Do you run Facebook ads? Or do you consider running them? Then this is definitely for you.
It’s long, it’s informative, it’s useful, and it will make (or save) you lots of money and frustration.
So how do top eCommerce companies use Facebook ads?
Can you find patterns when analyzing their Facebook ads? And what can you find out from their eCommerce Facebook ads that you could use to improve your business?
Below you will find a summary of a very extensive research of ads being run by top eCommerce companies. It was performed by Inflow, a marketing agency, with the cooperation of Facebook representatives.
Note: if you’re using an ad blocker, it might be wise to disable it now. There will be a lot of ad examples below. You don’t want to miss them. There are no ads on GrowRevenue anyway, so turning off your ad blocker will not hurt your browsing experience 🙂
How to check what ads are being run
Facebook recently added a feature where you can go to any page and see what Facebook ads it currently has running:
This should make it possible for you to run your own analysis in your industry, similar to what you can find below for eCommerce companies.
eCommerce Facebook Ads: Research Methodology
The data set used in the study is a representative sample of Facebook ads being run by top eCommerce companies.
Inflow spoke directly with representatives at Facebook about what they were seeing in the research. They confirmed to us that they don’t show all ads that a page might be running.
For sites with a large number of ads (like Amazon, for example), there can be far more ads running than shown by Facebook in its listing. This is partly because there can be many variations of each individual ad that change based on dynamic targeting, retargeting, and many other factors.
As a result, Facebook often shows a useful representation of the ads being run by a page, especially for pages with lots of ads.
Since a complete collection of ads was impractical, a representative dataset of ads being run by the pages in the research was used, which still yielded a number of interesting results as you’ll see below.
To do this, Inflow used a list of the top 50 eCommerce companies by annual revenue compiled by eMarketer and collected ads from their Facebook pages.
A list of the companies and their revenue:
First, let’s define some basic terms:
- Ad text: the body of the ad
- Headline: the main call-to-action
- Link description: the text below the headline
Here are the highlights of the findings of the research:
- Very few ads had longer than a one or two sentence ad text
- Most headlines were short—usually under five words
- Most ads contained no link description
- Most images did not have text on them
- Carousels were the most common ad type
Top eCommerce Companies Mostly Ran Revenue-Focused Ads
Inflow manually analyzed the purpose of each of the ads and found that 336 of 350 ads (96%!) were designed to encourage someone to make an immediate purchase.
The most common ad was simply one displaying a specific product:
They also found many ads that mentioned a category or theme of products—rather than an individual item.
Also common were ads promoting sitewide discounts:
The top eCommerce brands seem to be using Facebook ads almost exclusively as a way to convince people to buy something now. Most are not using ads as a way of building their brand presence.
Things to note:
- There were barely any ads focusing on building engagement.
- There weren’t any ads that were attempting to introduce the brand to new audiences. While these companies are all big, not all are household names.
- There was only one company that used Facebook ads to drive traffic to a lead magnet to get customers’ email addresses. Costco offered an ebook on healthy shopping:
After Facebook decreased the organic reach of Facebook pages, there was speculation that brands would be forced to pay to get decent traction on their Facebook pages.
Many of these companies have active Facebook pages with brand-building content and solid engagement, but they’re not creating brand-building ads. For now, these companies seem to feel they don’t need Facebook ads to increase awareness.
The Ad Texts Usually Had No More Than 2 Sentences
While a lot of the advice online will tell you to keep your ad text short, eCommerce ads tend to be much shorter than ads in other industries.
When making eCommerce ads, brevity seems to be even more of a focus than for regular ads. The ad text was usually one distinct call-to-action.
That resulted in ads that were mostly brief, to-the-point product mentions with a simple call-to-action.
Most Headlines Were Under 5 Words
When looking at the number of words in headlines, you can see how important brevity is. These companies were sure to make every word count.
One of the reasons for the high amount of ads with no headline is because many video ads did not contain a title:
The sole purpose of this ad is to get the audience to play the video. Anything that would distract from that purpose has been removed.
Most Ads Contained No Link Description
Most of the ads didn’t use the link description field. The ad text, headline, and image were the only fields they used.
This was not universal, however. There were a number of brands who leveraged the link description field, especially to mention shopping benefits such as free shipping and returns.
What Are the Most Common Call-to-Action Words?
They looked at the most common words in headlines to see what tips you can use for your Facebook ads. Standard words like “and”, “a”, and “the” were excluded.
As expected, most of the common words were about deals or cost. Marketers frequently used phrases like “up to X% off”, “flash sale”, and “no-cost shipping”.
Almost none of the companies studied were running different ads for the same product. They also seem to be careful to differentiate their headlines. This is important to prevent Facebook ad fatigue—the phenomenon of Facebook ads doing worse over time as an audience gets continually exposed to the same ad.
Most Ad Images Had No Text
When looking at the photos of ads with one image, there were very few that put text on the photo, and top eCommerce companies seem to prefer to use untouched, professional images.
Consider two discount ads. This one contains 11 words of text on the image:
And this one contains no text on the image:
Most of these eCommerce companies ads used the second approach: having a clean image and putting the call-to-action in the surrounding text.
Carousels Were the Most Common Ad Type
Carousel ads were the most common type of ad run by these companies, followed by image ads and then video ads. This makes sense for an eCommerce company as a carousel allows you to display the images of several products in one ad:
Also you can make your last slide a general call-to-action to your site. A pattern in nearly every carousel:
While a video may be more engaging than a static image, the major problem with video is that videos are much more expensive to create. Carousels seem to occupy a middle ground in that they have more content and may be more engaging than a video but are less expensive to produce.
Most carousels had more than five images.
Here are the biggest takeaways:
- Top eCommerce companies do not appear to follow a lot of the standard advice regarding Facebook ads. Strategies like running ads to collect email addresses, for example, seem non-existent in this space and may not make sense for an eCommerce business.
- Top companies aren’t trying to hide the fact that they’re running an ad. They make their offers noticeable.
- Most ads had limited text and full-size images that focused on products or product categories.
- For image ads, most companies ran images without text.
- Carousels are the most popular type of ad and usually contained more than five slides.
If you want to use Facebook ads successfully for your eCommerce company, you may be tempted to use Facebook ads to increase brand awareness or to get more Facebook fans, but that might not deliver the best ROI.
While all of this data is interesting, it’s also true that we can’t say from this research whether the ads these companies are running are successful at driving sales.
The experience from working with a wide variety of eCommerce sites tells that any PPC strategy should be highly customized to match the market you’re trying to reach with your efforts.
Even so, the fact that almost all of the biggest eCommerce companies are investing in Facebook ads is a strong hint that—for at least some of these companies—the ROI is there to justify the investment.
PS. Using the tip from the beginning of the article (spying on your competition’s ads), make it a habit to check what ads the companies in your industry are running. If you keep seeing some type of the ads for weeks or months, you can be quite sure they’re working. It’s a great hint of what to start with when creating your own ads, and optimize from there.