Facebook is going from strength to strength in online advertising right now and marketers can’t seem to get enough. Brands are making big things happen on the social network but not everyone’s getting it right – so what’s going on?

To help answer this question, we want to run a mini series looking at what makes a good Facebook ad. By the time we’re done you’ll have a better understanding of why so many advertisers turn to Facebook and how they get the kind of results that make it an essential marketing channel.

What we’ll be looking at in this mini series:

Before we get started, let’s quickly run through the points we’ll be looking at over the next few articles:

  • The anatomy of a great Facebook ad
  • Getting your ad seen by the right people
  • What happens after people see your ad?

Over these articles we’ll be covering the three key components of a great Facebook ad: what they look like, getting them seen by the right audience and getting them to take the desired action after seeing your ad.

And today we’re starting with part one: the anatomy of a great Facebook ad.

What kind of ads can I create on Facebook?

The first thing you need to know about Facebook advertising is which kind of ads you can create on the network. The quick summary is that you have the following ad formats to play with:

  • Photo ads
  • Carousel ads
  • Video ads
  • Canvas ads

These are the ad formats we’ll be focusing on today but Facebook also combines a series of ad objectives to tailor those formats to your advertising goals. So a carousel ad for brand awareness might look slightly different to one for website conversions, for example. You can create ads for all of the following marketing objectives on Facebook:

  • App engagement
  • App installs
  • Brand awareness
  • Clicks to website
  • Event responses
  • Lead generation
  • Local awareness
  • Offer claims
  • Page likes
  • Page post engagement
  • Store visits
  • Video views
  • Website conversions

As you can see, there are a lot of important conversion types in that list – although not all ad formats are available for each of them. So the first secret to a great Facebook ad is knowing your objective and understanding which available ad format will get the best results.

What does a great Facebook photo ad look like?

Source: Facebook

Okay, so according to Facebook, this is what a decent photo ad looks like on the network. The image above is in the desktop News Feed format and here’s a quick look at the mobile equivalent:

Source: Facebook

In terms of the anatomy of photo ads, the image itself is obviously the standout feature, but you’ve also got a headline, some text and a link description. Photo ads for some objectives also have an optional CTA button and then the entire ad is wrapped in your post – including your social info, additional text and the usual post features: likes, comments, etc.

So the key to photo ads is the image you use. We’re not saying the headlines or text are unimportant but it’s the image that’s going to capture people’s attention as they scroll, make them stop and read what your ad has to say. Unlike AdWords text ads, for example – where the headline is most important – ads on Facebook rely on their visual elements to capture people’s attention.

So let’s forget about Facebook’s example and take a look at an actual photo ad that gets things right. Here’s an offering from Jobbatical, a startup that gives people the opportunity to work around the world on year-long contracts:

Image: jobbatical.png

Now, someone with a vested interest in travel is going to notice that kind of picture. “Travel. Work. See the world” sells a pretty compelling package and the ad copy expands on the main message perfectly. Who doesn’t dream of working abroad when some company turns around and says they’ll take care of everything for them? Who wouldn’t want to click the “Learn More” button and find out how to how they can earn money while staying in their dream city?

So the image stops people in their tracks and then it’s up to your ad copy to expand on your core message in a way that keeps people interested. Not only that, but the copy needs to install enough excitement to get people clicking on your CTA button (or taking whatever desired action you have in mind).

As with all networks, there are some technical requirements/recommendations and here’s what Facebook has to say about your photo ads:

 

  • Recommend image size: 1,200 x 628 pixels
  • Image ratio: 1:9:1
  • Text: 90 characters
  • Link description: 30 characters

 

Aside from that, Facebook also recommends you keep the text in your images to a minimum. The network isn’t as strict as it used to be on this but the 20% “rule” is still a good guideline to follow. Here’s a graphic representation from Facebook about how it assesses text in images:

            Source: Facebook

You can check out the page we grabbed that image from for more info on Facebook’s image/text policy. It’s a handy resource, so give it a look.

 

What makes a great Facebook carousel ad?

Source: Facebook

Carousel ads are the ideal format if you want to promote multiple products, packages or services in a single ad – but that’s not all. Many brands are using carousel ads in a more creative way and you’ll get some interesting ideas from this Facebook Business article.

Source: Facebook Business

Here we have one brand using a carousel ad to showcase a single product with each item used to communicate the key benefits of that product in a visual way. While others are using carousel ads to show the joy of using their products.

Source: Facebook Business

You can use these to promote resources, downloads, sales promotions or tell a brand story. The key is to make each image visually striking, whether they’re standalone images or part of a sequence. You also want to give users a reason to keep on scrolling until they find something that inspires action – whether it’s a specific product or your call to action at the end of a sequence.

As always, Facebook has some design recommendations for you to think about:

 

  • Recommended image size: 600 x 600 pixels
  • Image ratio: 1:1
  • Text: 90 characters
  • Headline: 40 characters
  • Link description: 20 characters

 

Once again, images should have a minimal amount of text and Facebook also recommends creating “a Custom Audience of people who have visited a product section of your website. Then show them a Facebook Advert that features the same product they were looking at.”

 

What does a great Facebook video ad look like?

Source: Facebook

There aren’t any major surprises in the format for video ads on Facebook. They’re basically the same as photo ads, except they have a video chucked in place of the image, but video ads are Facebook’s killer weapon. Get these things right and you’ll be tapping into the best of the network’s advertising prowess. Before we talk about how to do that, here’s a quick look at what the mobile format looks like:

Source: Facebook

Now, as for creating killer Facebook video ads, there are a number of things to consider:

 

  • Users have to invest time in watching your video
  • Facebook’s auto-play feature is both a benefit and a curse
  • People aren’t actively looking to buy on Facebook

 

Okay, so video ads have a much tougher job than your typical photo ad. Not only do they need to capture people’s attention in a matter of seconds (perhaps milliseconds), they also have to keep users watching until the end and inspire them to take action.

So those first few instances are all about grabbing attention and then it comes down to the story of your video, which needs to keep people engaged throughout.

A key part of your story is getting the length right. Shorter videos (15-30 seconds) tend to perform better on Facebook so the more fat you can trim, the better. However, you need to make sure there’s enough rich content to keep people watching and get them to act afterwards. Sometimes it’s a balancing act.

As for that auto-play feature Facebook uses; it can be both a benefit and a curse (to you and your users). On the plus side, it gives you that window, an opportunity to get your video playing and users interested. However, it also interrupts the user experience – both visually and audibly – which users aren’t all that happy about.

In fact, Facebook recommends creating silent ads so you’re not blasting users in the face with audio from content they never asked to see. That’s one option, sure, but you can also fade audio in gradually or start with something a little more atmospheric before the audio really kicks in.

Lexus gives us a good example of a video ad that makes an impression. Notice how they use a thumbnail from much later in the video as the “image” to capture people’s interest before the video even starts auto-playing. Lexus also went for minimal audio in the first few seconds of the ad before the soundtrack picks up and the entire video is full of compelling visuals that make it hard to stop watching.

And, of course, Facebook has some design guideline for you to follow when creating your video ads:

 

  • Text: 90 characters
  • Headline: 25 characters
  • News Feed description: 30 characters
  • Aspect ration: Between 16:19 and 9:16
  • Caption: Text only, max. 2,200 characters

 

You can get more guidelines and technical requirements on video by visiting this Facebook Business page but they only really cover the criteria you need to meet for your ad to be accepted. In terms of making a great video ad, it all comes down to the footage you can produce and the level of engagement you’re capable of achieving.

Focus on grabbing that initial attention to stop users scrolling and then keep then work on keeping them engaged throughout your video ad.

 

What does a great canvas ad look like?

Facebook Canvas ads are a relatively new, more engaging kind of system that’s designed to tell your story though multimedia formats and user scrolling. They contain different types of content, calls to action and other elements that users navigate their way through manually. Here’s what they look like in action:

Canvas ads are only supported on mobile with the idea being that people scroll through your digital story. You can combine video, images, product feeds and other kinds of content to guide users through the message of your interactive ad. You can find more information about Canvas ads over at Canvas.facebook.com but this is an example anatomy of Canvas ads from Facebook Business:

Source: Facebook Business

Once again, it’s the story of your ad that matters most, but you’ll be calling on different media types and combining them to tell a more immersive narrative. There are six media types currently available: text, photos, tilt-to-pan images, video, carousels and buttons.

You can also combine different ad objectives with Canvas ads – for example, you could have an app-install button in one component, a product feed in another and a mobile link in another. Of course, this makes Canvas ads a highly strategic format. If you think creating a standalone video is a challenge, try putting that within the context of a multimedia ad that tells a much larger story.

As we say, this format is still relatively new but you can see some more examples over at Facebook Business.

 

The key takeaway form the ad formats that we’ve looked at today is that Facebook really is a visual content. It doesn’t matter whether you’re promoting a blog post or a luxury product; it’s the visual elements of your ad that will capture attention and stop people scrolling.

One you spark that initial interest, it’s up to the rest of your ad (headline, text, video, etc.) to keep users engaged until the time comes for them to take action. So make it visually captivating and then your next job is to make it relevant – which we’ll be taking and in-depth look at in our next article asking What Makes a Good Facebook Ad Anyway?