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The dummy’s guide to Facebook Ads: Tips on spending your advertising budget most efficiently

By Krista Krumina on September 22nd, 2017 - Reading time: 9 minutes

Once you’ve launched your online store, the next step is getting eyes on it. One way to do that is through Facebook advertising.

The latest stats from 2017 show that the social media giant has over 2 billion active users, and 1.32 billion of them use Facebook every day. No wonder 93% of marketers use Facebook Ads regularly.

For brands with large budgets, it’s easier – they can experiment with ads, test audiences and creatives, and see what works and what doesn’t. But if you’re on a tight budget, those $500 you put into advertising better work and bring you results!

In this blog post, I’ll share my experiences working with Facebook ads for Startup Vitamins and Printful, and reveal some tested tips and tactics on how to get maximum results with minimal spending. These tactics worked for Startup Vitamins – an online store just like yours – so they might work for your store as well.

A quick note:

What many business owners don’t realize, is that Facebook Ads and Facebook Boosted posts are quite different things.

At Printful and Startup Vitamins we mostly use Facebook ads. However, there are situations you can and want to use boosted posts.

So let’s start with boosted posts:

Facebook Boosted posts: the basics of why and when to use them

Boosted posts are one format of Facebook ads that are optimized for maximizing your post engagement. In other words, the goal of these ads is to get more likes, comments, and shares for your status updates, rather than increasing conversions, such as purchases or registrations.

When you boost a post, Facebook will spend your budget showing it to people who are most likely to press the like button, share your post, or leave a comment.

There are two situations I think boosted posts are okay to use:

First: when you’ve just launched your online store along with your business’s Facebook Page.

The truth is, if people have never heard about you before and when there’s almost no activity on your Facebook Page, optimizing for purchases just won’t give any results. With dead silence under your previous status updates and just a few followers to your Page, there’s simply not enough social proof for users to buy from you.

So, instead of hoping for purchases, you should aim for increasing brand awareness. One way to do it is through maximizing the reach of your posts. As I mentioned, boosted posts are optimized for shares to give your messages bigger visibility, and likes and comments that will add extra social proof to your posts.

Second: when your Page’s status update is useful for your existing followers, and you want to make sure your fans get the message.

Look – Facebook algorithms have made sure your business’s status updates organically reach just about 2% of your total Page followers. If you want more of your fans to see your posts, you’ve got to be ready to open your wallet. (Unfair, I know!)

So, what kind of posts should you boost?

If you need to inform your followers about the upcoming holiday order deadlines, boost that post to make sure your customers are informed. Or, when you want more people to participate in your activity or enter your giveaway – then by all means, boost that post!

Boosted posts are probably the easiest kind of Facebook ads since they don’t require any Facebook pixel setup (although it’s optional) and they’re really quick to set up.

But –

Likes don’t pay the bills. That is why in most cases you won’t want to spend your money on boosted posts. Instead, you’ll want to spend your ad budget on Facebook ads that are optimized for purchases, since that’s what you’re actually aiming for, right?

Since boosted posts are the easiest type of ads, they’re also the easiest and quickest way to waste your money. To make sure that doesn’t happen, here are two extra rules to keep in mind when using boosted posts:

One: only boost your own content. There are rare exceptions, but in most cases, you don’t want to promote content published on someone else’s site and spend your money to send traffic their way.

Two: unless your Page has no followers, boost your posts to your existing fans. Friends of your followers will probably not be interested in your status updates (read again what kind of posts are okay to boost!). So, you’ll be wasting your money promoting your posts to people who just don’t care.

So, the lesson learned: use boosted posts, but do it thoughtfully. And now, let’s move on to the next level and talk about Facebook Ads.

Facebook Ads: the quick guide to targeting

By using Facebook Ads you’re not only able to optimize your ads for conversions like purchases or registrations, but you’re also allowed to add a call-to-action button to your ads. And – most importantly – you can be much more detailed with your targeting.

Contrary to Boosted Posts, Facebook Ads won’t appear on your Facebook Page. Save your Facebook Page’s wall for useful content, and leave your openly promotional messages for ads.

3 types of targeting you can use in your Facebook Ad campaigns to get new eyes on your store

Targeting is everything. You can spend thousands of dollars, but if you’re showing your ads to people who don’t care, you won’t get any results.

There are two kinds of audiences we use for Printful and Startup Vitamins campaigns: lookalike audiences and audiences based on interests. And we also occasionally combine the two.

1. Lookalike audiences based on your customers’ or store visitors’ profiles

If you’ve been running your store for a while, you should probably have a list of your customers’ and other store visitors’ emails.

Now, you can upload your email list on Facebook and create a lookalike audience – aka people who have similar interests and behaviors as your existing customers.

This is how you create lookalike audiences from your customer emails:

  1. Take your list of emails in an Excel or .CSV file, or simply copy the email addresses from the list. Then go to Audiences in your Facebook Ads Manager.
  2. Create a Custom Audience by uploading the list or pasting the email addresses.
  3. Create a Lookalike Audience from the Custom Audience you just created.

You’ll need at least 100 emails from your target country to create a lookalike audience. The bigger the list, the higher-quality lookalike audience you’ll get. Besides, if you have a big customer list, you can even segment these emails, and then create a lookalike audience for specific segments.

Let me explain what segmenting is:

Let’s say you sell leggings and hats on your store. You can segment your customers’ emails based on which product they’ve bought: in one list you’ll have all customers who’ve bought leggings, and in the other, those who’ve bought hats. Upload both of the lists separately on Facebook, and create two lookalike audiences. Then advertise different products to each of them – to one group you can show ads with leggings:

And to the other group you show ads with hats:

What if my customer base isn’t big enough?

You can still create lookalike audiences, but based on your store’s visitors. To do that, you’ll first need to install the Facebook pixel on your store so it can track your visitors – read here for how it’s done. Once the pixel is up and running, you can create audiences from your store’s visitors.

This is how you create lookalike audiences from your store’s visitors:

  1. Go to your Facebook Ads Manager, then Audiences
  2. Click Custom Audience, and choose Website Traffic, then Anyone who visits your website, and pick your website
  3. Create a new Lookalike Audience from the custom audience you just created

Here, again, you can segment your visitors by product categories or specific pages they visit and create different lookalike audiences. What you do is, in step #2, select People who visit specific web pages instead of Anyone who visits your website. Then add URL keywords from specific pages.

For example, we want to create an audience of Startup Vitamins visitors who are interested in posters. At the URL keywords, we type in “poster” and the audience is created from all visitors who visited pages that contain the word ”poster” in their URLs:

In addition to the options described above, you can also create lookalike audiences based on:

  • Your Facebook Page’s followers
  • People who have engaged with posts on your Facebook Page (eg. users similar to people who have previously shared your status updates)
  • People who’ve completed a particular action on your website, like added a product to their cart or added payment information. Although for that you’ll first need to install the advanced version of the Facebook pixel on your page that tracks Events.

2. User-interest based audiences and how to define them effectively

Okay, you’re probably thinking:

But what if I’ve JUST launched my store, have no customers yet and the only visitors to my store so far have been me, my best friend, and mom?

Then you use targeting that’s based on specific interests. And I really mean specific.

In other words:

If you’re selling designs with cute puppies, an interest ”puppies” is not specific enough. There are 15M people in the USA, aged 18-65+ who like puppies. You should think of something that’s really unique about the puppy lovers you want to target.

So one thing you can do is combine various interests, demographics, and behaviors to make your audience more specific. Think about who your puppy lovers are. How old are they? Single or with families? What do they like and what do they hate? (Try interests that start with ”I hate”) What books do they read? (Maybe something about dog training?) You get the idea – you should narrow down your audience until it’s specific.

For example, now we’re targeting women aged 25-40 who love puppies, are interested in dog training (read: serious interest in dogs), and are also interested in online shopping (read: shops online).

3. A mash-up of lookalike and interest-based audiences

Another way to make your targeting more specific is to combine interests with your lookalike audiences. For example, when we create campaigns for Printful, we often tend to use our customers’ lookalike audience in combination with interest in a specific ecommerce platform.

Let me show you:

If I select an interest ”Shopify,” Facebook finds 2.6M people in the USA, aged 18-65+ who are interested in Shopify:

But who are these people? You can sell anything on Shopify, so we can’t be sure that all of those 2.6M people are interested in selling print products.

So here’s what we do:

First, we select a lookalike audience that’s created from our email list of existing Printful customers. Then, we narrow it down with the interest ”Shopify”:

Now our target audience for the campaign is just 57K. However, we can be more confident that these 57K will actually be interested in printing t-shirts and other products because they’re similar to our existing customers AND are interested in Shopify.

What audience is a good audience?

I don’t think anybody can really answer this question, but here’s what works for us:

In short – if we target people who are already familiar with our brand (our Facebook followers or existing customers), audiences can vary from a few hundred to a couple of thousand.

Meanwhile, for lookalike audiences, the optimal audience size for us is around 1M in the USA. It can be different for you, but you don’t want your audience to be too specific or too broad. If it’s too specific, your reach will be very low; if it’s too broad, you will reach a lot of wrong people. Therefore, I try to define my audiences so that this bar is somewhere in the middle:

Usually, if you use a lookalike audience, the bar will always be in the middle. It’s a bit harder to hit this middle ground with detailed targeting.

Facebook Ads: What kind of images and copy sell best?

Ad creatives contain two parts: visuals and copy.

When you look at parts of your ad, you can rank them in order of importance. Facebook already has created a sort of visual hierarchy here – the bigger the element, the more importance it has:

The most important element is the image because it takes up the most space in the ad, so it’s the first thing you notice. If the image speaks to you, you read the headline and post text, and finally the link description.

Which images work best in Facebook Ads?

We’ve tested a lot of images; here are the types of visuals that perform the best:

1. High-quality product photos zoomed in. You want your product to be clearly visible both in newsfeed ads, as well as on the right-hand side and mobile ads. Here you can compare how ads look in the newsfeed and on the right-hand side:

2. People pointing. It feels like the person in the image is actually pointing and talking to you. The “cereal box psychology” that was found in an experiment works on adults too – eye contact seem to increase positive feelings towards the product and encourages consumers to buy it.

3. Colorful images that stand out in the feed. You’ve only got 2.5 seconds to catch the attention of users scrolling their news feed on desktop, and just 1.7 seconds on mobile – that’s the amount of time people spend on one piece of content in their Facebook feeds.

PS, Check out Printful’s Photography Services – our team can shoot high-quality photos of your products that you can use for Facebook ads and more.

Which copy works best in Facebook ads?

When it comes to copy, here’s what has worked for us:

1. Social proof. Nothing works better than showing that there are people who’ve already bought your product, trust you, or recommend you to others. There are various kinds of social proof you can use in your ads, from expert social proof to user social proof. Here’s an example of using social proof in a Printful ad:

2. Use of words that your audience will recognize and/or relate to. For example, if you target women, use words like “women,” “lady,” or “girl” in your copy. If you target people who like puppies, use the word “puppy” in your copy.

3. Deal highlights. Create a special discount code for customers coming from Facebook ads, and highlight that discount code in your copy. For us it works best if we mention it right in our headline:

It’s rather difficult to separate ad visuals from the copy – they work together to persuade users to click. You should definitely test various images and copy in one campaign, in different combinations, and see what works and what doesn’t. We usually create at least 6 different ads for each campaign with 2-3 different images and copy versions.

Final thoughts

About 3 million businesses worldwide use Facebook to market their business. The competition is tough, so it’s easy to waste tons of money when you’re just starting out and don’t know what exactly you’re doing.

Even though the stakes are high, there is good news, too:

On Facebook the winner is not the one with the most money, but the one with the smartest approach. In fact, our experience shows that the smartest and cheapest approach of all is to combine your advertising efforts with other tactics, like email marketing. That is, use Facebook ads to keep your email list fresh and growing, then seal the deal with personalized emails – such tactic can seriously lower the cost of your ads and boost your ROI.

Now, before you get to more advanced advertising tactics, go and play with Facebook targeting options and create a new campaign. And if you get any questions on the way, don’t hesitate to ask them in the comments below!

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