13 Steps to the Best Facebook Ads on a Small Budget – Part I

Everyone’s saying it: you have to “pay to play” when it comes to social media marketing these days – particularly with Facebook. Changing algorithms and fierce competition mean that strategies for organic growth are not very effective. We know that getting the best results on Facebook for your business (especially if you’re looking for results some time soon) involves spending money.

However, knowing and doing are different animals. If you’ve taken a peek beneath the hood of Facebook Advertising, you know it looks complex. But you don’t have to take a course to figure out Facebook Ads. I’m going to share one approach that you can use to run your own ads on Facebook, particularly if you’re new to the software and have a small budget.

First, three basic rules to remember about advertising on Facebook:

  1. There’s no right or wrong way;
  2. Definitive answers come from testing;
  3. Testing costs money.

When you try something new, it’s normal to seek assurance that you’re doing the “right” thing. That does not exist when it comes to Facebook Advertising. There are a lot of ways to set up your ads, and the only way to find out what works best for your company is to try, try again. This is why testing your ads is critical. You certainly can design one ad and run it and be happy with what you get, but for best ROI, you need to test multiple ad variables and compare the results. It’s only with testing that you can determine the most effective way to connect with your audience.

Testing costs money, of course. We’ll go over how budgets work in Facebook Ads, but suffice to say that you need to prepare yourself to spend – without the guarantee that you’ll make that money back right away. Since there’s no correct way to run a Facebook ad, you won’t know the best strategy for your business until you do some testing. It may take time to see the ROI for your advertising money that you want. That’s okay. That’s normal.

If you spend money on Facebook ads and don’t immediately make that money back, it does not mean you’ve failed, it means that you’re learning! As with most business ventures, there is some risk. It might help to think of it like this: the way you pay to take a boxing class or hire a language tutor, here you’re paying to learn the best way to connect with your audience through Facebook Ads. Once you’ve figured that out, your ROI will keep coming.

Let’s get started.

The scenario

For this tutorial, let’s say you’re a small company – for example, Washington, DC-based Cotton Canary. Cotton Canary is a woman-owned business that sells stylish women’s clothing made in the USA. The goal for Cotton Canary’s pieces is to transition smoothly from the office to happy hour to a date and always look the part. Cotton Canary’s garments feature eye-catching colors and appealing patterns, and are more bright and versatile than MM LaFleur or Ann Taylor.

There are many reasons why you, Cotton Canary, would want to run Facebook Ads – to sell clothes, obviously, but also to build your email list and awareness about your brand and what you stand for. In this case, let’s say you are doing a webinar series to build your email list. You’re calling the series a cocktail hour, and inviting your audience to tune in from the comfort of their homes, while sipping a drink. You’ll present on topics such as building a capsule wardrobe, DIY makeup, and creating outfits that work for the office and a concert afterwards. Each webinar will feature a guest, such as influencers who specialize in style, skin care, and more.

Your goal with your ads is to get prospective customers – people who are likely to buy your clothes – to sign up for the webinar and thus, to your email list (email is nearly always the highest converting channel for online sales). You’re giving away something free – knowledge from the influencers – in exchange for email addresses. Since this is a free webinar series, you don’t want to spend a TON on your ads. Let’s say your budget is $100 to spread the word about the webinar series.

A word about how Facebook Ads campaigns are structured.

There are three levels to Facebook Ads: a campaign, one or more ad sets, and one or more ads. According to Facebook, they should be structured like this:

You set your overall objective at the “campaign level” (conversion, lead generation, clicks to website), different target audiences and other specifics at the “ad set level,” and different creative options (graphics and text) at the “ad level.”

However, experienced Facebook Ads-er Rick Mulready recommends a different approach. He points out that when you test different ads within the same ad set, Facebook declares a “winner” (ad with the best ROI) after a matter of hours. Then Facebook will direct your budget toward that one ad, at the expense of the others. But a few hours is too soon to know which ad will give you the best results. To avoid this situation, he recommends this structure:

It’s bulky, but gives you more control over comparing the results of your ad creative.

A note about campaign objectives:
Your campaign is the broadest level of your ads – it’s where you set the objective (aka goal) you want to achieve with the ads. Each time you advertise on Facebook, you’ll want to start a new campaign so that your results can be understood accurately in relation to your ads. For example, let’s say you want to run ads to convert people to your webinar, and ads to convert people to sign up to receive a 20% discount in your shop. Even though the objective is the same in each case (conversion), you’ll want to use separate campaigns.

Let’s do this: below are the steps you take to set up your ads for the webinar series:

Step 0: Set up Facebook Ads Manager

If you haven’t done this step, it’s pretty simple. You can get instructions here.

Step 1: Start a new campaign + objective

Choosing an objective can be confusing. In this scenario, you have a landing page where prospects can enter their email address to receive access to the webinar. Does that mean you choose Traffic, Lead Generation, or Conversions as the objective?

Although all three options seem like they apply, it’s important to choose carefully. Depending upon what you choose, Facebook’s algorithm will serve your content to people it deems likely to take the action you want. So although your goal is to gather leads, and in order to do that you need traffic to your landing page, the TRUE goal is to convert people via the opt-in on the landing page. So you’ll choose Conversions as the objective for this campaign.

(Note: for a great explanation of the difference between Lead Generation and Conversions objectives, check out AdEspresso.)

Step 2: Name your campaign

It’s helpful to have a naming convention for all of your ads, so it’s easy to see at a glance what’s going on where. This convention from Jon Loomer is a good one:

[Item Promoted] – [Objective]– [Date] (The month and year is useful in case you run an identical campaign for a webinar series in years following.)

For you it would be: Guest Webinar Series – Conversion – 2017 May

(Note: we’re not doing split test in this scenario.)

Step 3: Name your ad set

Now you’re in the ad set level of your campaign and you’ll need to select a name. Per Rick Mulready’s recommended campaign structure, you’ll use separate ad sets to test different creative and audiences. Thus, the ad set level can include a lot of variation, depending upon what you decide to test. For example, your ad set defines:

  • Objective destination (where you send traffic depending upon the campaign objective you choose)
  • Audience Targeted
  • Placement
  • Daily versus Lifetime Budget
  • Dates
  • Pricing

You may not need to define all these variables – perhaps you always use the same budget option or placement – but the ones that you plan to change or test should be specified. In this scenario, let’s say you forgo defining placement and budget. Your naming convention for the ad set would be:

[Objective destination] – [Audience Targeted] – [Dates] – [Pricing]

For example:

Webinar LP (landing page) – Audience Defined – May 1-8 – $8/day

With this convention, what would multiple ad sets look like in your campaign? Let’s say for the webinar series, you’re testing two audiences and serving two ads to each audience. At the ad set level, you are testing one broad and one defined audience, to see which one brings you better conversion. At the ad level, you are testing two different images – one of a closet, and one of a woman shopping.

The names of your ad sets and ads might look like this:

  • Webinar LP – Audience Defined – May 1-8 – $8/day
    image ad: image = closet – text = “relax + learn”
  • Webinar LP – Audience Defined – May 1-8 – $8/day
    image ad: image = woman shopping – text = “relax + learn”
  • Webinar LP – Audience Broad – May 1-8 – $8/day
    image ad: image = closet – text = “relax + learn”
  • Webinar LP – Audience Broad – May 1-8 – $8/day
    image ad: image = woman shopping – text = “relax + learn”

Step 4: Set up your ad set conversion

The objective that you chose at the Campaign level will dictate what you need to set up at the ad set level. (The Website or Messenger option will be preselected, which is perfect since you are not advertising in an app.) If your campaign objective were Traffic, you would choose where you want to drive traffic (your objective destination mentioned above). If your campaign objective were Brand Awareness, you would start by choosing your target audience (you wouldn’t have an objective destination). In this scenario your campaign objective is Conversions. Now it’s time to choose the conversion you want from your audience. Facebook gives you a number of conversion options, from View Content to Search to Lead to Complete Registration. For your objective of having people sign up for a webinar, you’ll choose Complete Registration.

Why Complete Registration instead of Lead? Although your ultimate goal is to generate leads, the method by which you’re doing so is through registering for the webinar series. So in this case, Complete Registration is the most accurate conversion for Facebook to track.

If you’re wondering how Facebook can track all these actions on your website, the answer is “Facebook’s tracking pixel.” Facebook allows you to add a tracking pixel to the code on your website. This is fantastic even if you’re not running ads because the pixel gathers information about the people who visit your website. These people are often pre-qualified warm leads, and that is good to know! If you haven’t set up a tracking pixel yet, do so now.

But wait! The tracking pixel has two parts. There’s the code that goes on every page of your website, and then there are smaller pieces of code you can add to specific pages so that Facebook can track the success of your campaign objectives – called “events.” Since you want to track conversions from Facebook ads to the webinar registration landing page, you need to add a Complete Registration code to the landing page.

(How to do that is beyond the scope of this tutorial, but you can read about it here for WordPress.)

After you add the pixel tracking code to your landing page, you’ll select it from the conversion event dropdown in Facebook Ads. It will have a green dot beside it to verify that your pixel code is up and running. Now it’s time to move on to your audience.

(Note: we’re not doing Offer in this scenario.)

Step 5: Select your target audience – see other blog post

This is an incredible part of Facebook Advertising, for the options available to target your audience are almost endless. I cover this part of the process in another post, coming soon!

Step 6: Select Placement

In this scenario, you’ll go with Automatic Placements. It will be pre-selected since it is what Facebook recommends. Choosing this option lets Facebook deliver your ads in a cost-effective way using a combination of methods that Facebook deems will help you reach your ad goals. To understand how this works, Facebook has a helpful guide (with diagrams!).

The Automatic Placements option means that (depending on the type of ad format you choose next) your ads will be displayed on Facebook’s feed on desktop and mobile, Facebook’s right-hand column, Instagram, Instant Articles, In-stream Video, and Facebook’s Audience Network, or FAN. These are all the delivery methods Facebook offers.

Most of these placement opportunities are self-explanatory, but FAN needs explanation. FAN is a group of apps and mobile websites that have an agreement which allows Facebook to serve ads on these sites using the same targeting data used to serve ads to Facebook users within the platform. The FAN lets brands retarget (also known as remarket) their ads to users even after users have left Facebook’s site or mobile app. It is easiest explained by example: have you noticed that you see an ad on Facebook, and then start seeing ads for that same brand on other websites, like the Huffington Post? This is FAN at work.

Using FAN expands your reach beyond Facebook to other apps and mobile websites that your prospective customer uses. Remarketing is a powerful tool in the digital advertising arsenal.

Step 7: Set your budget and schedule

There are two options to set the budget:

  • Daily Budget: say you set this to $10. This tells Facebook to spend an average of $10 per day so that the total does not exceed $10 x the number of days your ad runs (note: some days you may spend over $10, and some days under $10). With this setting, you can run your ad continuously, or enter a start and end date for your campaign.
  • Lifetime Budget: this setting requires a start and end date to your campaign, and lets Facebook determine how to spread your money over the course of your campaign. Say you set your lifetime budget to $100 and have it run for 10 days. On average, you might expect Facebook to spend $10 per day, and think, “well, I could just set that myself by using the Daily Budget option.” True, but the advantage of the Lifetime budget is that Facebook knows its users best. It may determine that $20 is well spent on a Saturday and Sunday, and $5 on the weekdays. Your cost won’t exceed $100, but the average spending per day could fluctuate far more than a daily budget would allow.

Some say that Lifetime budget is the better choice, because it lets Facebook decide the best days of the week to spend more or less of your money. But as with everything in Facebook, there’s no right or wrong answer. To find out which kind of budget gives you the best results, you’ll have to – you guessed it – test.

One more word regarding budget: each ad set has its own budget – not each ad. In Facebook’s recommended structure, this means you might run 3 different ads in the same ad set under the same budget. But we’re following Rick’s recommended structure, which requires a separate ad set for each individual ad. You’ll have to do the math to determine how much to spend on each ad set, so you don’t exceed your budget for the campaign.

At this point, we’re at the end of the ad set level. Click Continue to go on to the ad level, and head to 13 Steps to the Best Facebook Ads on a Small Budget – Part II!

Do you have questions or comments? Are you stuck? Share them in the comments and I’ll get back to you!

(Image from Kaboom pics)

New to Facebook Ads? Learn how to set up campaigns and ad sets for your small business in 13 simple steps! It's easy to do even on a small budget.


About the Author:

I make your online business project better, simply put. I write about being, careers, productivity, and money.

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This Sliding Bar can be switched on or off in theme options, and can take any widget you throw at it or even fill it with your custom HTML Code. Its perfect for grabbing the attention of your viewers. Choose between 1, 2, 3 or 4 columns, set the background color, widget divider color, activate transparency, a top border or fully disable it on desktop and mobile.