Facebook Myths? Taking a New Look at Best Practices for Facebook Ads

Hal Conick
Marketing News Weekly
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Key Takeaways
​What? Are commonly-suggested Facebook best practices on point? One company, SketchDeck, says many are "myths."

So What? Social media ad spending is on the rise, with much of this spending going to Facebook. Are companies spending their budget properly?

Now What? Despite SketchDeck's claim of many Facebook ad practices being myths, a Facebook marketing professional said their data is off-key. He said much of these best practices are suggested often for a reason: they work. 

Advice for Facebook advertisements has been fairly consistent for years: Use pictures of people. Use relevant images. Have a text overlay with a tagline or call to action. One company is challenging these “myths” of Facebook ads with its own split testing of multiple variations and comparisons of ads. 

SketchDeck, an on-demand design company, created its own series of tests examining six “well-publicized myths” of Facebook ads, based off popular advice and assumptions. The company tested 48 different ads, eight for each myth, focusing on images and keeping the text, call to action, titles, demographic and budget the same for its tests. Ads were optimized for cost per click to measure success of each ad to see which popular assumption was true and which was false, the company wrote.

Ryan McCready, managing editor at Sketchdeck, was interested in finding out which ads were the most successful on Facebook and which fell short of expectations. The main surprise he got from testing was that some of the “irrelevant” photos the company used in ads did better than the relevant ones. These irrelevant ones, such as pictures of hands drawing or working on computers, scored 6% lower CPC than less relevant images.

“One of our most popular ads was a pic of the Golden Gate Bridge,” he says, noting that the ad had a 9% lower CPC than the average ad in the experiment and brought in the most new signups and people to the company’s website. “That [bridge] has nothing to do with the SketchDeck brand, but I think it just caught a lot of people’s eye.”

This may be because people are inundated by tech images, thereby making an eye-catching alternative a bit more savory, he explains.

Another myth that the SketchDeck team looked to bust was the use of text on images. The company said many experts have said there needs to be a call to action or brand statement on a Facebook ad to make it more successful, but McCready said these were some of the worst performing ads of the study.

“I think [text on ads] got added as one of these best practices and everyone used it. Then people were just tired of seeing it,” he says. “If they’re scrolling through their feed and they see something with text, they just keep moving. Unless it’s something like here’s a free Apple Watch or some crazy thing like that, it’s not going to make them stop anymore. It’s just information overload.”

‘You Can Say Anything You Want With Data’

Dennis Yu, chief technology officer with BlitzMetrics and a self-described Facebook marketing expert, says that he finds satisfaction in myth busting “the folks who claim to be myth busters themselves.” Yu believes that companies can say anything they want with data. In this case, he sees SketchDeck’s research as sleight of hand without proper testing and objectives. 

Yu, going point-by-point on each of SketchDeck’s myths says that the testing didn’t mention whom was being targeted, what kind of Facebook Relevance Score or its positive or negative feedback, and said lower CPC doesn’t necessarily mean “better performance.” 

“For the Golden State Warriors, there are some posts that we know will drive clicks at 1/4 of a penny, but drive no sales,” he says. “And there are clicks that are 60 cents and be hugely profitable. Usually, the more educated folks are, the less likely [they are] to click on ads anywhere, Facebook or otherwise. If you're trying to get actually someone to buy software, not distract them with an interesting image, you absolutely want to be relevant.”

Yu also notes that text doesn’t always perform worse, as blanket statements can’t be made “just because your ugly text variants fail, any more than you can say that manual transmission cars don't work, if you don't happen to know how to drive stick.”

“Text on images are called ‘quote cards’ and are the highest performers of all images,” Yu says. “Memes have performed well for a long time, and they don't look like ads. Images with ads don't always look like ads, which they claim.”​

Other sticking points of the study for Yu included:

  • People are better than images: “If you use photos of people that are obviously stock art, people aren't going to click on them. The issue is the canned/non-authentic images, not the fact that they happen to be people.”
  • SketchDeck’s logo test was flawed: “We have brands that place their logo in images often. Well-known brands do well because of the trust from their familiar marks. If nobody knows your brand, then you can't expect to garner the same authority effects.”
  • Simple images can have text, more “interesting” images can perform well without text. Much of the results will depend on what kind of images and message a company has to work with.

“Copy matters, too, since together, the user may decide to click or not. We must have congruence,” he says. “Can you have a legitimate ‘test’ if you don't see the rest of the ad, what they're trying to do, who they're targeting, and so forth? Merely showing the CTR with confidence bars is faux science.”

McCready did note that every company should run a test of its own. With social media ad spending poised to balloon to $35.98 billion by 2017, according to eMarketer, each company would be wise to undertake some testing of their own rather than put all their proverbial eggs in one basket. 

Is SketchDeck’s testing correct or simply made from flawed data? Each company will likely find out what works and what does not work on its own, as Facebook’s 1.4 billion users and 900 million visits each day is a clear draw to new advertisers. Facebook is one of the few websites that offers marketers access to nearly 20% of the world’s population, but without a clear direction and good testing, the ad budget may simply be going to waste.

Author Bio:

Hal Conick
Hal Conick is a staff writer for the AMA’s magazines and e-newsletters. He can be reached at hconick@ama.org or on Twitter at @HalConick.
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