to the program?

    Regardless it still shows a good amount. This is very helpful.

    1. Jeremy Boyd says:

      @Brian – It isn’t pulling the likes of the page, but the people who have engaged with the last 1000 posts on that page (liked, commented or wrote a post themselves).

      1. Brian says:

        Got it. Makes sense. Thanks

  5. Darryl says:

    Hey Justin thanks you for posting this and a another awesome resource, I’ll put this tool good use for sure!

    1. Justin Anderson says:

      Glad you like it and hopefully it’ll save you a few bucks!

  6. Midas says:

    Great tool so far but as someone else says it needs a select all function. It took us about an hour to collated 200 names for our list, which is a bit slow. Great start for the tool though! 🙂

    1. Jeremy Boyd says:

      Midas, I have gone ahead and added support for adding multiple users to a campaign at once. You should try it out.

      1. Skip says:

        What does that mean you “have added support for adding multiple users?” It seems like a great tool but a short tutorial might help us utilize it without all the trial and error. Or maybe I’m just stupid.

        1. Jeremy Boyd says:

          Adding multiple Facebook users to a campaign or “mass import” as you called it

      2. Midas says:

        That was quick work Jeremy – makes life easier!

        … perhaps a check all button at the top would be the icing on the cake?

        1. Jeremy Boyd says:

          Can’t make your life too easy, can I? 😛 Technical Warning: The problem is the fact that it is all generated dynamically trying to maintain the checkbox state from an object outside of the initial loop that generates it is incredibly difficult.

          It would also make the tool less useful, since everyone will end up just doing that and grabbing non-engaged users, and you are back at square one for trying to boost engagement.

  7. jlo says:

    I exported the list but the txt file contains just a series of random numbers instead of names. Am i missing something?

    1. Justin Anderson says:

      No, all is well. The numbers represent the individuals and is what you need to load into Facebook to target. (The link is in the article for instructions how to do that)

  8. Eric says:

    This is a great tool. Thanks for contributing

  9. Cancunense says:

    Hi Justin:

    I been reading your emails for a while, many of them with good info, I didn’t knew about this new website, so far it seems very cool :).

    About this post, well, I been reading a lot of buzz around Facebook ads, some say it is a goldmine, some other people support the idea that Facebook is bad and a waste of money, but your article makes a lot of sense, if anyone can buy a bunch of likes for 5 bucks, well, it is obvious that there are a lot of bots to supply all those likes.

    The thing is, I am trying to find a good Social Media strategy, I was about to invest a few bucks in Facebook adds, but now, I think I’ll wait until the dust settles down.

    Anyway, I think 2014 will be Google+ year; I am almost starting to like it anyway. What do you think?

    Thx again for the cool post 🙂

    1. Justin Anderson says:

      Thanks… I think it’s good for us to share insights that we may take for granted but others aren’t aware of. Facebook ads, when done properly, can work great. You just have to realize that some portion of that money is going to go to bots – and that it can kill your engagement and ultimately the effectiveness of your page.

      And I think G+ is definitely going to see an uptick, if for nothing else than the SEO benefits for those using it.

  10. Danny says:

    Jeremy, I could not leave this site (At least for a while) until I’ve said a word of thanks for the great tool. It’s fantastic, Plus, simple as the strategy to find genuine fans is, I’d never have thought of it for a million years! LOL, thanks again!

    1. Jeremy Boyd says:

      Hey Danny, Thanks for the kind words. It’s a labor of love to build these tools and utilities for everyone to get the absolute most out of their current marketing strategies. We build only the things we need, and once they are battle tested, we open them up to the public.

  11. Brian says:

    Thanks so much for adding the multiple selection feature. Where it’s a free tool that you created and added the feature at the request of the commenters and not charging for it is greatly appreciated. This is going to be a great tool to use.

    And just so others know, and many might already, but there is a tool that does this same thing but it will cost you $97 to buy it, so again the fact that you guys are giving it away for free AND added an additional feature is awesome.

    1. Jeremy Boyd says:

      We want out visitors happy with our tools, so they come back for our future tools/services.

      $97 seems a bit steep, but if you want to pay us, we’d be more than happy to take your money :).

      Building little tools is something I have always loved doing, and we are finally in a position to build and give these away on a regular basis, so keep your eyes peeled for more utilities like this!

  12. Brian says:

    Question: Not sure if anyone has any insights on this. But from experience, obviously an image has a lot to do with click through rates. But as a business is it a good idea to use the company logo as the ad image that way the people that are being targeted see the logo over and over so they become “familiar” with it?


    1. Justin Anderson says:

      Well, there are two main types of advertising: branding and or sales/product marketing. Branding campaigns would include things like just using your logo and would likely not generate great sales numbers. In fact, you often can’t tie branding campaigns directly to sales at all because the benefit of building the brand can come much later. Sales campaigns can give you a full ROI because you can tie banner/email/etc costs directly to the sales/profits.

      In general, I don’t think branding campaigns are a great idea for most small businesses. Building a brand is very expensive and not necessarily valuable, depending on the niche.

  13. Midas says:

    We’ve been reading the facebook T&C’s over this and can’t quite make out if this is a legit practise or against fbook rules – could competitor scraping get us [all] in hot water?

    1. Justin Anderson says:

      You know, I honestly don’t know. Considering building user lists is only by IDs and is used to buy ads, I don’t know that they’d object. But on the other hand they don’t like sharing IDs as well.

  14. Manuel says:

    Hey guys, thanks for this great tool. One suggestion, can you make it sortable by Comments, Likes or Post?

    1. Jeremy Boyd says:

      Hey Manuel, not using the current approach, but what we currently sort on is engagement (likes + comments + posts). We might tweak our engagement calculation in the future to put more weight on comments and posts actually which show up on the users feed and get shown to their friends encouraging more engagement and “viralness”, but we need to look into other implications of such a change.

      Thanks for the suggestion!

  15. Leonard says:

    Hey Justin and Jeremy,
    Greatly appreciate your very smart business approach of providing FREE access to this tool.
    Thats first,
    a) Second, would you say the most value and importance for the most targeted list,
    number of friends, comment, likes or posts?
    b) Correct me if I’m wrong, those that are engaged i.e. comment and post are the most targeted?
    Thanks again for your valuable input and generosity.
    BTW, I do have numerous other scrapers……

    1. Justin Anderson says:

      Hey Leonard –

      Thanks for the kind words! Often we find that something quick and simple can solve a lot of problems, and there isn’t a need to wrap it into a $47 product or $17 WSO. 🙂

      To answer your questions:
      Given the bot overrun of FB, we need to go where they don’t go (as often). Bots don’t typically interact/engage much because it’s easy to spot a spam comment. So that’s why we focus on finding users that comment. If you pull only people that engage over to your page, you’ll see your own engagement levels skyrocket. After all 90+% people just lurk and never post. Imagine getting 90% that actually engage! Your list will be much smaller, but it’ll be laser targeted and highly engaged and thus way more valuable.

      Not sure what you mean by other scrapers, but we write them all the time as well. If people show an interest, we’re happy to share.

      1. Leonard says:

        Hi Justin,
        Tks for reply. I’m glad to be on the same page.
        So, when I run search and get a list of groups, after opening one, I’ll only select those that have engaged. Tks for validating.

        What I mean by “having other scrapers” is I purchased few from third parties (wso).
        Some are good and one or two have somewhat similar functions of yours.

        If interested, I’ll be happy to explain, privately
        BTW, what do you suggest I do if I want to get contractor to do the tedious work of selecting and saving lists?
        I don’t think giving him/her MY login is a good idea!
        What say you

  16. Leonard says:

    Just wonder if my post will be approved and you will respond?

    1. Justin Anderson says:

      Sorry about the delay. We’re working on the next post and didn’t notice your comment in there!

  17. Johannes says:

    Hey Justin,
    great tool. So far. I am really exited to run my first facebook campaigns with the list.
    I also like the Minimum Viable Product aproach. Next feature could be a filtering possibility to sort for likes or friends for example.
    Keep it up!

    1. Justin Anderson says:

      Hi Johannes. Glad you like the tool!

      Additional filtering options are definitely something we’re looking at. Facebook is a bit tough with what they expose in their various APIs and we need to work with what they give us. If we add support for that we’ll probably have to turn this into a full blown app as it’s more involved and more needs to be done server side.

  18. Danny Cheng says:


    I apologize if this has been addressed earlier – is there a way to select every or all user and add them to a campaign with the Facebook Engagement Builder? Thanks for the great tool again. (p.s Are you guys going to start charging for it anytime soon though?)

    1. Danny Cheng says:

      I found this great tool (chrome extension) that helps with the task of checking all users (if needed) for the purpose of adding to campaigns- thanks again for the great tool, hope to be able to return the favor some day.

      1. Brian says:

        Great find Danny.
        Was it working for you?
        I installed it but it doesn’t seem to be working for me as far as selecting users.

    2. Justin Anderson says:

      Ahh – I see you found a check all extension. We’ve debated whether to add that function or not. The purpose of the tool is to be more selective, but at the same time it shouldn’t be a PITA. Glad you solved it!

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