Are you frustrated by underperforming Facebook Ads?
I understand your pain.
I’ve worked with Facebook Ads for years. I’ve run plenty of campaigns that performed terribly.
But I’ve also learned some secrets that will bring you more traffic and sales through Facebook Ads.
Optimizing your ads is a helpful tool in your toolbox.
Facebook takes up 38% of the total online U.S. ad revenue. They’re making almost $2 for every $5 spent on Internet ads. That’s crazy!
Plus, Facebook is only expected to keep growing.
So, not only do you need to understand Facebook now, but this social platform will also probably become more critical to your brand’s success in the future.
I’ll explain exactly how you can optimize your ads for a profitable Facebook Ad campaign.
Let’s start at the beginning. What are you trying to accomplish?
Decide on your goals
Facebook Ads can be fun and exciting. But if you don’t know what you’re trying to achieve, you’ll only experience frustration.
I’ve seen lots of people try to drive leads or sales with no success. The problem? They’re running ads for traffic or clicks.
Sales, leads, and traffic aren’t the same!
For example, this is a fantastic ad by Adidas, but it wouldn’t work for most small businesses.
Adidas is a well-known brand and spends money for awareness. That is, it just wants people to remember the brand.
But if you have a small business, an ad like this is a waste of your money.
There’s no call to action. You won’t increase sales. And most people who see it will probably ignore it.
So before you invest any money in a Facebook ad campaign, understand your goals.
There are three types of goals:
- Awareness. In this stage, you’re teaching people about your brand. You want consumers to recognize you.
- Consideration. When you get to the consideration phase, you’re starting to acquire leads. You might drive web traffic or collect contact information from consumers.
- Conversion. Now you want the customer to take an action, like buying your product or starting a free trial of your software. This is the ultimate goal for most small businesses.
Before you start a campaign, decide which of these is most important for your business right now. (And it may change as your business grows.)
When you first set up an ad campaign, Facebook gives you objectives in these three categories.
Choose the objective that makes the most sense for your current strategy.
To determine if the ads are performing well for your strategy, we need data.
I wrote earlier about the five most important metrics for Facebook Ads. They are:
- Conversion rate: This is the percentage of people who perform the action you want. It may be subscribing to an email list or buying a product.
- Frequency: This tells you how often your ads are shown to each person. After a while, they lose their effectiveness, and people ignore them.
- Spend and return on ad spend: Use this metric to determine whether or not you’re making your money back on ads.
- Cost per click and CTR: This is the percentage of people who click on the ad. It’s different from conversion rate because not everyone who clicks will buy or sign up.
- Cost per action: This tells you how much it costs to make a sale or convert a lead. Knowing this will help you price your ads effectively.
These metrics will frame the testing we will be doing.
It’s easy to be distracted by other numbers, like how many people see your ad. But remember, if you aren’t reaching your goal, this is worthless.
With that in mind, let’s jump into the fun part: testing!
Set up a system for testing
To be truly effective with your ads, you need to test. Testing your ads is important enough for Facebook to recommend it.
If your ads aren’t performing well, you probably just need more data.
The problem is that Facebook isn’t great for testing. The interface works fine for a few ads, but once you run a lot of ads at once, the interface just gets too complex.
Instead of spending tons of time figuring out what the data means, I like to see results visually.
The best program I know for this is called AdEspresso.
It basically runs a series of split tests all at once and gives you actionable, easy-to-read data on the results.
Running ineffective ads is expensive. If you’re running a lot of Facebook Ads, AdEspresso can save you hundreds or even thousands of dollars.
To get started, hit the Start Your Free Trial Now button.
On the next page, enter your account information.
You’ll create an AdEspresso account. But you still need to connect with your Facebook account. Be sure to connect it with someone who manages your advertising.
Agree to Facebook’s requirements.
Let AdEspresso manage your pages and ads.
Select the campaigns you’d like to connect with AdEspresso. Select the checkbox on the left-hand side of the accounts.
If you like, you can let AdEspresso import all your active campaigns as well. This is helpful if you already have ads running, and you want to improve them.
Once you’ve selected all the campaigns you’d like to import, click Add Facebook Ad Accounts.
The number of accounts you’ve selected will appear in parentheses. In this example, I’ve selected one.
Once you connect the ad accounts, it’s time to get started building a campaign! Click Create your first campaign.
Give the campaign a name and choose the ad account you’d like to work with.
You’ll need to choose what you want to promote. This is AdEspresso’s way of asking what Facebook objective you want to use.
Just choose whichever objective you chose earlier.
Scroll down and hit the Proceed button.
Once you get started with the campaign, you need to choose the page you want to use. Different ad accounts can use different pages, so make sure you double-check this.
Next, enter your headline and ad text.
So far, everything we’ve done is easy to do with Facebook’s default interface. But this next step is where AdEspresso really shines.
Click on the plus button next to the headline.
This allows you to add a new headline to test. You can either try something completely different, or you might just use a variant on the original.
You can add different changes to each piece of your campaign.
This is where AdEspresso makes it easy. On Facebook, you’d need to create different ad sets, different ads, adjust each feature individually, and manage and track them all.
With AdEspresso, you can create dozens of variations on your campaign with a few clicks. Even better, you can manage them all in one dashboard and compare their progress.
You can change headlines, ad texts, and anything else you want. While I don’t recommend going crazy with dozens of variations your first time around, make sure to experiment!
When you’re finished, hit the Proceed button.
As your data comes in, you’ll be able to easily track the results of the campaigns and improve your traffic and sales.
Now that you know how to manage your testing, I’ll explain what variables to change. I’ll go step-by-step with the six most important variables.
In case you decide not to use AdEspresso, I’ll be using screenshots of Facebook’s native interface for the variables.
If you are using AdEspresso, you’ll find all the same data on the campaign page we looked at earlier.
1. Audience details
If you really believe in the message of your campaign, but it’s not doing well, start by refining the audience. I’ll explain all the ways you can do that.
I’ve seen huge mistakes with location-based campaigns. While it seems simple, it’s actually extremely important for a successful campaign.
For example, you may think that subscribers around the world are all the same.
As long as they’re interested in your product, does it matter whether they live in Georgia the state or Georgia the country?
(Ignore language for a bit. We’ll talk about that in just a minute.)
But different countries use different currencies, have different cultural understandings, and, perhaps most importantly, have different income levels.
A popular ad with a massive click-through rate in a less-developed country might not yield a single sale.
The location setting is first in the Facebook audience box.
When testing this variable, look for countries with a higher income level and cultural interest in your product or content.
The age of your ideal customer is a determining factor in how well something sells.
I recommend testing age windows separately. For example, you could target one ad set to those age 18-25, another to those age 25-45, and another for users age 45 and above.
If one of those outperforms the others, break it into narrower categories. If viewers age 25-45 love your ad, try a 25-35 test and a 35-45 test.
Testing campaigns by age is also a great way to find multiple buyer personas.
For example, you may find that 18-25-year-olds love your product, as do customers age 45-50. This gives you insight into how you can target two different ad sets.
Of all the variables here, gender is the simplest. Facebook only has targeting available for men and women, which makes it easy.
I’d recommend running a split test with both genders. The results you find may surprise you!
Chances are, you already know the best language for your product. I don’t recommend doing much rigorous testing with this.
However, there are some exceptions. If your campaign plays distinctly to one type of English, it’s best to target users who are familiar with that dialect.
The nonprofit crowdfunding site Chuffed, for example, is named for the British and Australian slang word meaning “very pleased.”
An ad using wordplay on the name would be understood by Facebook users registered with “English – UK,” but not very accessible to “English – US” speakers.
In addition to the broad demographic targeting Facebook offers, you can also target your ads to people with unique characteristics.
The detailed targeting option allows you to target consumers based on demographics, interests, or behaviors.
The easiest way to use this feature is to type in a phrase that best describes an interest your target audience shares.
You can then choose from the expanded category list that Facebook presents you with. I recommend testing between audiences with different interests.
For an even more precise campaign, you can click the Browse button in the Detailed Targeting box.
There are four options: demographics, interests, behaviors, and more categories. We’ll start with demographics.
Demographics are life scenarios Facebook can derive from a user’s profile.
To get started, click on Demographics.
These include life stages, home type, and even specific time-sensitive groups, like those with a close male friend celebrating a birthday in the next week.
One of my favorite metrics is the income analysis. If you have a high-end luxury product, and you only want to market to the 1%, you can easily set that up.
Whatever your goals are, look for relevant pieces of information that could help refine your campaign. Test with a few variables at a time, and keep the variables that improve your results consistent.
Interests represent the kinds of activities and pages users like.
This is great for finding groups of people who are interested in products or content similar to yours.
Another way to use this is to search for competitors’ pages using the search box. Test with audiences who like similar ads to see how well they perform.
For demographic data not included in a user’s profile, Facebook purchases it from other databases and anonymously matches it to users.
This may increase the price of your campaign, but it is usually worth it for the highly detailed information you receive about the users.
If one of the options here is relevant to you, start testing immediately! The extra price will probably pay for itself in better-targeted campaigns.
Finally, Facebook offers a More Categories option.
These are limited and tend to show up differently for different users. These are likely experiments on Facebook’s part.
It’s unlikely you’ll find a category here that will help. But if you do, experiment!
Near the bottom of the audience section, you’ll find Connections targeting.
This doesn’t have many features, but I love using it for testing.
I’d start with a split test. First, exclude people who like your page, then show ads only to those who like your page.
You can get some valuable insights about the value of Facebook fans this way.
There’s final word about your audience. Don’t worry about the size shrinking as you test these variables.
A smaller audience by itself may increase your conversion rates. If an ad campaign performs better, it is better, even if you’re reaching fewer people.
To get retargeting started, you’ll need to install the Facebook Pixel, a small piece of tracking code, on your website.
This code can track users on your landing page, shopping cart, or thank-you page after they download a coupon. You can then send ads directly to these users.
I provide exact details on how to install a pixel in my article on increasing ecommerce sales using Facebook Ads.
Once you have the Pixel installed, go to audiences and click Create New.
Click on Custom Audience.
Select Website Traffic.
Choose a pixel based on ones you’ve already used.
Specify how you want to target people. The most common way is to target based on the URL they visited.
With this capability, you can target a variety of people based on their previous actions.
This adds a lot of power to your campaigns, and it can offer the optimization you need to bring your campaign to success.
I’d recommend testing with these retargeting strategies.
Target website visitors
Facebook users who have visited your site already have some brand awareness.
Instead of spending valuable ad dollars building your brand identity, save money by targeting people who already know what you have to offer.
Target free trial users
If you have a subscription product with a trial version, you can easily retarget ads to trial users.
Set up Facebook Pixel tracking for total signups and paid subscription signups.
Then use the logic in Facebook’s options to target those who have signed up in the last 30 days, but have not paid for a subscription.
You can create powerful ads that meet potential customers where they are. Offer special promotions or just a reminder to sign up.
Graze does this well by offering a deal for a free snack box.
Target abandoned carts
One of the easiest and most profitable campaigns you can test is retargeting people who abandoned their carts.
According to recent data published by eMarketer, about 74% of shopping carts are abandoned before purchase.
Shockingly, eMarketer also found that retargeted follow-up within one hour resulted in a conversion rate of 20.3%. That’s incredible!
Remember, Facebook updates its retargeting regularly after setting up the campaign. If you target abandoned carts, it will continue to add customers as it runs.
If you decide to optimize with this strategy, don’t try to get too fancy. Tell the prospect you want him or her to check out!
RedBalloon adds a nice twist on this with a special coupon code for abandoned carts.
If you don’t retarget abandoned carts, you’re leaving money on the table!
3. Ad management
An often-overlooked way to improve your Facebook Ads is through the ad management settings.
Sometimes you can make considerable progress by “hacking Facebook.”
Of course, I don’t mean doing anything illegal or snooping around where you shouldn’t. I just mean using ad settings differently than what Facebook thinks is best.
For example, if your objective is conversions, Facebook recommends you get charged by conversion.
According to research conducted by AdEspresso, there may be times when paying per click is actually cheaper than paying per conversion
Remember: Facebook’s recommendations are designed to make money for Facebook — not necessarily to give you the best results.
Don’t be afraid to try something new.
There’s a longstanding debate over the best time to post on social media.
The truth is, it depends largely on your demographic and what time they’re online. It also has a lot to do with time zones.
You can agonize for hours about when to post updates so people will see them. With Facebook Ads, though, it’s simple and straightforward.
There’s a small option for ad scheduling toward the bottom. It’s easy to miss this field. It’s small and unavailable unless you have a lifetime (not daily) budget.
It’s set by default to run ads all the time. But you can easily schedule your ads to maximize performance.
Just click on Run Ads on a Schedule. Facebook will show ads based on the user’s time zone, so you don’t need to worry about time zone headaches.
Instead, you can focus on what times are the best. For example, you might want to market your content to people before and after work on weekdays.
Simply change up the scheduling blocks Facebook provides.
This isn’t a silver bullet, but you can make improvements in your ads with consistent testing.
I saved this for last because I don’t recommend you do it often. But if you really know what you’re doing, you may be able to save money by changing your objective.
As mentioned earlier, Facebook’s payment settings might not work the best for your campaign.
By changing your objective (from conversions to traffic, for example), you may be able to improve the cost-per-click of your campaigns.
If you have a way of testing click-through rates and conversions, just about any test is worth doing at least once.
4. Ad placement
You might not consider display options to make a difference in your campaigns, but they can dramatically change how well your ads perform.
Different placements give your advertisement new prominence, and they may turn a dismal and dry campaign into a thriving and profitable one.
Mobile vs. desktop
The first factor to examine and test is mobile versus desktop display.
According to ZeroHedge, Facebook currently has over 1 billion monthly active mobile users.
It’s a huge segment of profitable users on Facebook. Mobile generates 59% of all ad revenue for Facebook.
But there are some disadvantages.
For one, mobile ads are smaller and have less available text. For an educational long-form text ad, this can be a killer.
Mobile users will just keep scrolling rather than click “read more,” even if the content looks interesting.
Also, mobile users tend to have a shorter attention span on the content itself. My content (like this article) is usually detailed and in-depth.
In my experience, mobile users are less likely than desktop users to read full articles.
And finally, mobile users may be less likely to fill out your forms or make purchases.
According to Monetate research, mobile e-commerce users convert at about ⅓ of the rate of desktop users.
This doesn’t mean you should eliminate mobile ads entirely. But do a test between mobile and desktop and see if your conversion rates improve.
To do that, go to Ad Placement and select Edit Placements.
From there, choose which display settings you want. The default is all devices.
Try running ads on just mobile or just desktop, depending on what you think might work perform best.
Back in 2012, Facebook acquired Instagram for $1 billion. One of the results of that was allowing Facebook Ads to run seamlessly on Instagram.
If you’ve ever run a Facebook ad, you’ve probably shown up on Instagram as well.
By default, Facebook shows ads on its four platforms: Facebook, Instagram, Audience Network, and Messenger.
Here’s what an ad looks like on Facebook.
And on Instagram:
This is what ads look like in Facebook Audience Network (FAN), which appears on other sites.
The image above comes from an article demonstrating the huge potential of FAN ads.
According to research by Nanigans, FAN ads outperformed native Facebook Ads in ad spend vs. app installs.
And finally, on Facebook Messenger. This screenshot comes from an article on the new ad type on TechCrunch.
There is no perfect ad placement type for your campaign, and Facebook will usually work in your best interests here.
But if you know from previous data that, say, Instagram traffic is more likely to purchase than Facebook traffic, by all means, run some tests.
News feed versus sidebar
Back in the day, Facebook only allowed sidebar ads. The news feed ads we see now are a relatively new creation, and they usually perform much better.
Facebook Ads in the newsfeed have lots of space and can incorporate a full-size image or video.
Facebook’s right-column ads are smaller and more sparse.
By default, Facebook shows your ad on all different properties based on a secret formula only they know.
This generally works well enough. But if you want complete control, consider running a test.
When most people think of optimizing Facebook Ads, they think of creative. This refers to how the ad looks and what the headline says. Both are critical to your success.
But I’ve saved this until now for a reason. The fact is that, no matter how perfect your ad is, you need to clarify your audience and placement.
The factors mentioned above need to be right before you start testing different color schemes and images.
That said, the creative of your ad can be a huge factor for optimization. For best results, I’d recommend creating different ad sets for different buyer personas.
You likely have a few different messages to convey to different types of potential customers, and it’s a good idea to keep these separate.
I’ve found that the content type is the biggest factor when it comes to determining the success of your creative.
According to CoSchedule, 80% of posts by the top 100 brands in 2016 included photos and videos.
These aren’t ads, but it’s worth noting where most of the top brands focus their efforts: visuals. You should do the same.
If you have a limited amount of time to test your ad, spend that time testing different images rather than ad copy. I’ve found that it makes the biggest difference.
Facebook provides us with a lot of options for the type of content we want to show in our ads.
What you choose can make a big difference in how your ad looks. As always, I’d recommend testing multiple variations.
The native Facebook interface doesn’t show ad images very well. They’re usually small, and the details might not be visible from the analytics screen.
For that reason, I’d highly recommend using AdEspresso if you’re going to test a lot of different images or videos with your ads.
Of course, you can try a huge variety of images and see what works and what doesn’t
But if you’re looking to maximize your ad performance, you can try a few lesser-known image strategies. I’ll show you a few of my favorites here.
The first is carousel ads that fit together. While most marketers use this ad type for different images, you can create stunning and eye-catching graphics by splitting a photo into different pieces.
Shutterstock does this well.
Other image types to try include charts, graphs, and data.
According to research from Venngage, 67.2% of marketers had the highest engagement with charts and data. If you haven’t tried this yet, it’s something to consider.
Of course, you need to be mindful of Facebook’s strict requirements on text content in your ad images. If you handle it carefully, however, this shouldn’t be a problem.
I’m really excited about one of the more recent additions to Facebook’s ad platform. Fullscreen Canvas ads allow you to give mobile users a completely new type of experience.
They’re highly interactive, allowing users to scroll around. You can include different snippets of images, video, audio, and text across multiple panels.
If you want to build trust around your brand in a fun and user-controlled way, this is my top recommendation.
AirFrance uses a Canvas ad that expands for a video.
Telling a story about your brand is a great way to build trust and loyalty.
The colors in your ad are another area that’s full of opportunity. It’s no secret that colors influence your conversion rate because people perceive your offer differently.
Google Cloud does a great job with color contrast when marketing its app deployment software.
No matter what type of ad you’re running, be mindful of the contrast and color tones you use because they give viewers a taste of your brand and personality.
When most of us think of successful videos on Facebook, we think of the type that goes viral.
These are usually huge productions that are way outside the budgets of most small businesses.
A great example of a wildly popular Facebook video ad is this one by Red Bull. It features a giant double hammock strung across a canyon.
If you have the budget for that, fantastic! But if you don’t, there’s no need to worry. Often, you can reach your target audience with far simpler content.
To succeed, reach out to your audience with a video of real people. The more emotion, the better, whether that’s humor, inspiration, or curiosity.
This popular ad by Short Cuts was a simple video showing how to create a mohawk braid. A unique and different idea, to be sure, but something shot on a small budget.
Another important part of video ads is the captions you provide.
Keep in mind that 85% of Facebook videos are watched without sound. Of course, telling a story without words may be difficult.
To solve the problem, include captions. Internal research at Facebook has found that captions increase video viewing time by 12.5%.
It’s a fact: persuasive copy sells. So what can you do to ensure that your words are convincing readers to click and buy?
The two biggest changes you need to make are to draw on people’s deepest interests and pull at their emotions.
It’s easy to get caught up in the details of your product or service, but remember that people use it to solve a problem.
At its core, for instance, Slack is just a messaging tool.
But by framing the product as a way to improve communication and eliminate the need for unproductive meetings, it reaches something deeper in the hearts of potential users.
When writing your copy, remember to focus on the reward of the product — not the details. Don’t write about features. Instead, write about how the user benefits.
Something else to test is very short text. While it may not work for all industries, it’s worth a try. This ad from Asana gets the point across in just three sentences.
Earlier, I talked about choosing the right goal for your ad campaign.
Ultimately, this goal should lead to an action you’d like the ad viewer to take. Perhaps that’s buying a product, downloading a free report, or signing up for a trial version of your product.
One of the quickest and easiest ways to communicate that action to viewers is through the call to action (CTA).
Facebook has a few options to choose from.
There is some overlap. A user browsing items for sale might like Shop Now or be more likely to click on the less-committal Learn More.
It all depends on what works best for your campaign.
In this ad, Shopify (which would normally be associated with purchases) specifies that it wants users to register with a “Sign Up” call to action.
Lazada, on the other hand, uses a Carousel ad as a way for potential customers to browse their favorite items.
Next to each piece is a Shop Now button to encourage impulse purchases.
If you have a local business, be sure to try some of the custom CTAs designed for you.
These include Request Time (for a local venue), View Menu (for a restaurant), and Get Directions (for any type of local business).
6. Landing page
Before I wrap things up, I want to talk about one more component of your ads.
I’ve saved this for last because it technically isn’t on Facebook, but it’s still important to get right.
If your ads are doing well, but you’re struggling to get conversions on your landing page, the problem might be with how the two connect.
Customers who click through to your landing page expect the branding to be similar. This ad from Hockey Sockey presents a clear message: buy NHL pajamas as a gift.
The CTA is Shop Now, so we know Hockey Sockey wants us to buy the product.
Sure enough, the landing page continues this same message. The products look the same, and there’s no doubt this is related to the ad.
All too often, I see ads that direct users to landing pages with completely different content and branding.
If necessary, ask a friend to compare the two. Do they look similar? Is the connection obvious?
If not, it might be time to make sure the ad and landing page are both designed for optimal conversion rates.
You also need to consider people who are already familiar with your brand.
No matter how catchy your ad is, it can alienate existing customers if it has disparate colors and fonts.
Keep your messaging consistent and continually test to ensure you’re increasing your traffic and sales.
I’ve worked with a lot of Facebook ad campaigns.
Some have been great, and some have been not-so-great. But every single one of them improved once we started testing.
No matter how your ads are performing, you can test and optimize them for better conversions.
Experiment with a few of the suggestions I’ve mentioned here and see how they do.
How will you optimize your Facebook Ads?