If you’re like many search marketers, you’ve likely dipped your toe into the waters of Facebook marketing. Now you’re ready to take it to the next level and explore more of the opportunities offered by the social network giant. The good news: it’s still fairly early in the game, and there are bargains to be had by savvy marketers.

Let’s set the scene. Where is Facebook as a marketing platform today? A recent Webtrends survey found click through on Facebook averaging 0.05% and average cost-per-click at $0.49 last year. Meanwhile, Facebook’s top advertisers have increased their spend tenfold in the last couple of years. Facebook is starting to go mainstream among marketers.

A March 2012 study by marketing agency Efficient Frontier puts Facebook on parallel with Google in terms of click-through and CPC pricing today, but also finds that Facebook is a bargain, especially for brand marketers, because the value of the site’s rich data — and its power to spread messages virally – is not yet fully appreciated. As you work in this exciting marketplace, you’ll find many of the skills and techniques that you’ve developed as a search marketer will translate very easily to Facebook, while others – such as dealing with images – will likely be new.

In this article, we’ll delve into all of the aspects of ad creation and optimization on Facebook, as well as testing and ways to combat ad fatigue.

1. Set Goals

It’s important to keep in mind that Facebook is a very different environment from search, as well, given that consumers on social media sites are in the mindset of connecting and discovering. They’re not as laser-focused on finding, and, perhaps buying, as they are when they’re on search engines. So Facebook should be treated as being higher in the sales funnel, and success should be measured accordingly.

First, as in any campaign, you need to set your objectives. Are you looking to build the list of ‘Friends’ who ‘like’ your brand’s or product’s page? Do you want to drive downloads of a coupon or offer? Do you want to drive Facebook users to your web site? Do you have a branding objective in mind?

These goals will inform your choices of tactics with regard to ad creation and optimization. Many marketers run Facebook ads to promote their Facebook social media marketing efforts by promoting a page, group, or other Facebook feature. There’s nothing wrong with setting a goal related to social media, like number of new fans or friends, but there’s equally nothing wrong with setting more traditional campaign goals (direct sales, site traffic) for your Facebook advertising efforts.

Whatever choice you make, keep the campaigns distinct. Promoting your Facebook social media will necessitate different ad texts, URLs, calls to action and probably spend levels than a more traditional online marketing campaign driving traffic direct to your site. Don’t mix and match them if you decide to market via Facebook ads for both.

2. Build Segments, Create Targets

Best practices in Facebook advertising suggest that you’ll want to begin by considering the segments that you’ll be targeting with your ads, so you can later create customized ads with those segments in mind. You can apply a variety of filters to best target the audience you want to reach. The default setting on Facebook is people located in your country over the age of 18.

Facebook currently organizes targeting into the following sections:

  • Location
  • Demographics
  • Likes and Interests
  • Connections on Facebook
  • Education & Work
  • Location

Facebook uses a user’s IP address and profile information to determine location. You can target by country, state/ province, city, or city radius. Currently you can target up to 25 countries. City radius targeting, which is available in the UK, US and Canada, allows you to expand a city target to within 10-25- or 50- miles of a given city.


Understanding the demographics of your target audience is crucial for the success of your ad campaign. For some search marketers, who are used to optimizing ads in response to searcher queries, this can be a new challenge. With Facebook advertising, you need to know your audience demographics at the outset — where they live, what they like, who they’re dating, and who their friends are.

Facebook offers a number of basic and advanced demographic targeting features:

  • Age – You can target people within a particular age range like 18 – 45 or choose to target a specific age like only people who are 21.
  • Birthday – If you choose birthday targeting, your ad will be delivered to users in your target audience on their birthday.
  • Relationship status –
  • Preferred language – Facebook has been translated into 70 languages. If you are targeting by country, and want to target that country’s primary language, you don’t need to enter a language. However, if you want to target a language that is different from the country’s official language (for example, French speakers in Canada), you’ll need to specifically select that language.

Likes & Interests – Interest-Based Targeting

Interest-based targeting is where Facebook ads most resemble search. With this type of targeting, you’re displaying the ad to people who have expressed interest in a particular thing. These interests, or keywords, become a part of people’s profiles in a couple of ways – when they proactively type in something when creating their profile, or when they later ‘like’ something that fits into a particular category.

For example, if a user ‘likes’ the musical group ‘Mumford and Sons’ then that is stored in his profile and ads can be targeted to him by that band, and any other advertiser that suspect he might like them, too. Interests cover favorite movies, books, TV shows, music, extracurricular activities, hobbies and other interests. They also include religion, political views and job titles.

For search marketers, it may require a new way of looking at keywords, as it’s important to think in a broad sense when it comes to defining “likes and interests.’

It pays to be very aggressive at mining additional sources of words and phrases. Good resources for research include a thesaurus, Wikipedia, Visuwords, WordStream, and the OneLook Reverse Dictionary.

The following two screenshots show how dramatically one can increase reach by expanding targeting to a lot of additional keywords associated with the concept of Japanese animation called manga. By significantly adding the number of related words and variations on the term “manga’, the target reach more than doubled. Facebook’s own Suggest tool can also be a rich source of keywords, but you need to think carefully about the segments being suggested.

For example, imagine you’re selling Minnesota Vikings’ tickets. Start with people who like the Vikings or like specific players, or like football. Using the Suggestion tool, you start with the root interest – football – and uncover related phrases that people have chosen to put on their profiles.

Be careful, though. Interests may not be what they seem.

In this case, you see the word Football has a double meaning. In the U.S., it means the NFL, and what Americans call Football. Everywhere else in the world, it means what we call soccer. As soccer fans are not likely to be buyers of Vikings tickets, you’ll want to make sure you don’t inadvertently include those interests. Another example: to some people ‘Breakfast of Champions’ might be associated with the Wheaties brand, while others think of the Kurt Vonnegut book of the same name.

To surface other relevant keywords for football, think creatively. American football is associated with Sundays (and Monday nights), so you could try typing in ‘football sun’ and see what comes up.

When you’re creating these interest segments, avoid grouping together interests that are related, but dissimilar. For example, if you have an alternative energy brand or client, you might be thinking about creating a segment that includes folks who like ‘wind energy’, ‘solar energy’, and ‘green energy.’ Instead, create separate segments for each of these interests, so you can create ads targeted to each of these groups that include language likely to trigger their curiosity.

Connection Targeting – ‘Friend of a Friend’ Targeting:

Facebook’s real ‘special sauce’ is the ability to target people based on their relationships with the brand and with each other. You can choose to target ‘friends’ of your brand’s Facebook Page with a special offer – since you already have a relationship with these people, your ad should acknowledge that. These are your friends, after all, and they’ve already become brand advocates by ‘liking’ your Page.

More interestingly, you can target their friends with ads. This approach is especially useful if your campaign objective is to get more friends of your brand’s Page on Facebook. As the campaign goes on, and folks seeing your ad become friends with your Page, the potential audience for your ad grows. New people are continually exposed to your ad, combating ad fatigue.

A recent study by Webtrends found that having a friend who ‘liked’ the ad increased ad performance. This type of network targeting increased click-throughs across the board, but the impact was especially significant among those who attended college.

Connections targeting allows you to include or exclude friends of Pages, Groups, Events or Applications. Depending on the offer and goals of your campaign, you can choose to include/exclude your fans, your fans friends, or users who are connected/not connected to your page, group, event or application.

Education & Work:

Education levels can make a difference as well. Those who attended college are twice as likely to click if a friend ‘liked’ the brand, suggesting that social influence is stronger among college attendees than among those who didn’t attend. Education levels include College Grad, In College and In High School. For college selections, filters also exist for the specific college name, college major and dates attended.


3. Ad Creation

Ads on Facebook consist of as many as four different elements. Three of these are common to all:

  • 25 character title,
  • 110x 80 pixel images (landscape orientation)
  • 135 characters of body text

The fourth element depends on whether your ad is pointing to a Facebook Page, or whether it leads instead to an external web site. In the first case, you’ll get a ‘like’ button, in the latter, you’ll get a destination URL. (Be sure to test any tracking URLs to ensure they work.)

Following are best practices for ads so that they don’t get disapproved by Facebook. Disapproval on Facebook is especially onerous because, once an ad has been rejected, you can’t edit it to make it acceptable – you have to start all over.

  • No symbols
  • Full headline
  • Full sentence in body
  • No excessive punctuation (exclamation point)
  • No excessive capitalization (not every word)
  • Real URL

Let’s look at each element of the ad in turn.


The title, or headline, strategy will depend heavily on the campaign objective and targeting. If the ad is going to people who ‘like’ your brand’s Page, it’s probably a good idea to use your brand name in the title. If you’re targeting based on a segment, use your title to grab the attention of the segment by mentioning their interest. In the wind energy example mentioned above, you might use something like, ‘The Next Wind Energy,’ to promote a product in the alternative energy world.

In the example illustrated below, mentioning ‘family’ in the headline performed much better with moms than mentioning it in the description. The headline ‘Family Train Tour’ produced a click-through rate of 0.054% and a CPC of $0.64, compared to 0.026% CTR and $1.01 CPC for the headline without the word “family.’

Graphic Image

Image is of paramount importance in Facebook advertising. Affiliate marketing firm Shoemoney did an analysis of the relative importance of image versus other elements of Facebook advertising, and found that having an image of some kind made a 70% difference in click-through rate, while title made a 10% difference, and description came in at 20%.

What’s the most compelling type of image to use? While some may believe that a picture of a woman showing some cleavage is the most compelling image (no matter what the offer) others disagree. Here are some tips for optimizing ad images:

  • Make your image consistent with your landing page imagery, so leads are qualified, and so that those who Click-through find something familiar on the other side.
  • Since images are fairly small, use a close-up image that people will recognize.
  • Crank up the saturation and contrast or alter colors to draw attention. (You can use a free tool like IrfanView)
  • Whatever your approach, be sure you assemble plenty of images to begin with, because you’ll need them for testing and to keep ad creative fresh. Some common tests for images are brand vs. product, brand vs. people, and people vs. product.

Body Text (Description)

Put segment-targeted language high in the body text, include a call to action and create a sense of urgency. If you’re trying to reach a younger demographic, don’t be afraid to be fun, goofy and provocative.

Consider what Merry Morud, search marketing account manager at aimClear, calls the WTF? Factor. This involves being a bit mysterious with your description and provoking click-through through vagueness.

Here’s an example:

The ad is just wacky enough to encourage you to click further to find out what it’s about.

Make sure, though, that your landing page from such an ad is solid, and clearly conveys what the user is expected to do. Also be sure that the WTF? Factor is appropriate for the audience you wish to target.


4. Workflow and Organization

Facebook’s interface has some challenges when it comes to ease of use. One way to make things easier is to think of Facebook’s ‘campaigns’ as ‘ad groups.’ Then, name campaign in such a way to make it easy for you to find them later. The default organization method for ads is alphabetical, so, to keep promotions together, use an abbreviation of the promotion name as at the start of the campaign name, then use a hyphen and list the segment you’re targeting with that particular campaign. Use another hyphen and include more information, as needed.

Another workflow tip is to create a ‘placeholder’ ad for each campaign with the appropriate targeting for that campaign. Make sure it meets Facebook guidelines so it doesn’t get disapproved, but bid only a $1 daily budget and $0.01 so that it doesn’t run by mistake. With those parameters, it shouldn’t. Don’t rely on Facebook’s suggested ad, as that usually gets disapproved.

The purpose of this placeholder ad is that it gives you a generic starting point when you’re creating new ads for that segment. This is especially important, because, given the ad fatigue problem on Facebook, you’ll likely be creating new ads throughout the run of the promotion.

Where to Send the Ad? Landing Pages

Audiences on Facebook tend to respond most favorably to something that keeps them within the Facebook experience, so using your brand’s or product’s Facebook Page as a landing page is a good idea. You’ll need to for your account be an admin on the Page for this to be possible though, so be sure to get that squared away before you begin setting up your campaign.

When you use your Page as a landing page, and you’re targeting new people – those that have not already connected with your Page – you can send them directly to a specially set-up landing tab on the Page.

This allows you to highlight special offers to that group. If you’re targeting your existing friends, they will be delivered to the Wall by default.

The other advantage of using a Page on Facebook as a landing page is that your ad then displays a ‘like’ button, and each user will see which of his or her friends ‘liked’ that particular Page. This is a very powerful social signal.

If you choose to send traffic from the ad to your own web site, you’ll have a URL displayed as part of the ad. Make sure that the URL you send traffic to ties directly to the ad copy, and allows users to take action immediately.


5. Optimize, Refresh, Test…Optimize, Test, Refresh

Optimization and continued refreshing of your ads is critically important on Facebook. Facebook doesn’t enable frequency capping, so people can see your ad over and over again.

Identify ads that are winners across segments — take a look at all of them, sort by clickthrough rate, and you’ll find those that are performing the best. Then, look for specific winning combinations — did one image consistently outperform, regardless of headline or copy? Did one headline outperform all others regardless of the image used? You’ll likely need to test various combinations to find the winners.

And, beware of ad fatigue on Facebook. Webtrends research found that Facebook ad burnout comes quickly – after three to five days -because, unlike search ads, they are targeted to individual people who can tire easily of seeing them over and over. Once your click-through starts to drop, Facebook considers your ad of lesser quality, and you’ll have to pay more and more to get it to display.

Here are two graphic examples of ad fatigue. The first shows impressions over a month-long period, the second demonstrates the drop-off in clicks over four days.

It’s better to drop the ad and create a new one after you drop below 0.01% click-through, if not before. If something is successful initially but begins to drop, take the ad out of rotation, and then consider bringing it back in after a couple of weeks pass.

If you begin seeing fatigue in the segments you’re targeting in a longer campaign, you might try rotating in new interest-targeted segments. One approach would be to find movies, books, and TV shows that map well to your product’s theme. For example, environmentally-themed products might perform well with people who say they like Rachel Carson’s ‘Silent Spring’, or authors like Henry David Thoreau. Healthy environmentally-conscious food would do well with people who count ‘Food Inc.’ and ‘Super Size Me’ among their favorite movies.

Friend-of-a-Friend targeting can also be a useful technique to combat ad fatigue, as mentioned above. If you target the friends of people who are connected with your Facebook Page, your ad can potentially be continually exposed to new people. As someone ‘likes’ your Page, they no longer are exposed to your ad, but their friends – potentially a whole new group of people – begin receiving impressions.

To avoid ad fatigue, you need to be nimble. Routinely change out the creative — headline, image, body copy — to keep the ad from going stale. If you can continue bringing new elements into the ad campaign — either in the creative or the targeting, you’ll be able to beat ad fatigue.

Testing Techniques

When testing the headline, try testing brand mentions versus copy that speaks to the segment without including a specific brand. Try using a question as a headline, or include a direct call to action as a headline. Until you test different approaches against each other, you don’t really know how the audience is going to respond. In the campaign depicted below, the headline ‘Martha Stewart Cookies’ outperformed ‘Holiday Cookie Recipes’ with nearly double the clickthrough rate (0.119% vs. 0.066%) and almost half the CPC ($0.29 vs. $0.42.)

“When testing the headline, try testing brand mentions versus copy that speaks to the segment without including a specific brand.”

But in the examples below, headlines closely tailored to the segment were the winners. ‘Show off Your Pup’ clearly beat out ‘Fun Pet Project by Martha.’

In body copy, if you have a brand that has some sort of stigma – like SecondLife is considered by many to be for losers – trying a non-branded approach may be best.

In optimizing images, try branded versus non-branded images. Experiment with images that map closely to the interest segments – pictures of cupcakes, for example, to people who have identified themselves as bakers or cupcake fans. Try faces, or pictures of products.

Mining Reporting for Additional Ideas

Check your reports for clues and ideas that will help keep ads fresh, relevant and driving responses.

For example: In each campaign, identify winners that have potential to succeed in other segments, and target them across additional campaigns.

  • For ads that drive traffic to your site, use your own analytics to determine what time of day you see the most click-throughs, and set new ads to start and end accordingly to take advantage of the hot times.
  • Check out the Responder Profile report to get ideas for new segments to target. For example, perhaps you’ll discover a book, TV show, or movie that seems to be a shared interest among people who respond to your ad.
  • Within each campaign/segment, find winners and look closely at what worked best. Then try to mimic that approach with new ads.

What Next?

Like almost any marketing effort, the answer to the question ‘Which approach should I take?’ is ‘it depends.’ It depends on your brand, your product, and your goal for the campaign. Testing and optimization are key in any case.

Congratulations on being ready to take your Facebook marketing beyond a toe-dip, and to the next level. With these tips, ideas and techniques, you’ll be well on your way to taking advantage of the tremendous opportunity available in this vast audience!

Robert Gombos

Robert Gombos

Robert Gombos has 15+ years of successful Marketing experience in the software and Internet industries. Combined with BS/MS studies.