Inside the Facebook Ads of Your Competitors: How to Research, What to Learn

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September 16, 2019 6:38 pm


If you’re looking for inspiration for your next great Facebook ad, then we’ve got you covered with this post!

We’re diving into the Facebook Ad Library to give you tips on how to research the ads of your competitors and how to find inspiration from some of the most creative and effective Facebook advertisers out there. We’ll share some specific tips on how to get meaningful Facebook ad results, and we’re hopeful you’ll leave with a list of ideas that you can test today.


Let me know if this resonates with you: Social media sometimes feel like more art than science. 

That’s a bit hard to admit since our Buffer podcast is called The Science of Social Media

But it’s true. There are strategies and tactics, especially on the brand side of things, that can be hard to measure and hard to quantify. Still, we want to do our best to give you the specifics on what works and why — and we have an especially cool way of doing that when it comes to Facebook ads.


The state of Facebook advertising

You’ve probably heard public perception shifting a little bit in recent months regarding Facebook. Despite this change, the advertising potential of Facebook remains huge. When we talk about Facebook, we’re really talking about Facebook, Instagram, Messenger, Whatsapp — all the assorted properties that Facebook owns. This year, Facebook is nearing 2 billion users on its platforms — that’s nearly 1 in every 3 people over the age of 13 in the world. 

Moreso, Facebook ads still get clicks. According to stats as of April of this year, the average Facebook user clicks on 11 ads in 30 days.

Anecdotally, those click numbers sound great, though they have been better. Cost per click on Facebook is as high as 15 cents versus 12 cents a year ago, and clickthrough rate for brand ads was at 1.6 percent at the start of the year and is now closer to 1.1 percent.

So the takeaway here is that Facebook has a huge potential audience, people still click Facebook ads all the time, and the competition is strong for who gets those clicks. 

Now we can bring in the science!


Takeaway: Use Facebook Ad Library to see how other Pages are advertising

With this new tool, you can enter the name of any Facebook Page, and it will show you all the ads that the page has, both active and inactive.

The tool has a lot of features built around political and issue-based ads in order to provide transparency on who pays for what. Marketers can benefit from it, of course, by using the tool to do some research and gain inspiration from the brands that are doing great things with Instagram ads.
For instance, if you pull up Airbnb on the Facebook Ads Library tool, you’ll see that they currently have over 930 ads running in the U.S. alone. Additionally, you can see that they’ve spent $58,000 on political or issue-based ads since May 2018. 

Fascinating stuff.

So we’ve put some time into using this tool to come up with some best practices for Facebook ads along with some research on the ‘net to see what other advice is out there. 

If you have any favorite ad examples you love, feel free to share with us on social media using the hashtag #bufferpodcast. We’d love to hear them. 


Tips for Facebook image ads

We’ve seen a couple of popular varieties of images in our Facebook Ads Library research. First, some successful brands use images that re-enforce the copy claims in the ad’s text and call-to-action. For instance, Lululemon’s ads for a ventilated shirt show a man exercising while wearing the shirt — and looking cool and ventilated while he does it.

Of course, it may not always be possible to come up with like-for-like images, especially if you don’t have a physical product. We find this a lot with our social ads at Buffer since we sell software. 

In that case, we’ve seen a lot of brands go for either an attractive image that catches attention while relating somewhat to the image copy — for instance, AirTable used a dog photo, which is always a winner. Or, if you can swing it, we’ve seen brands like Headspace have great success with illustrations and graphics. 

Vibrant imagery can be really effective on Facebook. If you’re making graphics, you can do this with color, like The Guardian has with its ads. They placed their weekly magazine on a bright yellow background for some ads. We’ll link to it in the show notes so you can see it. It’s striking!

Get an in-depth view of global issues with The Guardian’s essential weekly magazine. Subscribe today and get 6 issues for $6 with free worldwide delivery.

Posted by Guardian Weekly on Thursday, January 31, 2019

One way that seems to work well with testing which images could be ad-worthy is to use organic posts as a testing ground. A lot of our very best ads at Buffer have started as organic posts to our Page. We boost high-performing content — especially content that has high engagement rates — and we’re able to learn what type of visuals and copy resonate with the Facebook community. 

Tips for Facebook ad copywriting

With image ads — and every other type of Facebook ad, really — one of the most important elements after the visuals will be your call-to-action. What words will you use to convince someone to click or tap?

You’ll find a lot of great inspiration with copywriting, too, when you spend some time in Facebook Ads Library. Here are a few of our favorite discoveries.

  • You can point your call-to-action to a Facebook Event. This comes with a bunch of benefits: people get to stay on Facebook rather than leave to a new site, which may boost your click rate. Those who RSVP can act as a form of viral promotion since their “Yes” replies may send the event into their feed and surface the event on their friends’ feeds. And of course, in tying the even back to your Facebook page, you get the added bonus of extra exposure for your page itself, which will hopefully bring you some more follows.
  • You can put social proof in your copy, sometimes even making the call-to-action as explicit as “See the reviews” or “1,000-plus Google Reviews.”
  • And along with reviews, we’ve seen a lot of brands embracing the Instant Experience storefront, which allows people to stay on Facebook but still browse your products through an experience that you can customize. Instant Experiences can be used with almost all Facebook ad formats–Carousel, Single Image, Video, Slideshow and Collection. The one thing to keep in mind is that it’s mobile-only for now.
  • Ultimately, the best calls-to-action we’ve seen written are those that take you to a page that matches the text in the call-to-action itself, creating a sense of continuity for the customer. Whenever possible, we highly recommend building a custom landing page experience that matches the messaging of your ad.

Tips for Facebook video ads

Another popular type of Facebook ad is video. There are a couple of main tips we’ve noticed when it comes to video ads on Facebook.

First, brands create videos that can be effective with the sound turned off. Data shows that as much as 85 percent of Facebook videos are watched without sound, so it’s imperative that whatever video you use in your advertising that it can get its point across through visuals alone. 
You can do this purely by visuals — say, if you’re a clothing brand and want to show off your outfits, or if you’re a food or cooking product and can show your stuff at work in the kitchen. If you really do need words, though, there’s always captions. We’ve seen a lot of effective ads that go with captions to support the story of their ad.

Another common best practice is to use square video rather than landscape video. This is especially important when you consider the viewing experience across mobile and desktop — landscape videos just don’t work as well on phones. 

We ran a study about this and found that square video outperformed landscape video on every social media network in terms of video views, engagement, and completion rate.In some cases, square video resulted in 30-35% higher video views and an 80-100% increase in engagement.

If you happen to be running just a mobile ad, then you might consider a vertical format instead. Otherwise, we suggest keeping your videos square so that they work great everywhere.  

Tips for Facebook carousel ads and lead ads

Carousel ads are another neat way to tell a story with Facebook ads. 

One of the best ways we’ve seen this work is to visually tie the images together, either thematically  by choosing similar images or quite explicitly by cutting up a single image into multiple frames or using graphic design elements that carry over from one carousel image to the next.
With carousel ads, you can apply many of the same techniques as with the image ads we discussed earlier: use images that relate to the copy, be vibrant, be engaging. 

That’s probably good advice for any visual you use on any of the different Facebook ad types. 

Take Lead Ads for instance.

In addition to the visual marketing tips, we’ve seen brands really make the most of this ad type by being smart about the way they set up the lead capture forms. Facebook will autofill certain types of information, which makes these lead forms as easy-as-can-be for the people signing up. Brands use this to their advantage by only asking for the essential information. We’ve seen some companies only ask for email addresses — say, if you’re wanting to send an e-book.For others, especially those with brick-and-mortar locations or regional events, we’ve seen simple forms with email, city, and country. 

As you’re scrolling through Facebook Ads Library, one thing you’re likely to notice is that many of the ads show text that says the ad you’re looking at has multiple versions. 

Tool: Dynamic creative ads

This Facebook ads feature will automatically optimize and deliver the highest-performing combinations of visuals and copy. You simply give Facebook a bunch of options to choose from, and Facebook will serve variations across its ad network until it finds the best-performing combinations. These combos then get served more widely as the winning ads.

You can apply dynamic creative ads to Conversion, Traffic, Video Views, Reach, Brand Awareness, and App Install campaigns. Pretty much anything you could hope for.

And when you’re coming up with options, the limits for creative are 10 images or videos and 5 options for each of body text, title, description, and call-to-action.
 

Tool: Text overlay

Another favorite tool of ours — and one we see put to good use very often in the Facebook Ad Library ads — is the Text Overlay Tool.

You can upload your ad to this tool, and it will tell you whether your ad contains a High, Medium, or Low amount of text. This is important because the amount of text can affect the reach of your ad.

Ideally, Facebook prefers visuals that have little to no text. You’ll see this in the ads of top brands — they all have bright and stunning visuals with very little text.Still, if your ad image does need some text on it — say, with a brand message or tagline — you can test it on the Text Overlay tool first.

After uploading, the tool will give your image a score of High, Medium, Low, or OK. High-text images may not run at all.Medium-text images may have much lower reach.Low-text images may have slightly lower reach.And OK images should run as expected.


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About The Science of Social Media podcast

The Science of Social Media is your weekly sandbox for social media stories, insights, experimentation, and inspiration. Every Monday (and sometimes more) we share the most cutting-edge social media marketing tactics from brands and influencers in every industry. If you’re a social media team of one, business owner, marketer, or someone simply interested in social media marketing, you’re sure to find something useful in each and every episode.  It’s our hope that you’ll join our 27,000+ weekly iTunes listeners and rock your social media channels as a result!

The Science of Social Media is proudly made by the Buffer team. Feel free to get in touch with us for any thoughts, ideas, or feedback.

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