The advertising side of Facebook tends to get a bad rap. Small business owners often complain that the user interface constantly changes, or that it’s increasingly difficult and expensive to reach fans. But when you get down to it, Facebook ads do work -- only if you follow certain best practices for reaching your target audience. In my experience, they’re cheaper and more effective than most other forms of advertising, including the popular Adwords.
Over the last year, I’ve spent $3 million on Facebook ads to grow my company’s blog, the Penny Hoarder. Sounds like a lot, right? But reinvesting in your business is the best way to grow, and I’ve found Facebook ads to be an effective way of doing just that.
It’s also been a great opportunity to test different strategies and ideas and learn what works on the platform. Here are some of my biggest takeaways from spending big on Facebook ads over the last year.
Lesson #1: Focus on sending traffic to your site, not on growing your Facebook page.
While aiming to add fans to your Facebook page is a popular approach -- because it looks good to have thousands of fans -- it’s not the most effective, especially for content sites like mine that profit from traffic. This has become even more apparent over the last year, as Facebook has decreased organic reach for pages to encourage businesses to spend more on advertising, because such a small percentage of your fans see organic updates -- the ones you don’t pay for.
Instead, use boosted posts to send traffic to your website. As a bonus, taking this approach will also help your Facebook page grow, because you’ll get likes along the way. Promoting posts with the goal of landing page views helped me hit 1.4 million fans this year. Focusing on page growth, however, doesn’t have the corresponding bonus of bringing in immediate website traffic.
When I use boosted posts to send traffic back to my site, I have two main goals:
1. Convince users to take an action that covers the cost of their click. I monetize primarily through advertising.
2. Retain them as readers, so I can easily reach them again in the future. One way to accomplish this is by collecting emails, which I do through a pop-up. It might sound counterintuitive to focus on retaining readers rather than further monetizing their visits, but it helps me grow our reader base, so I can reach even more people down the road.
Lesson #2: The best return on investment (ROI) comes from boosting posts.
For a new advertiser, it can be tough to determine which type of ad to run. Facebook offers 10 different objectives, including boost your posts, promote your page, send people to your site and increase conversions.
I already discussed why you shouldn’t pay to promote your page, but what about the other options? First off, note that each ad type’s audience will differ, because Facebook targets the people most likely to complete the objective you choose.
The ads themselves are different, too. When you opt to send people to your site, you create an ad from scratch -- often that links to a landing page where you collect email addresses. When you boost a post, you put money behind an already-published update on your Facebook page to help it reach more people.
Though most experts recommend ads that link to a landing page, I’ve had better success boosting my posts.
And by boosting posts, I don’t mean clicking the “Boost Post” button on your Facebook page. Using Ads Manager or Power Editor allows more targeting options on the back end -- which helps you refine your target audience and get the most bang for your buck.
Here are three reasons I prefer boosting posts over sending people to the site:
1. They’re real updates from my page, rather than carefully crafted advertisements, which means boosted posts can feel less salesy.
2. Boosted posts take less time to push live, because I don’t have to create a new ad. Instead, I’m putting money behind a Facebook post I’ve already published.
3. Since I monetize through display advertising and affiliate partnerships, clicks on my boosted posts have the ability to provide an immediate ROI. I also work to capture each visitor's email address upon exit, so I can eliminate the need to pay for their click a second time.
Boosted posts have worked well for my business -- a content site -- but that doesn’t mean they’re the best option for every company. If you sell a particular product or service, then maybe a different type of ad would work better. Even if that’s the case, lessons 1 and 3 still apply.
My advice? Try all the options and don’t be afraid to buck conventional wisdom.
Lesson #3: You don’t have to spend a lot on Facebook ads to see a high return.
Facebook ads can be really cheap. If your click-through rate is high, and you’ve correctly targeted your audience, you can actually get clicks for as low as a penny each. Other forms of digital advertising like Adwords tend to be much more expensive for the same keywords.
This applies particularly for mobile traffic, which often costs less than targeting desktop users. Sometimes it makes sense to spend more for desktop users, though. On my site, for example, I find visitors on desktops tend to complete more affiliate offers and take other actions on the site that bring in revenue.
One smart way to bring down the cost per click is to closely monitor the analytics. Facebook offers a wealth of data in both Insights and Ads Manager that you can use to inform your decisions. The cool part about this is you can access your page’s Insights for free, even if you don’t pay for advertising.
What other advertising platforms give you tons of data on your users before you spend any money? You can learn about your community without spending a dime. I check Insights for each of the posts I share organically on my page to see how they perform -- and then make the decision whether to spend money to boost them. The trick is to look for organic posts that have high click-through rates. The higher the click-through rate, the more inclined I am to put money behind the post.
Do Facebook ads work?
Don’t get me wrong, it’s scary to spend so heavily on Facebook ads.
But if you do it in a smart way, spending money on Facebook ads will help you earn money. It’s been an incredible driver of growth for my company, helping us to become one of the largest personal finance blogs, with 5.5 million unique visitors each month.
I’m always testing other advertising platforms and am nimble enough to shift our budget elsewhere if Facebook changes its system. But for now, if you’re looking to grow your community and your website traffic, Facebook advertising is where it’s at.