Let me start with the bad news: with Facebook, images matter more than copy.
Images are everything in Facebook ads.
Consumer Acquisition found that images are so important, they’re responsible for some 75 to 90% of an ad’s performance. Because of this, Consumer Acquisition recommends that – before you think about optimizing your ad copy – you first test 10 to 15 images, keeping the copy the same across all variations.
In fact, copy is so pitifully unimportant in Facebook ads (compared to how important it is everywhere else, especially in AdWords) that Facebook recommends de-prioritizing copy. Here’s the order of operations they suggest:
- Identify your business goal
- Identify your audience
- Choose a topic
- Choose an image
- Write your copy <– way down at the bottom of the list
To be fair, you should start every marketing initiative – not just Facebook ads – with steps 1 and 2 above. If you write Google ads, you’re probably also used to step 3.
So it’s really only the introduction of step 4 into the mix that makes a Facebook ad a rather different beast. Or does it? Is the seemingly new focus on the image in FB ads any different from every other ad on the planet… except Google ads? Perhaps Google ads are the different beast. Perhaps Facebook ads are rather similar to what we’ve seen for decades in modern advertising.
Consider a pretty typical print ad for shoes:
Now consider an AdWords ad for shoes:
And a Facebook ad for shoes:
Are Facebook ads more like print ads than we give them credit for?
Your eye goes to the image in both a print ad and a Facebook ad. Their general composition is similar, with copy and art present. Both can be used to attract prospects at every stage, from unaware to coupon-shopping. So perhaps we can say that writing Facebook ads is a lot like writing print ads. At least, it may be more like writing a print ad than it is like writing an ad that will show up on the SERPs.
But here’s the thing: In print ads, copy and art work together. If you’ve ever worked in an agency or a creative department – and I’ve paid my dues in both – you know that copy generally leads art, in a harmonious way. That is, to generate ad campaign concepts:
- Copywriters and designers get in a room to brainstorm, after which
- The copywriters head off to flesh out concepts with taglines and higher-level copy, scrapping the weaker ideas as they go. This leads to
- The copywriters sharing their fleshed-out concepts with art, which then works to bring the concept to life visually.
That’s the basic creative process to create ads like:
On the other hand…
In Facebook ads, the rule of thumb is for marketers to focus on the image. It’s not about copy and design working together. The image is the most important thing. In fact, it would be like pulling teeth to get FB marketers today to imagine even testing an ad that didn’t lead with a big ol’ image.
Compare that to print ads. A print ad does not always require an image. The message drives the ad. If an image isn’t necessary to express that message, then there is no image:
But a Facebook ad is doomed sans image.
Also unlike print ads, Facebook ads:
- Live in a social space, where shares, likes and pics of friends pepper each ad
- Include clickable calls to action
- Can be commented on
- Can be tested with great ease, low cost and relatively strong reliability
- Can be highly targeted
So a Facebook ad isn’t like a print ad.
It isn’t like a Google ad, either.
That’s why we need this beginner’s guide to writing Facebook ads – because the old copywriting rules may not apply in the same way.
Let’s start with a point you may already be very familiar with:
When Writing Facebooks Ads,
Place Key Messages on Your Ad Images
So if all eyeballs are on your image, then it only makes sense to put key messages on said image, like Merchology does:
This is the sort of thing that might excite many a direct-response copywriter. But before you go loading up your Facebook ad image with copy, know this: Facebook won’t allow you to publish / use an image where copy takes up more than 20% of it. In their own words:
Facebook prefers ad images with little or no text, because images with a lot of text may create a lower-quality experience for people on Facebook.
“Text” includes text you’ve overlaid on an image as well as text-based logos, watermarks and even text in your video’s thumbnail images.
Where you place your copy on the image also matters. That’s because, as of the time of this writing, Facebook uses a grid overlay when approving your image. According to Jon Loomer, if your text falls over the gridlines, Facebook may misread your image as text-packed when in fact it meets the 20% rule. Check out Loomer’s example:
So save yourself some frustration and test your images with this rather handy tool before submitting your ad and angering the approval gods.
To make it easier for busy readers to consume that tiny bit o’ text on your image, Contently’s Content Strategist suggests you feature just one product in the image or use a plain, white or blurred image background. The image itself needs to pass Facebook’s guidelines, which include accurately reflecting the product and – to the great sadness of many a weightloss biz – no before-and-after shots.
Now, what copy actually goes on your ad image?
SEMrush recommends focusing on the one message that is most likely to appeal to readers. But that begs the question: Who are my readers? Facebook’s targeting tools make it easy to go as granular as you’d like with your audience (although these smart folks recommend against going too narrow). But for the purposes of this post, let’s break readers or prospects up into TOFU (top of funnel) and BOFU (bottom of funnel).
A TOFU ad is trying to turn a Facebook user into a lead. This might mean setting a goal of a like, download or click.
A BOFU ad is trying to turn a Facebook user into a paying or returning customer. This might mean setting a goal of an account creation or sale.
So an on-image message that might appeal to TOFU readers will intro the brand or speak to the product’s value prop. Like this:
And BOFU on-image copy should prompt the sale – which scarcity, urgency and incentives are great for. Like this:
What you’ll notice, if you compare the two ads above, is that the on-image copy is reflected in the ad’s body copy. This is by design – it’s a better practice you should follow with your ads.
You might also notice that on-image copy is very succinct. After testing 100,000 Facebook ads, Consumer Acquisition found that on-image copy must be “short and snappy.” They also found that copy tends to perform best when it’s in a horizontal or vertical copy bar, with a background color behind it to increase contrast against the image itself.
Both TOFU and BOFU can benefit from on-image CTAs, which can invite more clicks (because people love clickin’ those bu’ons). Keep in mind that the goal of the button is to drive clicks, so make sure it looks like a big, juicy, click-worthy button. Like so:
My friend Gavin Helm-Smith (a stellar copywriter at Agora in Australia) has written every kind of Facebook ad you can imagine a thousand times over. Here’s what he says about the copy that should go in an image:
So I always integrate my headline into the image because if Facebook users are gonna stop and look at the image first, the copy will get them to click. The headline in the image is usually the same message as the body headline, but it’s longer.
I don’t worry so much about the 20% rule – it’s gone in Australia – but what will happen is if you have too much text in the image, your reach is throttled, even if you’re bidding high. Facebook doesn’t want complete text ads. But they’re giving the advertiser a little more freedom on how much text they have in there. (This is very new.) Even still, try to stick to the 20% rule when adding your headline copy.
Another advantage of putting the headline in the image is you can go above their character limits for body copy. You can write longer headlines than in the power editor.
In my research, I couldn’t find any tested better practices in copy placement, aside from Jon Loomer’s piece about the FB image grid. That most certainly has a lot to do with the fact that Facebook offers a lot of ad types, each with their own image specs. That said, if you’re in the market for a Facebook ad image template you can write on effectively, try Canva’s ad templates and use this guide by AdEspresso to choose the right template for your ad.
BONUS FROM GAVIN: Create your next ad using slides, and tell a story across each of the slides using on-image copy. This lets you better intrigue and convince your prospect without relying too heavily on the body copy.
The Essentials of Writing Facebook Ad Copy
- Main headline
- Main copy
- Secondary copy (top copy)
- Call to action
As helpful as that list is, it leaves out one critical component of any great ad: the offer. Unless you’re going for brand impressions alone, your offer is going to make or break your ad.
What are you offering your reader? It has to be good. No, it has to be great. No, they have to think it’s f***ing phenomenal. Yes, that’s a lofty goal. Yes, we should set lofty goals for our copy. That’s what separates a good copywriter from one you never wanna let go of. After all, the image may capture attention – but it’s the copy that closes people.
So make your offer outstanding. Use the “3D” approach I talk about here to see and show your offer from the angles your prospect needs you to show ’em
K, so, we’ve already tackled what and how to write copy for the image.
Now let’s get into the part where it’s just you, the FB ad interface and your keyboard.
This is actually the fun part. (In spite of what the decidedly business-y Facebook ads interface would have you believe.)
No matter what type of ad you’re writing, every beginner has basically got these fields to work with:
You can click to expand the Advanced options, which is where you’ll find the copy to write for the Newsfeed:
Each field has a certain character limit or consideration. But these vary and change. So get the most up-to-date guidelines here
Now, where it gets fun is when you actually start filling those fields in and watching the auto-preview change. I challenge any copy geek to find this part boring. The instant gratification is so… instant. And gratifying.
But you can’t actually see your copy preview as an ad until you’ve got an image in place.
So what I like to do is just use a Facebook-provided stock photo as a placeholder. That way I can keep tweaking the copy and seeing how it looks – without worrying about O Great and Mighty Image. This is an early draft of the ad for the checklist I’m giving away with this very post, placeholder in place:
At the same time I’m filling out those fields, I’m imagining my headline on the image and asking myself what I should do differently with the headline once it’s on the image so it works extra-hard.
Which brings us to the most obvious part of writing Facebook ads: better practices for filling those text fields with attention-grabbing and -holding copy. First headlines, then “text”, then link descriptions.
How to Write Your FB Ad Headline:
10 quick tips and 1 advanced one
Let me get these 10 quickies out of the way before we get into the good stuff.
When you’re writing a headline for your Facebook ad:
- Write for the click. Your ad headline should be a CTA all of its own. Basically, make the first word the imperative form of a verb.
- Connect “what” with “why.” State what to do – and then say why. What’s the benefit or outcome of acting?
- Focus on a single, specific thought. People can’t save time and money. They can save time. Or they can save money. Simplify.
- Use numerals and special characters. We need to draw the eye. So people won’t save a thousand bucks. They can save $1000.
- Show empathy. The more you’re in their head, the more you’re in their head.
- Use “new.” Nothing puts an itch in people like the word “new.”
- Keep it short. As much as this pains me to write, it’s true: AdEspresso found that a max of 5 words is best for FB ad headlines.
In many cases, you may also want to:
- Ask an immediately relevant question. Just be sure to follow these rules
- Mention the offer, including any incentives. That could be free shipping for BOFU or a downloadable ebook for TOFU.
- Make a promise. But back it up, either in the ad or on the landing page. Facebook has rules, y’know.
All of the above 10 points can make for killer starter copy. As can the complete list of headline formulas here >
Now let’s make that copy even better.
This is a beginner’s guide, so I’m not gonna go nuts with advanced copywriting tips. But here’s a sweet-a$$ one that can make for really great copy testing…
Test 5-Foot Benefits vs 5-Mile Benefits
Every feature, product or service worth writing an ad about has benefits for the end user. To find the benefit of an offer – the core of an ad – copywriters commonly answer this question:
How will my reader’s life be improved by this offer?
The answers vary and are easily divided into:
- 5-foot benefits. These benefits are so close, they’re within reach. You’ll realize them almost as soon as you take the offer.
- 5-mile benefits. These benefits are life-changingly amazing… and, accordingly, they take a while to realize.
Sometimes “save money now” works better than “turn heads at the beach.” Other times, it doesn’t. So test away.
A 5-foot benefit: Connect with an expert
A 5-mile benefit: Profit from real estate
How to Write Your FB Ad “Text”
(In 90 characters or fewer)
We call text “copy.” Facebook doesn’t. #sigh
The text area ends up right under your name and pic in the ad. For every ad objective, Facebook recommends you use no more than 90 characters of text; the platform will often truncate text for smaller screens, even if you’ve written fewer than 90 characters. So be sure to use the ad preview when writing. For best results, try to stick to 40 characters – that’s the sweet spot Contently’s identified.
One of the most important principles to keep in mind when writing your Facebook ad body copy is this: give your body copy a single goal, and stick to it.
(I wrote about the One Job Principle here.)
Your ad’s body copy has to move the prospect to click the CTA. That’s its job.
Sometimes doing that job takes a lot of copy:
Sometimes it takes almost nothing at all:
Writing body copy is the hardest part of writing copy. Period.
Everything about the success of your body copy hinges on a single thing: your hook. To find your hook, you need to know exactly for whom you’re writing the ad… and what they care about. Because the goal of the hook is this: make me care.
Make. Me. Care.
With that in mind, here are some easier ways to find your hook (instead of staring at the screen and wondering how to “make me care”):
- Pick a fight. Start your text / body copy by saying the opposite of what people believe to be true.
- Disrupt expectations by changing a cliche. The hook for ad about a hairstyle tutorial: Drastic times call for drastic bangs.
- Help them imagine, “What if?” What if you had your competitors’ keywords at your fingertips?
- Cite a previously unknown study. This hook naturally requires some work – but did you know that 98.4% of all work is worth it?
- Kill something off. Crop-tops are dead.
- Revive something. Drop shadows are back.
- Use a known quote, without “quotes.” Say hello to my little friend: Tamagotchi for iPhone 6.
- Change a known quote, without “quotes.” It is a truth universally acknowledged that a single woman in possession of good fortune treats herself to a Porsche.
- Make a confession. You’re not gonna like me for this, but…
Should you happen to know I already care about, say, who you are, your name can also act as a hook:
Once you’ve found your hook, your job becomes moving your prospect from the hook through the path you’re creating en route to the CTA.
That’s the job of every other word you write in the text field.
So if you’re gonna stick to the 40-char or 90-char rule… you haven’t got much room. Which means your hook has to haul ass toward the CTA. Which may only make sense to me. Nonetheless, there’s really no other way to describe it: move your prospect from A: Headline to B: CTA using a strong hook and persuasive, intentional, succinct “text” copy. Hey, nobody said this’d be easy. It’s the hard, non-formulaic stuff that makes copywriting fun, isn’t it?
But maybe right about now you’re thinking, I’ll just write longer copy. Well I happened to pass the same idea by Gavin Helm-Smith, and here’s what he told me:
If you’re gonna send your prospect to a landing page, short copy is a good default. Short. Sell the click honestly. Then do the heavy lifting on the landing page.
But if you want them to convert on the ad, it can help to go longer. I use the 4 Ps formula to tell a bit of a story. I was working with a client selling photography packages on a discount. Short copy sold them okay, but it was far too focused on the offer, not the benefit. When I introduced a story that tapped into nostalgia, that skyrocketed the ad.
How to Write Your FB Ad’s
News Feed Link Description
We’ve reached that point in the FB ad copywriting experience where we can address this little oddity:
When you write a Facebook ad, the text copy and the headline copy
are split up on the most popular ads: Desktop News Feed ads.
The reason for said oddity surely has plenty to do with Facebook’s ad platform history. I’ve been writing Facebook ads on and off for the last 5 years. If you’ll recall those ancient days of 2011, all Facebook ads happened in the right column. There was no “news feed link description.” …And right-column ads performed abysmally. Gavin Helm-Smith has seen newsfeed ads outperform right-column ads by as much as 9x.
Today, of course, ads appear throughout Facebook news feeds. And when you’re writing ads that are going to appear in a news feed, you need your “News Feed Link description” to work with your headline. That doesn’t mean they have to, like, match each other… But they can actually work together in a very cool way, like so:
In that example, the news feed link description doesn’t need to appear for the ad to work. But when it does appear – like in a news feed instead of the right column – it plays on the headline.
Writing your news feed link description is a lot like writing the “text” copy. So all the same rules about hooks are at play here, too. The greatness of this extra copy space is, of course, that you’ve now got more room to move your prospect from A to B. Sometimes that simply means repeating and expanding on what your “text” copy expressed, like Betabrand does:
As we wrap up this beginner’s guide, it’s worth mentioning: make sure every claim you make in your ad is supported on your landing page, and to test your copy because it is the best way to learn how to generate leads on Facebook.
As Gavin Helm-Smith tells me:
On landing pages, if you make a monetary claim but you don’t support that with proof, you’re in trouble. For example, if you’re writing for “work from home” people, you want to give a specific claim like “Make $700 per month by working from home” and you want your reader to download the book to get the tips for working from home. But Facebook doesn’t want that. Facebook wants you to tell them how on the landing page itself.
The Facebook Ad Copywriting Checklist
I started with the bad news.
Now here’s the good news: I’ve made checklists for you! Use them for your next Facebook ad campaign.
PLUS! There’s even a bonus checklist for optimizing your Facebook ad copy. It’s everything you’ll need to write good Facebook ads and make ’em even better.
Checklist for placing copy on images:
- Repeat your headline in the image, but expand on it OR use a very short, appealing message
- Place copy in a horizontal or vertical bar with a high-contrast background
- Include a juicy, eye-catching CTA
- Be careful not to let copy take up more than 20% of your image
- Put copy on an image “about” 1 thing OR use a plain background
- Use Facebook’s image tester before submitting an image
- Repeat on-image copy in the ad’s body copy
Checklist for writing Facebook ad headlines:
- Make the headline a CTA
- Keep it to 5 words
- Add a benefit to the headline
- Test 5-mile vs 5-foot benefits
- Keep it simple – focus on 1 thing
- Attract eyeballs with appropriate special characters
- Be empathetic – any pains you’re solving are real pains
- If it’s new, say so
- Ask a question that’ll bring in the answer you want
- Mention the offer (plus incentives!)
- Make a promise within reason
Checklist for writing Facebook “text” copy:
- Open with a strong hook
- Keep it under 40 characters – max 90
- Quickly move the prospect from the headline to the CTA
Checklist for news feed link description:
- Make the description work with your headline
- Repeat, clarify or expand on the offer expressed in other copy
Checklist for optimizing your Facebook ad copy:
- Add text to your videos, which autoplay on mute in the newsfeed
- Use these magic words: You, Free, Because, Instantly
- Use urgency to nudge the click (which is harder to get than you’d think)
- Choose “learn more”, “sign up” or “shop now” as your CTA
- Try short, fragmented sentences that feel like a friend would post
- Drive to a targeted landing page made just for your ad
- Make it easier to consume content by varying font sizes in your on-image copy
- If people know and like your brand, incorporate your brand in on-image copy
- Keep the same image and headline on your landing page that you used in the ad
- Take the copy from your landing page and put it in 5 or 6 slides, which FB converts to video (which gets prioritized in the newsfeed)
Big ol’ thanks to Gavin Helm-Smith for all his insights into optimizing Facebook ad copy.