This is an advanced guide on how to profitably scale your Shopify store for Facebook and Instagram ads. It presumes familiarity with Facebook Business Manager, and that you have recently managed profitable campaigns. In other words, you will get the most of it if your Shopify business is already profitable on the ad channel and you want to scale your Facebook and Instagram Ads.
The strategy details the methods we used to take one Shopify brand from $300/month to $300,000/month. The outlaid strategies and tactics help us regularly grow accounts to unseen levels.
If you want a simple, quick-read guide to grow your business, go elsewhere. This guide gets technical. It dives deep into the nuts and bolts of exactly what it takes to go from spending tiny amounts to thousands per day, whilst hitting revenue goals.
What You'll Discover On This Page
- Why You're Losing Money As You Try To Scale
- The Cornerstone of All Multi-Million Dollar Ad Accounts
- The Scientific Signals to Unleash or Pull the Plug on Ad Sets and Ads
- The Psychology of a Well-Built Facebook Ads Account
- The Fastest Way to Grow Facebook Ads—Sometimes Double Overnight
- Practical Steps to Find New Profitable Audiences
- Drill Into Untapped Goldmines Around the World with Internationalization
- Do This with Placements Instead of Listening to Facebook
- Ads That Make Facebook and Instagram Users Say "Take My Money"
- Your Dadda is Not Your Sister: How to Target the Right People with the Right Message
- Copywriting Advice to Deplete Inventory on Facebook
- The Overlooked Strategy of a Profitable Store That Lasts
- What to Do When Your Plan Backfires
Why You’re Losing Money As You Try To Scale
The challenges involved in scaling Facebook and Instagram ads boil down to not hitting profit targets. Perhaps you hired someone in the past and got awful results. Maybe you increased your ad spend but your returns swung the other way. It’s even possible that without updating creative, the bottom and middle of your funnel got ad fatigue. Even if you do update creative, hitting the same people over and over again with ads is often fruitless.
Perhaps you’re making the biggest problem we’re seeing now: you measure success with revenue reported in ads manager. This ignores the full affect of ads because attribution and tracking today is different to early 2021.
In simplistic terms, the Facebook ads algorithm can find you a finite number of people at your defined CPA. To improve scale at the same return, you have to find new people who convert at the same bid or make your campaigns more efficient.
Depending on your economic dynamics, scaling can be hard. What are the incentives of the person managing your Facebook ads account? It takes more work to sustain growth when more ad spend is under management. Growth is a double-edged sword for marketers.
A freelancer or agency charging the same flat fee to manage Facebook ads may hold back your business. A person in-house with no performance incentive tied to the business may potter along doing the bare minimum, which could be the very undoing of your business’s continual growth. Of course, this isn’t always the case. We have long-term clients on flat fees who continue to hit record months. For years now, we’ve run a performance program to work with stores who sell great products and want to make considerable sales. That way it’s a win for clients and a win for us.
Another reason it can be hard to scale is a fear of losing money. If you spend more on advertising, the risk is increased. Not all businesses can sustain leaking thousands of dollars a day on an activity that does not lead directly to sales.
Everyone thinks they want to scale. But the moment this happens, cracks may appear which could tear your business apart. Growth can kill. In 2020, for instance, we doubled the monthly sales of a client with an established store immediately upon taking over their campaigns. The rapid growth led them to unprecedented difficulties. They took a month to fulfil orders that would ordinarily take two days. They experienced cash flow issues. Their month-long delays for orders (which weren’t communicated upfront) led to terrible reviews.
Your business needs to be in the right season to scale. It needs a proven product. It needs inventory. It needs cash flow. And it likely needs gradual growth. This guide explains how to scale your Facebook ads in a way that’s right for your business.
The Cornerstone of All Multi-Million Dollar Ad Accounts
Ecommerce store owners and marketing managers don’t know their numbers. After close to a decade of discussions with business owners about their goals, I have talked with only a handful of people who actually knew their profit margins, their required return on ad spend to acquire a customer, and the average lifetime value of a customer. Any attempt to scale your Facebook ads is but a fool’s gold without the evidence of clear numbers. You are in the business of making profit so know this cornerstone inside-out!
Now, the start of all calculations should be your gross profit margin:
Gross profit margin = (product's price - COGS) / product's price.
For a more accurate figure, calculate what’s called your “net profit” from other fees associated with a purchase, such as transaction and shipping fees:
Net profit = (product's price - COGS - transaction fee - handling and delivery fee) / product's price.
Work your return on ad spend (ROAS) off the net profit or gross profit margin:
ROAS = 1/net margin.
If your product costs $40, shipping is $9, transaction fee is $1, and you sell it for $100, the net margin is 0.5. 1 divided by the gross profit margin is 2x ROAS. That means you need to spend one dollar and make two dollars to not bleed money.
Businesses rarely have products with the same profit margin, which is why most owners find it difficult to set a clear goal. Unless you have a funnel that controls exactly what the user buys immediately, rather than navigating around the store first, Facebook ads require you to have one ROAS goal.
If you have products whose margins vary, you can break out your ROAS calculations into categories of gross profit margin. You then average out the ROAS categories based on their percentage of sales in recent months to come up with a single goal.
The business who pays the most to acquire the customer wins.
The lower you can set your ROAS, the greater your chance in scaling your Facebook ads. The business who pays the most to acquire the customer wins. Set the lowest ROAS goal that you can early on to keep yourself in business. As data comes in this can be adjusted accordingly.
Couple this figure with something called Marketing Efficiency Ratio, also known as MER for short. In a post iOS 14.5 world that destroyed tracking, this is the metric to track. MER is an old marketing metric used to measure efficiency of spend. Newspaper, TV, and billboard advertisers who didn’t have a pixel stalking users, depended on this metric to measure success. It’s calculated like this:
MER = Total revenue/total ad spend
Total revenue is best pulled directly from your Shopify analytics because the platform has the highest accuracy of sales data. Total ad spend is the brand’s spend across all advertising channels. If the brand’s only paid channel is Facebook ads, which had a spend of $10,000 for the month, and there was $50,000 in sales, the MER would be 5x or 500%.
What MER is right for you? If your spend goes up and your revenue remains the same, you know advertising was a waste. As you spend, you’ll figure out an MER that works for your business. Young businesses can afford to have a low MER while mature businesses with an established customer base should seek a higher MER.
With MER, comes a discussion on cash flow. Cash must be part of the discussion when scaling Facebook ads. If you have good cash flow, your ROAS will be relatively lower to factor in customer lifetime value. A goal that neglects customer lifetime value is short-sighted. On the other hand, if you have no buffer in cash flow and it takes a whole year for a customer to be profitable to you, factoring lifetime value in your ROAS goal will put you out of business.
The Scientific Signals to Unleash or Pull the Plug on Ad Sets and Ads
There are more targets to scaling then profit. Now that your major goals are set, here are some smaller goals to help increase profitability.
Firstly, you can scale your campaigns more effectively by coupling your ROAS goal with a MER goal and CPA goal. A MER goal keeps the business alive. A CPA goal lets you know that an ad should net you a sale within the defined amount of ad spend. If you know, for instance, that your CPA needs to be $50 to get a ROAS of 300%, and you’ve spent $60, you may want to pause an ad.
However, maybe you have twice as many AddToCart events as usual for a $60 spend. So, before you pause it, you need to have ranges for what I call “proxy metrics”.
A proxy metric measures a behavior earlier in the purchase funnel. It acts as a substitute, or the next best target, for ROAS—what you ultimately care about. The cost to get a unique link click is one proxy metric. To gather your proxy metrics, when your ROAS goal is reached, ask yourself these four questions: what’s your CPM (cost per 1,000 impressions), your unique click-through rate, your cost per unique link click, and unique add to carts? Note these down as your proxy goals.
Proxy metrics must not be your sole goal at all costs because they fluctuate with time, campaign settings, ad settings, and the ad itself. For example, CPM will increase if fewer people use Facebook or Instagram. It’s not unusual for CPMs to quadruple amidst sale periods as brands spend more on ads.
A benchmark of proxy metrics helps you judge what these objectives need to be for you to hit your ROAS goal. As an example, if your ROAS is too low but your CPMs have increased dramatically in the past week, it can be wise to temporarily drop the budget.
For all our Shopify ad accounts we build a monthly column set that lets us see the entire funnel. This column set makes it easy to identify the stage at which a campaign, an ad set, or an ad is not working. Here are the columns to copy our setup:
The monthly column set will become your third eye when campaigns, ad sets, or ads inevitability do not work. The goals and proxy goals you defined for success on Facebook and Instagram ads are all in this column set.
Now that you’ve measured success, you’re ready to manage success.
The Psychology of a Well-Built Facebook Ads Account
Many brands deliver the same message to people who’ve never heard of their brand as to those who are their most loyal customers. We also see budgets poorly split between warm and cold audiences. This structure affects clarity and your ability to scale. By understanding the various stages of your ad funnels you can develop a secure Facebook ads account that will set you up for clear reporting, budgeting, and scaling.
Funnel Structure: Three Steps to Scale
The three fundamental conditions for building a great Facebook ads account are:
- Top of funnel: TOFU. Cold audiences. People unlikely to have engaged with the brand.
- Middle of funnel: MOFU. Lukewarm audiences. People who have not engaged with the brand in a while or who have shown unengaged behavior.
- Bottom of funnel: BOFU. Warm audiences. People who have recently engaged with the brand or who have shown a highly engaged behavior.
You will learn more about each part of the funnel, including how to develop each one, in a short while. For now, it helps to know this campaign structure for scaling well.
While cold audiences need a different message to warm audiences, differentiation doesn’t stop there. One cold audience may need a different message to another cold audience. You also want to test various interests, lookalikes, and bid strategies. This forms your ad set structure.
The third and final aspect to consider with your Facebook ads are the ads themselves. Understanding your customer avatar, having creative strategies, and using naming conventions make for a well-built ad structure that can scale. All aspects are covered in this scaling guide.
Naming Conventions: Bring Clarity and Sanity to Scale
A crucial element of a well-built ads account is naming conventions. Nine out of ten accounts that we audit are hard to understand because of bad names. Do you know what happens when something is hard to understand? Its historical data is not understood. Past data is wasted. As an agency, the toughest part of taking over someone’s Facebook ads account is getting to ground zero of what has happened.
Anyone familiar with Facebook ads should know the settings of the campaign, ad sets, and ads just by looking at their names.
The litmus test for Facebook naming is a thought experiment. Anyone familiar with Facebook ads should know the settings of the campaign, ad sets, and ads just by looking at their names.
Conventions excel by letting you easily filter a campaign, ad set, or ad by its name. Do you want to know how remarketing performs compared to cold acquisition? How do interests perform against value-based lookalikes? How do carousel ads perform compared to square image ads? This information can be found in your naming conventions.
Here are the naming conventions we use at Digital Darts. Dates are powerful to include because they let you see when something launched.
Campaign: Date (dd/mm/yy)_Campaign Name_Objective_Bid Strategy
|Date||Campaign Name||Objective||Bid Strategy|
Ad Set: Date (dd/mm/yy)_Campaign Objective_Audiences_Placement_Bid Strategy
Top 10 Interests Affinity Carlton
5% LLA P, 5% LLA ATC, 5% LLA VC
Ex Page Likes
Ex Klaviyo Customers, P-180
Some tips for naming your audiences:
- Keep it short and sweet. Make it immediately comprehensible. This way you’ll know exactly who the audience of your ad set is without having to visit your view settings.
- If interests are used, begin the name with “Interests” and then cite these interests. If there are more than two interests, summarize. Let’s say you’re using the top 10 targetable interests of people who like Vodafone. You could use “Interests Vodafone Top 10 Affinity”. Or if you gathered a list of targetable interests from a Forbes article, say, you could use “Interests Forbes 18-19 Startup Investors”.
- LLA describes a lookalike audience.
Ad: Date (dd/mm/yy)_Ad Type_Offer_Destination_Custom 1_Custom 2
|Date||Ad Type||Offer||Destination||Custom 1, 2, 3 etc.|
|[Post ID for Existing Posts]
What If Your Business Is Different?
Think your business is special? Tactics for growth vary slightly between industry and country. However, strategies for maintaining an effective account are very similar, because fundamentally, the supply (Facebook and Instagram placements) and the demand (the universal psychology of Facebook users) remain the same between industries and countries.
The biggest difference between industries and countries is audience and creative strategy. The best way to explore these differences is to have a foundation—established from this guide—then branch out with testing.
This guide is updated when the fundamentals of the Facebook ads system, or the behavior of people on Facebook itself, change. These changes are likely due to a new discovery we make at Digital Darts rather than a mass psychological transformation in users. I encourage you to re-read the guide every quarter.
The Fastest Way to Grow Facebook Ads—Sometimes Double Sales Overnight
The quickest way to develop an already profitable Facebook ads account is to scale vertically. Vertical scaling is increasing budget on existing profitable campaigns or ad sets. If a campaign or ad set is unprofitable, throwing more money at it will only speed up the blood loss.
The quickest way to develop an already profitable Facebook ads account is to scale vertically.
A campaign with campaign budget optimizations (CBO) can be scaled aggressively compared to set ad budgets. CBOs can be doubled each week until profitability is not reached. Ad set budgets are more delicate at the TOFU level and should be increased by 20% every 3 days so as not to classify as a significant edit, which will trigger a new learning phase.
A good starting budget split is 60% TOFU, 10% MOFU and 30% BOFU. This works well for brands who have another major channel. As you increase TOFU, increase MOFU and BOFU proportionally to balance your ads portfolio and to maintain the budget split.
If you have as much budget in MOFU and BOFU as in TOFU, you will likely fatigue your audience with the same ads. Similarly, if you have large marketing channels other than paid Facebook and Instagram ads, MOFU and BOFU audiences will expand and contract in size accordingly.
The trick here is to balance audience size with spend. You can get it just right by monitoring the “frequency” metric to escalate or deescalate the budgets of your lower funnels. Most brands rarely want to exceed a frequency of 3 ads over 7 days in each MOFU and BOFU. For non-impulse products, people generally need to view an ad more than once before buying.
Periodically review the metric entitled “First Time Impression Ratio” along with frequency to assess whether the ad set is at its vertical limit. Do this by clicking on “Inspect” beneath the ad set name and then select “First Time Impression Ratio”. The first time impression ratio is a daily percentage of users who have seen your ad set for the very first time. Sitting at a first time impression ratio of 60% while hitting profit goals, seems to be the sweet point between ad spend and return for many ad sets.
When the first time impression ratio is combined with “Cost per Purchase” selected in the same report, you can determine if the ad set has enough of a buffer to vertically scale. Let me draw an extreme example. If you target an interest of 10000 people on a $5 daily budget, say, and you vertically scale to $100 per day, not only will your frequency shoot through the roof but quickly there’s going to be a single-digit percentage of people who see the ad for the first time. Maybe these people log into Facebook for the first time that week.
If an ad set gets under a 30% first time impression ratio and performance drops below your goal, vertically scaling can no longer be done. Drop the budget. It is time to scale horizontally.
Practical Steps to Find New Profitable Audiences
Horizontal scaling of Facebook ads expands your audience by either discovering new audiences, or by increasing the length of time someone is already an existing audience. Let’s dig a little deeper into each stage of the funnel so that you can learn how to scale each one for growth.
TOFU Horizontal Scaling
Mouth-watering growth happens from finding new, profitable audiences at the top of the funnel.
To continue growing Facebook ads, you must be able to profitably acquire new customers. Mouth-watering growth happens from finding new, profitable audiences at the top of the funnel.
Facebook’s cold acquisition audiences can be placed into three distinct categories: lookalikes, interests, and broad. Within these are three sub-categories: interest combinations, interests with lookalikes, and lookalikes with lookalikes.
Lookalikes are the first type of audience for cold acquisition on Facebook and Instagram. The more you spend, the larger your lookalike audiences can become. A new store will rarely have success running a 6% lookalike on purchasers because of poor data sets, but a store doing 20 sales a day can run a 6% lookalike on Purchase events and AddToCart events. We typically start new stores on 2% lookalikes, develop established stores with proven ad campaigns on 6%, then maximize reach at 10%.
Use diverse lookalike audiences. Build value-based lookalikes on:
- ViewContent events.
- AddToCart events.
- Purchase events.
There are other events such as Initiate Checkout and Search within Shopify’s standard pixel implementation, but we often find these overlap with the other three listed above. Value-based lookalikes typically differ in performance from each other. Purchase lookalikes do not always outperform other lookalikes. You must test. I suggest running each value-based lookalike in its own ad set within the one campaign on a campaign budget.
There are plenty of nonvalue-based lookalikes to run. If your lookalike is dynamic, meaning the seed audience continually refreshes (such as repeated visitors to your website), you can build smaller percentage lookalikes based on them. Your audience is less likely to fatigue as it continually changes.
- 3% of top 25% website visitors in the past 30 days.
- 3% of Facebook engagers in the past 30 days.
- 3% of Instagram engagers in the past 30 days.
- 3% of newsletter subscribers in the past 30 days.
- 3% of video viewers in the past 30 days.
If the 30-day seed audiences are below 1000, for better accuracy from bigger datasets go for 90-day or 180-day audiences.
One hybrid static and dynamic non-value lookalike is the customer list. While the customer list updates as new people order, the lookalike always contains the same customers.
Interests are the second type of audience for cold acquisition on Facebook and Instagram. You need new interests to horizontally scale. Our favorite strategies to discover new interests are:
- Go to in-market audiences in Google Analytics. Find similar versions in Facebook Ads Manager.
- Target competitors. Most do not have targetable interests, but large retailers tend to have interests built on them.
- Brainstorm interests yourself. A tight-knit understanding of your customer helps with the strategy:
- Use the obvious. These are usually the first ones to come to mind from an obvious match to your product. The “Golf” interest for us has worked well for a golf product. Don’t make this your only strategy to collect interests because every advertiser goes for the obvious interests. Diversity is the key.
- What products and services do customers consume? Products they buy, online shops they go to, software they use, apps they use, and brands who make products or services they use.
- What are their communities? In-person events they attend; Facebook groups, associations, or clubs they’re members of; forums they love.
- What content do they consume? Blogs, books, magazines, authors, TV shows, movies, influencers they follow, celebrities they enjoy, and educators they learn from.
- Find the interests of people who like your Facebook page. On Facebook go to Audience Insights. Filter your audience by your Facebook page. Quickly see what interests you can target with the Interest Highlighter for Audience Insights.
- Take the audience insights strategy to another level. Find more interests of users who like your Facebook page from affinity information. Go to Audience Insights. Filter by your Facebook page. Click on the interests with the strongest affinity to discover further interests to target.
- I advise you not to invite all your Facebook friends, or use services to pay for Facebook likes—especially if you have less than 1000 likes—because these Facebook profiles will distort your audience data.
- Enable “Detailed Targeting Expansion” in interest-based ad sets. Facebook describes the option to “reach people beyond your detailed targeting selections when it’s likely to improve performance.” This doesn’t always work, so first test the interest(s) without this option. If profitable, pause the ad set, then duplicate the ad set with the option enabled.
Broad campaigns are the third type of audience for cold acquisition on Facebook and Instagram. The strategy alone can net you a new stream of customers at your required return.
You want a fresh campaign dedicated to your broad audiences not to interfere with the learning phase and bid strategy. The trick here is to use a manual bidding strategy. Rarely can you run automatic bidding on a broad campaign.
Sometimes we can spend $1k a day on this strategy, netting a respectable return of up to 4x. The strategy often nets extra sales up to an unknown and fluctuating threshold. It doesn’t consistently deliver all ad spend day-in, day-out. This is why it should only be one part of your strategy. The strategy can run on top of everything you are already doing.
To trial it for your store:
- Create a new Conversions campaign. The new campaign lets you set the bid strategy for the next step. In addition, it doesn’t interfere with the learning of existing campaigns.
- Select a cost cap or bid cap strategy. Cost cap spend more and so have higher deliverability. Bid cap provides a more consistent return but struggles to spend. We see both working well in this strategy. The target cost strategy stifles delivery too much.
- To aid learning, set an ad set or campaign budget to at least equal your target cost per acquisition. Go x10 above your CPA for the best chance of good performance (if you are comfortable spending a little extra to let Facebook deliver what it wants).
- Set no interest or website audience targeting. This is the “broad” aspect of the strategy.
- Enter geographic and demographic data of people proven to convert well. This can be determined by consulting the account view in your ads manager, and then by reviewing the geographic breakdown of the account as a whole. There you can also select to view the account-wide breakdown of gender and age data. Review these same data points in Google Analytics.
- Enter a manual bid strategy that is 20% above your average or target cost per acquisition. This furnishes you with some padding to help deliverability.
- Use two of your best ads in the ad set.
- Run the campaign.
- Review the spend and return compared to the goal. Bid higher if ad spend is not being used. Bid lower if your CPA/ROAS exceeds your goal. Don’t be surprised if you need to edit bids on a weekly basis to manage changes in performance. Monitor the bids as such to get the most out of this strategy.
MOFU Horizontal Scaling
The middle of the funnel can be horizontally scaled with new audiences or longer-time windows.
MOFU audiences are gray in their definition. They’re like cold BOFU audiences. Let’s say someone has already been to the website but didn’t see a product page. If this happened yesterday, I would say they are BOFU. If they did this seven or more days ago and they haven’t engaged with the brand in any other way, they are most likely MOFU.
Possible MOFU audiences to use for scale include:
- Newsletter subscribers.
- Recent email opens but no email clicks.
- Video viewers.
- Facebook and Instagram engagers.
- Top 25% of website visitors between 31-180 days.
- Pixel events between 31-180 days.
- People who viewed products in your Facebook or Instagram Shop.
- Recent page views based on URL information.
The way to think about scaling here is with new audiences or longer-time windows. If a 3-day page views audience exceeds your goal, create a new ad set expanding the time window to 7 days. The longer time window will drop your return on ad spend but increase audience size and, hopefully, revenue.
If an ad set is not delivering impressions on an automatic bid strategy, either expand the audience’s time window, if possible, or combine similar audiences based on your judgment within the ad set to expand the audience size.
BOFU Horizontal Scaling
The bottom of the funnel can be horizontally scaled with new audiences or longer-time windows provided that the audience doesn’t intrude upon the middle of the funnel.
The line can blur between MOFU and BOFU. Two hard rules to keep the funnel levels separate is to use exclusions at MOFU, and make BOFU audiences more relevant or recent.
Unless you’re selling a high-ticket item, time windows in BOFU rarely extend beyond 30 days. Longer time windows are more unpredictable than they use to be due to iOS 14 and other privacy changes. If the longer windows are for the same behaviors and users haven’t engaged with your brand for a certain amount of time, categorize them as MOFU.
BOFU audiences to use for scale include:
- ViewContent events (4, 7, 14, 30 days).
- Search events (14, 30 days).
- AddToCart events (4, 7, 14, 30 days).
- Top 25% of website visitors (14, 30 days).
- Welcome series subscribers (30 days).
- Includes Purchase events and customer segments from third parties like Klaviyo. If the business nets a million dollars per year in sales, you can build a loyalty campaign that remarkets to customers.
Separate your audiences otherwise your budget may go to poor performing audiences. A great performing audience in the same ad set can prop up the entire set to appear as though all audiences are working well. I also suggest establishing an ad set level budget to hit your desired frequency for each ad set.
Drill Into Untapped Goldmines Around the World with Internationalization
A fantastic way for a store to scale on Facebook ads is to advertise in all countries that the store delivers to.
Your ability to scale through country expansion depends on product and distribution. Not all products can be sold in each country, and not all stores have suitable infrastructure to distribute to multiple countries.
Advertising to new countries has its benefits. First, it can lead to lower competition in ad auctions depending on the country, thus reaching millions of new people who would otherwise be unfamiliar with the brand. In addition, Facebook excels with data. With lookalikes, interests, and demographic data about your new customers ready to use, your ability to make informed decisions will improve dramatically. Advertising in new countries may also give you the edge against competitors. If you have multilingual and multicultural team members, they can assist in both translation and in helping your brand adapt to new cultures.
One of the most effective ways of assessing your viable options is to focus on the countries that have already converted well. Find this information on Google Analytics by going to “Audience” > “Geo” > “Location”. If these convert well, even if you have yet to create warehouses near the country, configure pricing and currency options within Shopify, dial in your multilingual SEO, or translate your website messaging for the country, this does not matter. A market exists in the country right now. And this market can be reached with little effort.
Rather than editing your current campaigns, which may butcher the algorithm, begin your country expansion with fresh campaigns that target the new countries. Match the ad set language settings with the language in the ad copy and website.
Once an ad set for the new country hits ROAS targets, if the ad copy and creative is the same, merge the ad sets of multiple countries that have the same audiences together to help Facebook’s algorithm. Increased investment can be spent on the new countries to lower your cost per acquisition, which means greater wiggle room to spend more. A multi-regional strategy may mean native translations, a new Shopify store to customize messaging, and a new warehouse to lower shipping times and delivery costs.
Do This with Placements Instead of Listening to Facebook
Automatic placements are a fantastic launchpad for campaigns, and they are a dependable default placement setting for ad sets. As you scale, it becomes more worthwhile to have creative individually designed for major placements. A user scrolling Facebook responds differently to another watching Instagram Stories.
As you scale, it becomes more worthwhile to have creative individually designed for major placements.
Facebook Representatives and Facebook’s Power 5 caution advertisers not to separate placements. However, Facebook’s suggestions are not reliably the wisest options for your business, as they often coax you into depending on their algorithms and are suited to businesses doing thousands in ad spend daily.
You can see how placements perform by attending to the top-right of the ads manager. Select “Breakdown” then “By Delivery” and “Placements”.
Some placements can perform better but not achieve their potential deliverability. The Facebook feed, Instagram feed, and Instagram stories are the most impactful placements to review. Review the breakdown to assess whether you should separate your Facebook and Instagram feeds, or if your stories placements can be separated from others. Look at what has a relatively high ROAS and low impression.
Customizing creative in your Facebook feed, Instagram feed, and Story placement will squeeze out more revenue. One example of customizing creative for a platform’s unique feature is Instagram Shopping Ads. This does best on the Instagram Feed. You can have either a BOFU or MOFU ad set that you update weekly or monthly with new shopping ads. This way you present new ads to those who matter the most with low effort.
You could run an ad set only for story placements, which lets you use full-screen 9:16 vertical videos, to create an attractive ad unit that can be updated while not resetting social comments on feed ads. You may also use an abundance of regularly updated vertical content for story placements in MOFU and BOFU to reduce ad fatigue. TOFU audiences are less likely to fatigue, which is why splitting placements for different creatives is often done at the middle and bottom of the funnel.
As a more experienced advertiser, you would be familiar with Facebook’s Asset Customization that lets you serve the creative you want in a placement within the one ad unit. We like this for TOFU, but not for lower parts of the funnel, because updating ad copy for one placement to reduce ad fatigue erases social proof in other ad units.
Ads That Make Facebook and Instagram Users Say “Take My Money”
The creative strategy comprises the textual and visual elements of your ad. Better creative leads to a higher return to scale your campaigns.
The first step to good creative is to begin with a strong framework. You have to know what works for Facebook and Instagram. We will address copy later on.
Tips for Effective Images
Some tips for good image ads are:
- Make your product the centerpiece by having it take up 30% or more of the visual space.
- Use color wisely. Have your product shot or edited on a colored backdrop, for example. Create colorful borders around images.
- Use graphical overlays like arrows and badges to complement the image.
- Include text overlays with high contrast so they pop.
- Use customer testimonials.
- Focus on the benefits.
- Test user-generated photos (that you have obtained permission to use) because they will look natural on the platform and can be used for social proof.
- The ideal image sizes are 4:5 (for maximum feed real estate), 1:1 (for ad types like collections), and 9:16 (for stories).
Principles of Videos That Convert
Due to the complex demands of copywriting and storytelling, videos for products that require heavy persuasion take a good copywriter, videographer, and video editor to produce. Videos like this by Invisasox can take six figures to produce.
For this guide I’ll keep it simple. It’s always a good idea to test the video format. Even if videos convert at comparatively similar rates of users than images, you will build engagement audiences (such as those who watched 75% of the video) for MOFU audiences.
Some tips for good ads:
- The first 3 to 10 seconds matter the most. Catch attention. Make a bold claim. Have something odd in the video background, or share a counter-intuitive message to interrupt the user’s attention.
- Educate, demonstrate, inform, or entertain. (You don’t have to do all four!)
- Aspect ratios for mobile. Design for mobile first. Square (1:1) is the best all-round performer across many placements but consider 4:5. If it’s not too much hassle, using vertical video (9:16) can be highly engaging as the video takes up the whole screen for story placements (where most people hold their phone upright). Some basic information on this can be found here.
- As a general rule videos that last up to 30 seconds are perfectly suited to expressing your message on mobile and news feed placements. Facebok suggests 15 seconds. This is usually how long it takes to persuade someone to take the next step (which is to click-through to the website). The large majority of ecommerce products—those you can understand at first glance—fit this category. If your product is complex, you have to be prudent in mapping out your customer avatars to know exactly what your audience needs to take them through each stage of your funnel. Get the click and let your landing page do the persuasion.
- Design for sound off but delight with sound on. Include sound in your videos to enrich the experience of those who have their sound turned on. It’s imperative that your video’s message can be understood without sound. High contrast text captions do great.
- Include screenshots or video snippets of customer reviews to reinforce the copy. If you make a claim about something, share a review that proves it. You can then make a second claim, and share a review that proves this. Most brands lump testimonials together in one segment of a video.
- Over the years, videos that most people would call “ugly” have consistently performed better than more professional-looking video ads. User-generated content consistently outperforms Madison Avenue creativity because of their authentic appearance. In the 1980’s David Ogilvy remarked that “advertising people have an unconscious belief that advertisements have to look like advertisements… They telegraph to the reader, ‘This is only an advertisement. Skip it.’”
- Create an attention-grabbing thumbnail. It could be an unusual image from the video, or perhaps contain text that uses the headline formula shared later.
- End the video with a clear CTA of what you want viewers to do. Long format videos should have multiple CTAs at pivotal points throughout.
- Let these videos start your swipe file.
The Marketer’s Dream Tool to Spy on Competitors
Now that you have a solid framework for what makes a good ad, you are better equipped to filter between competitors who are worth paying attention to, and those who clearly have no idea what they’re doing.
This leads us to step two of our shortcuts for good creative: get inspiration from competitors in the Facebook Ads library.
The keyword here is “inspiration”. Now that you know what makes a good ad, get viewing and get inspired. Following your research, don’t return to competitors’ ads because you will be driven towards emulating what someone else thinks about your customers (the videographer, the brand owner, or some marketing manager) rather than focusing on what would be the most effective strategy for you.
Your Dadda is Not Your Sister: How to Target the Right People with the Right Message
So you have a framework for good creative, and you have competitor inspiration too. To create effective ads you now need to know your customers inside and out. To do this strategically, the trick is to build your customer avatars. Conduct research on: people who buy from direct competitors, people who buy from you, people who don’t buy from you, and people who buy a lot from you.
If you’re unsure about who you’re selling to, run a Hotjar survey on the order confirmation page to learn more about customers. Remember also to learn about non-buyers. Use various Google Analytics reports to paint a clearer picture of buyers and non-buyers. Pay special attention to those buyers who spend a lot on products.
Read competitor reviews to familiarize yourself with their customers’ problems with the product, as well as what they liked. You can scrape review pages or XML files with Google Sheets to quickly collect review text. Put the text in a tag cloud tool to view keywords used by your market to shape your customer avatar and language in your ads.
Copywriter Clayton Makepeace wrote in Double Your Profits in 12 Months or Less:
It drives me nuts when executives who know nothing about sales and marketing mindlessly parrot phrases about putting the customer first and then relegate the only people who actually talk to customers to an inferior position in the company.
Ensure your customer support team engages with the questions and concerns of customers and interested shoppers. If you get the chance, speak with customers on the phone. By running Facebook ads you already find yourself with a research center, given that you can mine data from users who comment on the ads. Copy and paste insightful comments into a Google Spreadsheet to fuel your customer avatar.
With all this research you can build a customer avatar document that will persuade people to buy. Most businesses have multiple customer avatars. If you sell skincare products to only young women, for example, there are many different ways to construct your ads. Some women may use skincare products to feel confident at work, some may wish to look their best over dinner with friends, while others might just be using the product to feel beautiful in themselves. Each of these scenarios will inform your avatars that can scale.
Reflect on these 7 points to build your customer avatar to shape creative:
- Name the avatar: e.g. “Stay-at-home mums” or “Time-starved entrepreneur”. What’s their age and location?
- What products and services do they consume? Products they buy, online shops they visit, software they use, apps they use, and brands who make products or services used by the avatar.
- What are their communities? In-person events they attend, their Facebook groups, associations, or clubs they are members of, forums they love, buzz-words they use.
- What content do they consume? Blogs, books, magazines, authors, TV shows, movies, influencers they follow, celebrities they enjoy, educators they learn from.
- What problems do they experience that lead them to consider your product?
- What objections do they experience when considering your product?
- What real-world outcome will the person experience from having used your product?
Several of these questions give you a great insight into how to effectively target your ads.
Get People Buying Your Product In Three Steps
With your avatars mapped out, how do you get customers to buy? The answer lies in the customer journey. The journey details what’s required to take people from not knowing about your brand to repeatedly buying from you.
The copy and visual assets to use at each stage of the funnel follow a simplified version of Eugene Schwartz’s awareness model:
- Problem. (Awareness. TOFU).
- Solution. (Consideration. MOFU).
- Product. (Conversion. BOFU).
The job of your advertisement is to take people through this journey. Few advertisers plan their customer avatar, strategizing what users need to see and hear before pulling out their credit card.
The problem, solution and product in ecommerce are rarely separated. An impulse purchase, often for a product below $50, can have the three stages merged into one ad. You typically want to minimize people seeing the same ad as they move from various stages of the funnel.
There are industries and brands who depend on identity, but this is a luxury afforded to big budgets. Jack Daniels doesn’t need to bombard you with facts for you to believe that their whiskey is better than their competitors’. Coca-Cola never proves that they use 50% more cola berries than other companies. Gucci doesn’t have to list the innumerable benefits of purchasing their Italian leather bags. Rather, in 2020 Gucci employed the hashtag #GucciAbsoluteBeginners to challenge artists to create their first film. Coca-Cola is all about feeling good when you drink their caffeinated sugar.
Copywriting Advice to Deplete Inventory on Facebook
It is time to put words in your ad. Good ad copy is a multiplier for performance, but it’s often an intimidating step. As David Ogilvy, the father of advertising, writes in his book ‘Ogilvy on Advertising‘:
The copywriter lives with fear. Will I have a big idea before Tuesday morning? Will the client buy it? Will it get a high test score? Will it sell the product? I have never sat down to write an advertisement without thinking THIS TIME I AM GOING TO FAIL.
Marketing becomes a lot easier when you know your market. Stop thinking of your market as a nebulous body of people. Start thinking instead about your market as a single person—your customer avatar.
Good copy often begins by writing to the right person about their problems, or highlighting the benefits of your product to alleviate these issues. A surprising number of people are unaware of their problems, so you need to agitate the itch.
You may even think that your customers don’t have problems. “I just sell fast-fashion,” you might say. Well you’re wrong. If you don’t solve a problem, you don’t have a business. Put simply: if you don’t solve problems, no one will buy from you. Ever.
If you don’t solve a problem, you don’t have a business.
For fashion, the problems could be various. It could be that they can’t leave the house, or find pieces they like or that fit. It might be that they need to see what an item looks like on a person with a similar body type to theirs, or even that they are distrustful of online shopping since they were recently scammed by another store… The list goes on.
A common problem in ecommerce is identity. People want to feel like they’re part of a group. They want to see something of themselves in what you’re selling. Their problem is identity.
Put yourself in your audience’s shoes. What do they experience day to day? Short stories from your customer avatar do well for this.
Not everyone knows they have a problem. Most marketers skip this group of people and go immediately to solution-seekers. This is fine for early on when you want to get a target ROAS at low ad spend, but you need people who are not yet at stage two (considering solutions) if you want to scale.
So describe the core problem. Bonus points if you can identify your customer avatar within the first line. Paint a picture of the problem: “Are you struggling…”, “New parents are loving…”, “University students have found that…”, “Is XYZ driving you mad?”
At the solution stage, people are assessing their options to solve their problem. A person looking to lose weight is unsure if they need to take a weight loss pill, drink tea, fast, or walk. They haven’t figured out what’s best for them.
You describe the solution. Messaging to use involves using claims that compare your solution against competing solutions. Use graphics and animation as these are more believable and confer authority. “Our supplement can help you to…”, “increase your muscle gain”, use lifestyle images of customers that inspire your target market (identity).
At the product stage of copy, comes your unique selling points, your key messages, the top three reasons why customers might buy from you, and testimonials for social proof.
Messaging to use incorporates good offers, features, promises, hooks, social proof and external reviews. Set your offers apart from those of your competitors. Explain why this exercise solution is perfectly suited for their needs. “Check what Brad says about XYZ”, “7 week program”, “Comes in three colors”, “365-day warranty”.
The Thumb-Stopping Formula for Headlines
After the creative, your headlines are most likely the next crucial element to convince users to read or watch an ad so put time into them!
The 4 U’s to try to include in your headlines:
- Be useful.
- Be unique.
- Be ultra-specific.
- Be urgent.
TOFU: tease a story segment, cliff-hanger, recap pain point, snapshot of belief system, recap desired transformation. Ask yourself the question: if you had never heard of the brand, does your copy make sense? “Turn Food Waste Into Organic Produce”, “Stop Skin Break Outs”, “What Everybody Ought To Know About Teeth Whitening”.
MOFU: showcase claim, tease secret, showcase benefits, cast doubt over other solutions, no click-bait E.g. “When Other Gifts Fall Short”, “Skinny Jeans That Fit”, “End Jitters From Coffee”.
BOFU: showcase product, share the hook, use urgency, testimonial result snapshot, recap the transformation. “Get 3 Shirts Today For 1”, “iPhone Cases 45% Off”, “Repaired My Ankle Almost Overnight”.
- “How To X Even If Y”
- “Get X Without Having To Y”
- “Get X When You Y”
- “What Everybody Ought To Know About X”
- “Have A X You Can Be Proud Of”
- [Do Something] Like [World-Class Level]: “Decorate Your Home Like an Interior Designer”
- Simple and Direct: “X Is % Off”
- Start Exciting News: “At Last…”, “Introducing…”, and “Now…”
- Provocative Question: “Do You Make These 6 Common Mistakes Skating?”
Tying it All Together Into Creative
Once the copy is written you can then go about creating images and videos using the practices shared earlier. You will find it far more profitable and easier to script the video this way then if you opened a video editing tool at the start. The ad copy, headline, and creative will align to create a unified and powerful message.
The Overlooked Strategy of a Profitable Store That Lasts
The more a brand can pay to acquire a customer, the more the brand will scale profitably. In other words, increasing the revenue per user on the store nets a brand further scalability. Ad agencies tend to ignore this lever.
Most strategies to increase customer lifetime value happen outside of Facebook ads. Refer to the pricing chapter of my Shopify Conversion Rate Optimization book and how to boost your Shopify store’s average order value.
One strategy that anyone can use to increase customer lifetime value on Facebook is to set up cross-sell sequences to past purchasers, targeting customers with promotions.
The second most impactful strategy is to change the offer in your ads. Perhaps your catalog sales ads could have a bestsellers product set?
A low-priced product could net more revenue if various upsells, cross-sells and email follow ups are in place. For example, we recently ran free trial offers acquiring customers at scale for less than $2. They then purchased higher priced items thanks to email flows. Another account was just breaking even at $100/daily spend. But presenting a new offer that cost customers twice as much (and had much better margins) produced the same revenue as the previous offer. When you can pay more to acquire a customer, you have more padding for growth.
What to Do When Your Plan Backfires
Doctors have a process to diagnose disease. Good advertisers have a process to diagnose ineffective ads. Your campaigns, ad sets, or ads will not perfectly go to plan because you are not Mark Zuckerberg. When things don’t work out work, there’s a three-step process:
- Figure out what you can and can’t control in developing your Facebook ads. Go through this guide. Know it inside-out. If an ad dies on the operating table, you can at least know for sure that it was unavoidable.
- What are your goals? How do your campaigns, ad sets, and ads compare against them? Know your ROAS goals and proxy metrics. Use the Monthly metrics column to see every stage of the funnel, and where you’re falling short. What’s not working when compared with your goals? The primary metrics are your CPMs, click-through rate, and ROAS. Get specific using the Monthly metrics. Is your ROAS below target? Is it just one campaign? Is the ROAS on TOFU campaigns below target while MOFU and BOFU are on target? Perhaps one ad set or one ad is far behind in CTR?
- Once an under-performer is isolated, use Facebook’s date comparison tool to see if the under-performer was once on target. Instability often sees a 25% or less fluctuation, and may not require any action as performance can rejuvenate itself.
The diagnostics below will help you isolate where a problem resides. Following your diagnosis you can begin to explore solutions that will hit the nail on the head. Below is a summary of performance issues in Facebook ads, and how to solve them. Each diagnostic takes you through the Monthly column set.
Ads are not Delivering
Cause A: Audiences are too narrow.
Solution A: Increase audience size. If it’s either MOFU or BOFU, create new audiences or longer time windows.
Cause B: Manual bids confine deliverability.
Solution B: Increase the manual bid or switch to automatic bidding.
CPMs are High
Cause A: Seasonal spike.
Solution A: Compare the most recent period to last year’s data to identify whether there was a similar CPM spike then. Are there major promotional periods like a political election, BFCM, or end of financial year? CPM spikes often occur with increased demand from advertisers, or decreased supply from users on the platform. You can’t stop CPM spikes from happening, but you can do everything in your power to improve campaign profitability. If no ROAS improvements can be made, drop the ad spend.
Cause B: Low-quality ad.
Solution B: Review the Quality Ranking metric at the ad level. Quality Ranking measures your ad’s perceived quality by focusing upon ad feedback and the post-click experience. Your ad is ranked against ads that competed for the same audience. A low-quality ad has many other red flags, but this specifically diagnoses a high CPM. Ensure that the ad copy aligns both your target audience and your customer avatar. Does your ad copy and creative adhere to the practises outlined in this guide?
Cause C: Feedback score is below 3. (Check by visiting Account Quality and then click on the Facebook page.)
Solution C: Review Facebook’s opportunities to improve. Also check that your delivery speed option is in line with your delivery times.
Click-Through Rates are Low
Cause A: Frequency is too high or first time impression ratio shows an audience is worn out.
Solution A: Follow the advice on horizontal scaling.
Cause B: An ad is miss-matched with the audience.
Solution B: Ensure that the ad copy aligns with both the audience targeted and with your customer avatar. UGC images and reviews must align with your avatar. Check the Engagement Rate Ranking metric for your ad. Engagement Rate Ranking is your ad’s expected engagement rate ranked against others in the same auction. It includes all clicks, likes, comments and shares. Facebook has an excellent table laying out the various conditions of all ad relevance metrics, and what to do in different scenarios.
Landing Page Views are Low Compared with Clicks
Cause: A slow website.
Solution: Work with a developer to speed up the website. The most effective solutions for improving speed are: uninstalling unnecessary apps, reducing the number of elements on pages, reducing the file size of images, deferring offscreen images, and eliminating render-blocking resources.
AddToCarts or Initiate Checkouts are High but Purchases are Low
Cause A: Unexpected costs at checkout.
Solution A: The number one reason why people abandon checkout is delivery cost. Make shipping transparent on product pages and in your delivery page. Shift to a free-delivery model for orders above a certain amount so that shipping costs are clear in the ad.
Cause B: Shipping technicality.
Solution B: Breakdown the campaigns by region. Check that people in the targeted regions can order. Use a VPN to simulate their location. Test on mobile and desktop.
Conversions are Low
Low conversions are the most difficult diagnostic to pinpoint and solve. Thinking you have a conversion problem is not at all helpful as it leads you to small-scale thinking. E.g. “if I fix this thing then more people will buy from me”. If you are experiencing low conversions then more often than not your problem lies somewhere else in the diagnostic process. If your CPMs are twice as high as the previous year, for instance, you must convert twice as many customers. That is not a conversion problem.
Review the Conversion Rate Ranking metric. Conversion Rate Ranking is an estimated measure of your ad’s conversion rate. This becomes another benchmark compared to your proxy Conversion-Rate metric.
Is the campaign objective set to conversions or catalog sales? Do the ads have positive likes and comments? Are comments responded to? Are Purchase events firing on the pixel? Is the ad missing vital information, or does it entice users to click on it? Could you create another offer? What could be done to increase the average order or customer lifetime value?
What Will You Do Next?
I hope this guide helps improve your campaigns immeasurably, and assists in the growth of your business. We have used this guide to turn Shopify businesses from dreams into reality for business owners.
With all this being said, it is indeed possible that your Facebook ads won’t scale. Not every brand will be profitable on Facebook. If you know what to do when things aren’t working, you can make an informed and confident decision on how to change your business landscape, whether that involves selling the business, creating new offers, or focusing on other channels to acquire customers.
Not every brand will be an eight-figure business. Fewer still will amount to nine-figures. But before you rule out hope for your business, ensure that you can distinguish between an intractable issue, and one which, with the right strategy and resources, can be rectified. A good marketing partner, and this guide, will help you work this out. If you’re interested in working with us, get in contact.