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If a novice guitarist picked up the instrument and couldn’t play well, it would be unreasonable for him or her to assume that guitars everywhere just don’t work. Based on the mountain of evidence to the contrary by way of every successful guitarist in history, it would obviously be more reasonable to assume that the player should just spend more time learning the instrument.
I hear this same scenario play out all the time with companies who have dabbled in Facebook ads and then claim that the channel just doesn’t work when, really, they just need to spend more time learning the instrument.
This is not to say that every company needs to be spending money on Facebook ads, or any paid marketing channel for that matter, when it comes to acquiring customers. But if you are going to go the paid acquisition route, Facebook should be on your short list to test. And before you make your final judgement on its effectiveness, here are a few things to consider:
Intention vs Interruption
When it comes to paid acquisition, nothing beats high intent traffic. This is usually comes in the form of search engine marketing terms directly related to your product or service. If someone is actively searching for what you offer, that is pure gold since you are basically “preaching to the choir”.
However, there are times when you need to scale your paid acquisition beyond just these users. It may be that, after growing your SEM program, you’ve started to plateau in volume and/or marginal return. Or you may have a product with limited potential search volume – for example, if you are pioneering a new, disruptive technology, no one may be searching for it yet.
At this point, we’re left with interruptive advertising, in which we show ads to users during the course of their day and hope to pull them into our ecosystem to learn and transact. This opens up a much larger potential pool of users who are not actively looking for your product, but it’s also a much harder group to turn into revenue.
Enter Facebook Ads
Among all of the interruptive advertising channels, from TV and radio to the myriad opportunities across the web, there are several important reasons Facebook ads are so effective:
Data, Data and More Data
Despite recent issues causing them to tighten up their targeting options, Facebook still knows a ton about their users across countless demographic, interest and behavioral dimensions and uses this info to enhance your ability to target the right people at the right time.
Consistent, Native Placements
When you sign up to advertise in Facebook’s newsfeed, you are appearing in one of the most highly optimized advertising environments in the known universe. Your ads integrate seamlessly into the content around it and you don’t have to worry about always showing up on different websites where the context of the ad and intent of the users shift constantly.
Machine Learning Capabilities
Most of the major tech companies have big investments in AI, but I would argue that Facebook’s investments have had the biggest impact directly in its ad products. Google Assistant has 100% changed my life, but when it comes to advertising, I’ll take Facebook Ads over Google Display Network any day of the week.
If you can identify a down funnel KPI to place Facebook’s pixel on, and there is enough data flowing through, Facebook’s machine will learn how to get users there.
Setting Yourself Up For Success
Turning any interruptive advertising channel directly into revenue is always challenging, but Facebook has one of the best chances, given the capabilities outlined above. Still, to maximize your probability of success, there are a few things to keep in mind:
Have the Right Campaign Manager
Companies often turn the responsibility of Facebook advertising over to their “social media person,“ but running the organic posting doesn’t necessarily prepare you for the complexity of the ad products. There are virtually limitless permutations of ads you can test across Facebook’s placements, ad formats, optimization/bidding strategies, device types, data sources, interests, image/text/video variations, etc, etc, etc. As such, it’s critical that the person running your ads knows what they are doing or you may get a false negative on the channel’s effectiveness.
If you don’t have the in-house expertise and choose to go with an agency, remember that a digital agency is only as good as the person actually managing the campaigns, so make sure you interview that person before signing on. It doesn’t matter if the agency CEO is amazing, if he or she then turns day-to-day optimization over to an underling with 6 months of experience and 20 clients to manage.
Have Your Analytics House in Order
In digital marketing (or any marketing IMO), there is no success without measurement. Facebook’s interface makes it easy to track the basic, upper funnel metrics like spend, delivery, clicks and interactions without any work on your part. However, to get to the most important, down funnel metrics, you’ll need to place a pixel on the key events you want to track.
Setting Facebook to optimize toward these events will help weed out the looky-loos and find users ready to transact. You’ll also want to make sure to pass UTMs in the tracking URLs, so you can marry up Facebook’s data with your own internal revenue data to confirm return on ad spend(ROAS).
Also, keep in mind that the Facebook users are probably not coming in as hot and heavy as your higher intent SEO or SEM traffic, since they are not actively looking for your product. As such, they may take a little longer to transact. For example, if you usually look at a 7-day ROAS on SEM, you may want to instead compare the 14 or 30-day ROAS for Facebook to your other paid channels to be apples to apples on performance.
Follow-Up is Key
Again, since the Facebook users are being interrupted vs actively looking, they require a bit more wooing. Make sure you are educating and selling in the initial ad/lander experience so that they are a little warmer when they start to engage with your site. It can be tempting to use clickbait tactics at this stage for cheap clicks and leads, but those users will usually not make it to the bottom of your funnel.
You are also going to want to have strong product marketing, web remarketing and email/SMS CRM in place to continue educating and selling to these users, especially if your product is a new concept, has a big price tag, or requires some explanation.
If your ability to convert and monetize users — even on high intent traffic — still needs a lot of work, you may want to hold off on Facebook or any paid marketing, until that piece is in place.
Test a Lot, But be Strategic
The beauty of Facebook marketing can also be its curse. There are so many different ways to create a Facebook campaign that can have wildly different results, it makes sense to do a fair amount of testing. But you’ll need to be smart about how you prioritize these tests or you can waste a lot of money.
In general, use what you already know about your business to decide which tests make sense and have a decent chance of success. For example, if you know from experience in other channels that only women over 30 on desktop computers in major cities tend to buy your products online, then start there.
And, as you test any significant new element, try to isolate the test to just that element. For example, don’t test new copy, image, data source and device type all at once or you will never know which element drove the success or failure of the test. Maybe sure you operate clean A/B tests and use what you learn to create a new baseline campaign that you build upon with additional tests.
As you can see, doing Facebook right requires a good amount of work and thought. But if you can crack Facebook ads, the scale you can achieve can be pretty staggering. There is definitely a reason that advertisers spend more money on Facebook than any other display marketing channel.
Unfortunately, I’ve seen so many companies give up too soon because of a bad testing experience, when, if it had been tested into correctly, Facebook could have altered the trajectory of their business.
Niall Weintraub is the Co-Founder of MoneyCentro.com & AMP Marketing, a marketing and analytics consultancy. Prior to that, he held marketing leadership positions at Match.com and other major tech companies.