Instagram Ads for Beginners: A Primer

There are lots of people that ARE getting great results from Facebook/Instagram advertising, and they aren’t smarter or more capable, or more anything than you. Let me walk you through Instagram (and Facebook) advertising basics to get you started.

There are so many organic things you can do on social media to grow your audience, increase your reach, and extend your influence. I spend most of my days talking about these things, but there are definitely times when investing in social advertising pays dividends! Many people are hesitant to spend money on social media advertising because it feels complicated and there is no guarantee of success. For every success story out there, there are nine horror stories of high ad spend without any return.  

I would love to point out that there is actually no guarantee of success with any type of marketing spend. There are lots of people that ARE getting great results from Facebook/Instagram advertising, and they aren’t smarter or more anything than you are. You are capable, and I hope to outline some Instagram (or Facebook) advertising basics for you here.

There are 4 key areas to consider when creating an #Instagram ad campaign. Click To Tweet

There are four key areas to consider when creating an Instagram ad campaign. In other words, there are four ways you can really, really go wrong… or totally right!  They are:

  1. Identifying your campaign goal
  2. Targeting the right audience
  3. Ad creative that resonates and inspires action
  4. Optimized landing pages

Important side note: One thought before I send you off to the races, below. Stop now and go install the Facebook pixel on your website. I don’t have a post on that, and I’m not going to take the time right now, but you can Google it for a wealth of information. Just do it, and your future self will thank you.

Identifying Your Instagram Advertising Goals

Before running your first Instagram ad campaign, you have to begin with the end in mind. What do you want as a result of your campaign? You may be aware that with Facebook ads, you have 13 different options for campaign goals. But with Instagram, there are fewer options. For instance, you can’t run a “like” campaign on Instagram, where the goal would be simply to increase the followers on your account, but you can do so on Facebook to grow your fan page.  Here are the options for Instagram:

Clicks to Website

Your ad spend is shown as CPC, or cost per click. Over time, the ad is optimized (via Facebook/Instagram’s own algorithm) to be shown to people that are most likely to click-through the ad and go to your site.

I don’t use “Clicks to Website” as my goal very often, so I asked a few of my colleagues when they would use this objective, and their answer totally makes sense: You might use “Clicks to Website” if you need to build an audience of people that you will retarget to later with an offer.

Let’s say you are a new business with little website traffic, and you’re not 100% confident in your customer avatar. You might make some educated guesses on your targeting (discussed below), and put a “Clicks to Website” ad out there. (STOP. You’ve already had the Facebook pixel installed on your website, right?)  With the pixel in place, Facebook/Instagram is gathering the information on those people that are visiting your site. They are building an audience for you that you can then re-target. Meaning, you can select this audience for your targeting in future ads, and serve them a specific offer.

In essence, you’ve had these website visitors digitally “raise their hand” to tell you they are interested in you. Thank you to Martin and Corey at The Marketing Specialist for helping me identify this! It always pays to have friends that are smarter than you!

Website Conversions

The goal here is to get people to take a certain action on your website like to purchase something or submit a form. Over time, the ad is optimized to be shown to people that are most likely to complete your desired action. This requires a conversion pixel to be installed on your website. (Just get the pixel installed, already.)

App Installs

The goal is to get…. People to install your app! Seeing a trend here? Over time, this ad is optimized to be shown to people in your selected targeting that are most likely to download your app.

App Engagement

This option encourages people to get back into your app after they have installed it.

Video Views

The video views option gets people to actually watch your video, not just scroll on by! Instagram counts a “view” as someone who watches at least 3 seconds. I know that to be true for “regular” (non-ad) video posts, and I couldn’t find different information regarding ads, so I’m assuming an official view on a video ad is also 3 seconds. Videos can be up to 60 seconds in length.

Reach & Frequency

If you have broad targeting, this goal might make sense for you so you can reach as many people as possible, as cost-effectively as possible.

Post Engagement

This is your “boost a post” option, like on Facebook. You are paying for likes and comments. My opinion is that this isn’t a good ad choice. It makes you feel loved, but it isn’t focused on reaching a specific objective (other than ego-stroking, which usually isn’t a profitable business objective).

One notable shortcoming of Instagram advertising is that there is not an option to target your own fans. This was pointed out to me by Ahryn Scott of Web Video Ad Space. There are definitely times when a business would like to make sure that the majority of their audience sees a particular post. Heck, I’m even willing to pay for this, but it’s not possible. (Unless we are missing it, and if you see where we can do this, please comment below and I’ll update this post and then give you mad props and credit.)

A note to local businesses, you CAN target geographically, which means you can reach people in your area. Yay! One of the biggest questions I get from local businesses is often, “how can I target just people in my area on Instagram?” Well, now you can with your ads.

So, before moving on, what do you want from your ad? Pick a goal!

Targeting

This part of Instagram/Facebook advertising is what many experts would agree is the most critical. When creating a campaign for myself or a client, this is what I spend the bulk of my time figuring out.

If you aren’t targeting the right people, your ad will not perform well. Do you know who your ideal customer is? Most business owners that I talk to have a general sense, but not a deep understanding. You might be inclined to start listing things like, “male, between 30-40, lives in the United States, blue collar,” etc. But do you know what publications he reads? What shows he watches? How he spends his free time? What does he do for a living? What is his blood type? Just kidding, that’s too far… but you get the picture.

Some of these things we may have to make educated guesses about. Many people get hung up here because they get worried about their guesses. “What about that one guy that DOESN’T actually read Time Magazine?” It’s ok. Of course, each human is an individual, but we need to come up with some commonalities so we can target properly.

As a marketer, sometimes I tell people that I make my living by stereotyping others. I jest!

For the most part, the more detailed you can be, the better. Your ad spend will be more efficient, because you are reaching the right people, and you aren’t wasting money showing your ad to people that were never going to take action in the first place. I’m sharing targeting options in order of my most favorite to least favorite:

Website Visitors or Customer List

You can build a list of website visitors with your Facebook pixel, and you can also upload a customer list (email addresses or phone numbers). These are some of the best audiences to advertise to because they already know you. They are a warm lead.

However, for a new business, or one that has not focused on their digital presence, you may not have tons of website visitors to target, or a large customer list. Every new business owner faces this same issue. I had it as well. This is a good reason to start focusing on building your social media audience (see, audience size DOES matter in some ways). If this type of targeting isn’t a reality for you right now, keep reading.

Interest Targeting

With Interest targeting, you can target people according to what they like, and the other Facebook pages they follow. There is a good chance that if there is a major influencer in your niche with a sizeable Facebook presence, you can target fans of their page.

Remember at the beginning of this section when I asked how well you knew your target customer? This is especially helpful if you are targeting by interest. You can target men between 30 and 40 years old that read TIME magazine if you want.

Behavior Targeting

This takes Interest targeting to a whole new level. I like to combine certain behaviors WITH Interests sometimes, to really get a specific audience. Facebook knows all kinds of things like: have you purchased a car in the last 6 months? What credit cards do you use? Have you made an online purchase lately? Freaky stuff.

Instagram Ad Creative

With Instagram ads, you have three options for the visual that you use: a photo, a video, or a carousel.

Photos

Photos can be square or landscape. I would recommend square, simply to take up more “room” in the newsfeed as people are scrolling through. Plus, I’m an Instagram traditionalist, squares are best! The 20% text rule applies, meaning your graphic can be no more than 20% text. Choose your words wisely. For your caption, you get up to 2,200 characters (whoa, there).

Videos

Videos can also be square or landscape, and up to 60 seconds in length. Your caption can only be 125 characters… so be sure your video communicates your details.

Carousel

A carousel ad is simply one with three to five pictures that you can swipe through. Each photo gets it’s own caption. For instance, if you were an apparel store, you could showcase one jacket, one handbag, and one skirt.

While it’s difficult to anticipate what kinds of images are going to perform well, it’s also one of the easiest things to test. Sometimes the “ugliest” ones are the images that perform the best. In my opinion, this is one place where I don’t think it is necessary to “stick to your brand.” Would you rather use an off-brand image, maybe with some bright color, that gets people to stop and click through your ad? Or would you rather use something perfectly on-brand, that no one clicks on?

We’re spending money here, and I’ll take the clicks and conversions any day. This is one of my best performing ads. I went with the bright red, in hopes that it would grab attention. (It does.)

facebook-ad-image

The text you lead with is also important, and easy to change! It could be a crazy fact that people might stop to learn more about, a glowing testimonial, or an attention-grabbing question. There are many possibilities, but that is beyond the scope of this post!

Landing Page

The last piece of your ad campaign that needs attention is the landing page. Just because you know exactly what you want (goal), who you want to talk to (proper targeting), and have an attention-grabbing photo or video with a motivating caption (good creative), doesn’t mean you won’t still lose people.

Here is a well-known secret about Instagram people. When they show up to spend time on Instagram, they do not like to leave. Instagram ads are notorious for underperforming when compared to their Facebook counterparts.

Instagram users are also viewing your ads on a mobile device. This means that the way your landing page looks on mobile becomes very critical. Keep it simple and intuitive. Don’t ask 7,482 questions – just stick with the basics!

So, wow. This is a lot of information, and is just the tip of the iceberg! If you are ready to set up your first ad or are just curious, make sure you download my step-by-step video tutorial for setting up your first Instagram ad!

Have you done any Instagram ads for your business? If not, are you considering trying them?

There are lots of people that ARE getting great results from Facebook/Instagram advertising, and they aren’t smarter or more anything than you. Let me walk you through some Instagram (or Facebook) advertising basics to get you started.

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