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Family - A Seattle Advertising Agency

How to Crush or Fail at Facebook Advertising

Marketing Strategy

Over a conference call with a fairly large agency, I pitched my spin on a nifty script they recently penned. The main character was a talking dog. They really wanted to work with me, but everyone was clearly shocked by my proposed special effects budget. You see, they were thinking something along the lines of a cheesy Jimmy Kimmel Live! green-screen gag. And I was thinking more like the movie Babe. We obviously had different visions.

It takes very little to do certain things poorly. And it takes a lot more to do certain things well. The same is true for Facebook ads. Clients often ask me: How hard is it to do Facebook ads? Honestly, it takes very little to do them poorly, and significantly more to do them well.

According to eMarketer, Facebook advertising will capture one in five of all digital dollars spent in 2018. Marketers will pop for almost $21B in Facebook advertising. Facebook’s share of that pie will be $17B. The $4B difference? Well, you didn’t think all those ads were gonna make themselves, did you?

If you’re looking for a “How to make a Facebook ad” article, you can stop reading right now. There are plenty of places to find those – like the checklist linked at the end of this article. But keep in mind, Facebook advertising seems to change about every other month, so caveat emptor.

Are you still with me? Great. Because Facebook is probably the best advertising tool I’ve ever seen.

  • It’s one of the cheapest ways to advertise

  • It’s pliable enough to work at every stage of the marketing funnel

  • It’s a no-brainer to track the effectiveness

  • It has gonzo targeting tools

And it’s pretty simple to screw up, too. So before you hit those how-to articles, here’s a lot more you need to keep in mind. Well, only if you want them to work.

Missing Information

Facebook is a tactic, not a strategy. It’s a platform. Your advertising is only going to be as good as the person developing the strategy and creative.

For example, we were working with a credit union. Their goal was to get people to switch banks. They wanted to do Facebook ads (because they heard it was cheap), but they hadn’t explored important questions. Like, when do people consider switching banks? After that discussion, things started to fall in place. Eventually, we set up several Facebook campaigns for them:

  • Targeting people within 20 miles who recently moved to the area

  • Reaching people in January when people think about starting the year fresh

  • Reaching people in March and April, aka tax season, when people might become frustrated with their current bank

Switching banks is a pain. So we took away that obstacle. The bank created a rapid-response concierge team to help people switch. That became the focus of our Facebook creative: We make switching easy. And then we brainstormed more times and situations that would cause people to consider switching banks.

You’re going to waste your money on Facebook advertising if you don’t treat it like any other advertising campaign. Your advertising is only as good as your plan.

More Targets Than a Rifle Range

If your Facebook ad isn’t converting, one of two things is happening. Either you’re driving the wrong audience to the landing page, or the audience you’re driving to the landing page doesn’t find your offer valuable. Fix one or the other.

Fixing an offer is pretty straightforward. Make it clear. Make it compelling. Create urgency. A/B Test. Done. Fixing a targeting issue is a little more involved, because Facebook has an arsenal of targeting options.


A Saved Audience is something you create from scratch in Facebook. It’s based on demographic information and behavioral data. When creating a Saved Audience, it’s important to target a large number of people, so the algorithm has a lot of data to play with. Refining and testing a Saved Audience will often solve your targeting problems. But don’t stop there.

As you find success with a Saved Audience, you should attempt niche campaigns using more behavioral factors. Here’s an example.

For a regional restaurant, we geofenced a 1-mile radius around the Tacoma Dome and ran three campaigns. One campaign targeted fans of Bruno Mars – headlining a concert at the venue. Another targeted Facebook fans of the restaurant, and the third targeted demographic factors like nightlife, alcohol and a propensity to use credit cards. Good niche audiences are smaller, but come with higher success rate. Again, targeting takes imagination and a little thought. Monitoring and adjusting your targeting is important to be successful. But be careful with your adjustments.

Never adjust the creative or targeting information in a campaign that’s running. Ever. It confuses Facebook’s algorithm. Duplicate the campaign and make your adjustments before pushing it live. If it’s a long-running ad with a lot of social proof, duplicate the ad and create a new campaign. The Facebook algorithm likes social validation (comments, clicks and likes) a lot. Never throw away a good ad with lots of social proof.


Possibly the best results come from Custom Audiences. They’re created in Facebook from a customer list. There are lots of places to get a list. Customer lists come from CRM systems, people who have liked your Facebook page, any sales team’s customer list, or you can create your own list. There are a variety of tools that will generate a list by scraping the internet.


If you don’t have tens of thousands of people on your list, create a Lookalike Audience in Facebook. This is a new audience based on your original list after looking at over 1,500 different factors. Our last Facebook campaign using a Lookalike Audience finished with a click-through rate of 8.46. Your results will vary.


You can also expect greater success with retargeting campaigns. Set a Facebook pixel on your website. Anyone who visits your site will be cookied. Now you can retarget these people by creating an audience based on the Facebook pixel data.

Why is retargeting more effective? You always get better results from a warm audience than a cold one. A warm audience has already interacted with your brand. They’ve seen your ads, and possibly had a small engagement with your brand like downloading a coupon or an eBook, or reading a blog post. Cold audiences are very difficult to convert.

Switching your targeting to any one of these could solve your problem.

So, How Many Good Leads Do You Want?

Another common question clients ask me is this: How much does it cost?

Honestly, why would you stop buying more and more ads if they’re delivering more and more leads? It sounds like a dodge, but it’s not.

Take the example of the credit union. After testing we determined a cost per lead for their existing market. Then we proposed a new budget to reach as many new customers as possible at strategic times. But if it works, why wouldn’t you expand into different counties across the state? Banking regulations will slow you down at the state line. But, golly, when is the last time you set foot in a bank? We recommended they get aggressive.

This is how we do it. We set a modest budget for testing, execute the campaign and then evaluate it. After we prove that it works, we meet and propose a higher budget, sometimes 4x higher. If the campaign continues to convert, we’ll increase the budget about 20 percent a week. The Facebook algorithm has trouble with anything over that threshold. At a certain point the budget hikes stop paying for themselves, and we reduce the budget back to a level that’s ROI-positive.

So when someone tells you Facebook advertising is as low as $5 a day, they don’t have your best interest at heart. If it works at $5, then why wouldn’t you try $10 or $20? Unless you don’t need more customers. Other people might tell you there’s no budget too small. Well, there is. For those with DIY budgets, we coach in-house teams to manage the campaigns or point them to a handful of vendors we work with. These are usually a one-day boot camp with follow-up strategy sessions.

And one last point on budgets: The cost of Facebook ads is going up. Here’s why.

They’re very popular, for all the reasons listed above. To make more room in the newsfeed, Facebook strangled brands’ organic reach to nearly zero. This means brands have to advertise to reach fans who liked their page. Whenever demand is high and space is finite, costs go up.

So we don’t use Facebook’s suggested bidding anymore. We double it. It’s still less expensive than almost any other advertising out there.

Last Thoughts

A good Facebook ad lives at the nexus of strategy, design, copy and your offer. The following is a checklist from Hootsuite on things to keep in mind while creating your Facebook campaign.

Mike Johnston is a production executive and advertising creative in Seattle. He is available for freelance consulting, writing and directing. Contact Mike


Wanna know more about how to fix the biggest mistakes digital marketers make? Read all about it.

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