It’s easy to get confused with Facebook advertising. From behavioral targeting to pixel tracking, Facebook offers a bewildering number of targeting options, advertising best practices, and ad formats.
In this article, you’ll learn the five elements of successful Facebook ads. I’ll walk you through each step. These lessons are based on things we’ve learned at Hootsuite running paid social advertising campaigns.
Bonus: Download a free guide that teaches you how to turn Facebook traffic into sales in four simple steps using Hootsuite.
1. Create a simple CTA with one clear action
The perfect Facebook ad is clear about the action it wants the prospect to take.
Every campaign or ad format in the world can be boiled down into two types: ads designed to engage your prospect’s attention and ads designed to drive a direct action such as sale, app install, or lead.
In a perfect world, your campaign does both. But in most cases, you’ll either get one or the other. Brand awareness is valuable. It’s a smart strategy that builds your business over the long-term. But too many campaigns try to mash brand awareness and direct response together. Unless you’re a marketing genius, it rarely works.
As such, creative brand awareness campaigns are better served with CTAs (call-to-actions) related to content consumption such as following your Facebook page, subscribing for more content, or collecting email subscriptions. And direct response ads are better served answering common buying objections than trying to engage or entertain.
An excellent example of a direct response ad comes from the company AppSumo. As you can see below, the ad has one clear goal: get you to immediately buy the product.
The ad doesn’t waste time—it tells what the product is, what the deal includes, and uses a timed offer to give you a compelling reason to buy right away.
Mailchimp is the undisputed champion of brand advertising. Their genius is that they let brand awareness campaigns simply build the brand. Their Facebook ads never try to get you to watch one of their weirdly brilliant videos AND sign up for a free trial. It’s not that Mailchimp doesn’t do product-specific ads, either. Lots of their ads aim to drive sales or get customers to try a new feature. But they keep these two worlds—brand awareness and direct response—completely separated.
Conversely, an ad that tries to do both is is likely to fall flat. If you have ad copy that speaks to the core value of your product (brand awareness), don’t ask people to buy or sign up right away. Instead, use your CTA to encourage people to take a smaller, more location action such as “watch a video to learn how the product works.”
Decide on one simple action you want people to take. The easiest way is to focus your ad on one section of the purchase funnel. Pick one from Hootsuite’s social media marketing funnel:
- Awareness, affinity, and consumption: stick to first handshake CTAs such as boosting followers, reading other pieces of content, or subscribing to your email.
- Conversation: focus on engagement metrics such as boosting shares, increasing comments and tagging, or generating positive mentions.
- Intent: focus on next step CTAs such as “learn more” or driving content downloads.
- Conversion: focus on actions that lead directly to revenue such as adding products to a cart, requesting a sales demo, downloading an app, or signing up for a subscription product.
2. Use an audience targeting strategy that helps you refine over time
The perfect Facebook ad doesn’t randomly combine audience targeting. It uses testing to refine targeting precision over time.
Facebook offers an endless list of audience targeting abilities. It’s easy to get confused. And even easier to just give up, adding random interest and behavior categories and hoping that Facebook will magically match you with customers.
You can save a lot of money and time by being intentional in your audience targeting.
The trick to audience targeting is to improve your insights into what works over time.
Here’s a simple path to start.
Begin with a lookalike audience.
Lookalike audiences are powerful because you can use existing data (such as people who purchased a product from your website) to target similar prospects on Facebook. This gives you a solid platform to start testing and refining your audience targeting.
How do you create a lookalike audience in Facebook? In your favorite Facebook ad tool, follow these steps.
- Navigate to the Audience section of your ads manager.
- Click Create a Lookalike Audience.
- Choose create custom audience and then choose customer file.
- You can then add an Excel file of customers—for example, your email list or a list of customers from PayPal.
- Choose the country where you’d like to find a similar set of people.
- Choose your desired audience size with the slider.
- Click Create Audience.
If your goal is to target the most potential lead prospects, you should create lookalike audiences targeting one to two percent of a country’s population, instead of aiming for 10 percent. And for best results, don’t forget to exclude custom audiences of people who have already converted.
If the steps above confused here, here’s an article with more information on how to create a lookalike audience in Facebook.
Later, refine with nuanced targeting.
After you run your first campaign, you can then adjust your audience targeting strategy by adding the tweaks below. Add these one at a time to see if they make an impact. This article from AdEspresso by Hootsuite explains how targeting works in Facebook.
First, choose target location. Then add on interests. Then demographics. Narrow your audience by adding required categories—such as the user must be interested in X and also must like Y or Z. Experiment with behaviors as well.
Under behaviors you can target specific device owners, people who are having an anniversary within the next two years, for example, or users who have recently made a business purchase.
Another approach is to start by testing broad audiences, and then adding more specifics as you go, getting a more refined and higher converting audience every time.
3. Write a clear and conversational headline
The perfect Facebook ad doesn’t annoy people with boring benefits or wordy sales pitches. Use a conversational tone and relax on the sales tricks.
At Hootsuite, we’ve found that headlines work best when they’re clear and conversational. This minimizes annoying people with overt advertising in their personal feeds.
Sometimes a good headline is a clever phrase. Other times, it’s a straightforward product benefit. There are no true hacks to writing headlines. And even the old advice that headlines must contain benefits—not features—is as the British say, rubbish.
My recommendation is to follow brands that really have mastered the aesthetic and social codes of Facebook and Instagram. A few personal favorites: Chewy.com, MVMT, and <>. You’ll notice these brands tend to have a much conversational approach to headlines, rather than traditional benefit-focused copy.
As an aside, your headline in a Facebook ad is typically the “text” field in the ad builder, not the “headline” field. Zuck and I see eye-to-eye on many things. But it’s clear that engineers—not copywriters—built Facebook ads.
As you might have noticed in Facebook’s ad builder, the ‘headline’ appears in the third position in the ad under the image. This would make the headline the second thing you read in the ad—so not a headline at all.
If you enter copy in the “text” field, treat this as your headline. It’s the first thing your prospects will see and the “headline” functions more like a subhead for additional information.
4. Use an image that has creative tension with the headline
The perfect Facebook ad has a clever or creative tension between art and copy.
Amatuer advertisers on Facebook make a predictable mistake. The image and the headline do not have any creative tension. For example, if the headline is “make money in your sleep,” you’ll see a stock image of a person in pajamas, holding handfuls of cash. Or if the headline says “become a social media jedi” you’ll see a social media manager dressed as a jedi.
Here’s a helpful rule for stronger art direction. If the copy is literal, make the visual playful. If the visual is playful, make the copy literal. This creates contrast and interplay between the art and copy.
For example, Slack’s famous campaign has an abstract image. The headline is copy is straightforward, explaining the metaphor. This would be a much different campaign if the image was also straightforward and literal such as a person in an office getting a high-five. It’s the tension between the image and headline that makes the ad interesting.
Another example comes from Zendesk. Imagine how horrible the ad below would be if the image was replaced with a smiling team of support agents. A literal headline and a literal image that makes for lifeless advertising.
If you need to be visually inspired, you can use AdEspresso’s free ad tool. It lets you spy on competitors and find successful examples of Facebook ads.
If you can’t afford a custom photoshoot, here are 21 free stock photo sites.
5. Use the description area to remove friction for your CTA
The perfect Facebook ad knows that asking people to complete an action always creates buyer anxiety.
Your final step is to write the description for your CTA. This is the News Feed Link Description. Use this space to anticipate common buying objections.
For example, if your CTA is “Download your report” a common objection might the audience questioning the value of the report.
As you can see below, the Dollar Shave Club uses the description area to answer common objections to their subscription package.
So you can add some specific details such as a teaser of the content. If you’re asking for a direct sale—such as adding a product to a shopping cart—you can mention free shipping or return policies.
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