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Demystifying Your First Facebook Ad to Establish a Baseline to Improve

“It’s not heavy enough for you to hurt yourself. Go for it.”

I heaved, exploded, and grunted as I did my best attempt at a weight lift called a 'snatch.'

It wasn’t pretty, but it established a baseline for my coach so he could pick the best ways to help me improve.

The snatch is a technically complex movement starting with weights on the ground. Through a series of much smaller movements, the weights end up overhead. 

A professional snatch made to look oh so easy...

I could watch all the YouTube tutorials I wanted, but without actually attempting a snatch myself, it’s hard to know my baseline—what parts of the snatch I was already decent at, and what parts needed focus.

Of course, the trick is to make sure you don't hurt yourself when you're finding out your baseline...

Facebook advertising is a complex paid-traffic strategy. Through a series of smaller strategies, you publish your first ad and use it to establish a baseline to see where you need to focus so you can ultimately improve your online business.

And like the snatch, when establishing your baseline with Facebook advertising, your goal is to do it...without hurting yourself your wallet.

If you’ve been wanting to try Facebook ads for your business (or already tried), you might have needed help answering these questions…

More...

  • How much is it going cost?
  • What is the ‘pixel’?
  • How does the damn ads manager interface work?
  • What is an ad set and how is it different from an ad campaign? 
  • What should I optimize my campaign for?

This post will answer all of these questions. It will give you a game plan to establish your baseline so you know exactly where you stand. I will also show you how to identify where you can improve your ads and ad funnel so you can be successful with Facebook ads for your online business.

By the end of the post, your first ad will be published, your baseline numbers established, and you’ll understand enough of the little idiosyncrasies of the Facebook ads manager to confidently publish more ads to improve upon your baseline.

Go from visible confusion...

...to confident swagger.

The Biggest Mistake You Don’t Want to Make

Before spending money on Facebook ads for your business, you need to make sure when someone clicks on your ad, they get taken through a:

  • Dedicated
  • Functioning
  • Funnel
  • Where you offer them one thing

Crucial Tip: Do not ever send Facebook ad traffic to your homepage. If someone clicks your Facebook ad and gets taken to your homepage, then I only have one gif for you…

Please follow this crucial tip.

Let’s break each of these pieces down, so there’s zero confusion.

Dedicated - the only traffic seeing the funnel is traffic from Facebook. If you already have a funnel getting traffic from other places, make a copy to use exclusively with your Facebook ad traffic.

Functioning - your funnel needs to work, technically. It doesn’t matter how beautiful or smart the page is if it doesn’t do what it says it’s going to do. Wouldn't it be a pity to send visitors to a lead generation page only to notice $100 later the lead form wasn't connected to your email provider?

Funnel - You need a simple funnel consisting of a landing page and a thank you page. A landing page has one purpose: convert a visitor for a specific goal.

For the purposes of this post the specific goal should be lead generation. This means a visitor to your landing page should have three options and only three options: convert (become a lead), close the page or read your disclaimer/privacy policy/terms and conditions.

There should be no links to your homepage, social media profiles or blog posts. If the visitor converts, they should be redirected to a thank you page.

Offer ONE Thing - This is something you’re giving away for free in exchange for contact info, like an email address. This can be a free report, checklist, guide, course, consulting call, but should NEVER be “Sign Up for My Free Newsletter.”

If you do not have a dedicated, functioning funnel offering one thing to the people who click your Facebook ad...do not pass go, do not collect $200. 

If you’re not quite there yet, here’s some resources to help you pass go and collect $200:

Have a Product to Sell?


Yes, your “offer” can be your product and your landing page can be the sales page for the product. However, I don’t recommend this strategy for your first ad attempt as it takes longer to get conversions and therefore, longer (and more money) to figure out your benchmark. 

Further, this post only discusses a ‘cold traffic’ ad (people who have never heard of you), which can be tricky to convert as you’re asking for money.

Make Your First Ad in an Afternoon

You will be building a photo ad to display in the Facebook Newsfeed for desktop devices. They are clean, simple and effective.

Photo ad to display in the Facebook Newsfeed for desktop devices.

Facebook has MANY other ad formats to choose from: canvas, carousel, video, sidebar, slideshow, mobile, collection, messenger…

Do not worry about them for now. They are something you can experiment with later on. 

The Four Parts You Need

There are four parts to a Photo Ad showing in the Facebook Newsfeed on desktop devices:

The four parts you need to create.

  • 1
    The Ad Text
  • 2
    The Image
  • 3
    The Headline
  • 4
    The Description

Remember the landing page you already need to have built? You’re going to use it come up with the four parts.

You want the ad and landing page to be similar. This will increase the congruence between the two, which is (generally) a good thing.

This is what the landing page for the ad above looks like:

Notice all of the similarities? Same color, image, headline, testimonial...

Guidelines for Your First Ad


  • Your Ad Text can be up to 2200 characters and can include links.
  • Your Image should be 1200 x 628 pixels and if you include text it shouldn’t be more than 20% of the image. Ads with more than 20% text are penalized by decreasing the ad's reach. If you use text on your image you can use this tool to make sure you didn’t go over 20%. There are some exceptions to this rule and you can read this to see if your image applies.
  • You need to make sure you’re allowed to use the images. Here are 15 resources for finding free images you can use in your ads.
  • Your Headline can be up to 250 characters. Use our headline swipefile to write better headlines.
  • The length of your link description is determined by the length of your headline, so best to keep it short and curiosity driven.
  • The wording you use is important and sometimes Facebook will deny your ad based on the copy you use. They aren’t crystal clear on this, but it’s best to understand as much as you can before hitting publish. Here’s their documentation on the subject.

Now I can already hear the questions piling up:

  • Should I put text on my image?
  • What works better, short or really long ad text?
  • I heard blue doesn’t work well for Facebook ad images, is this true?
  • Should I have a positive or negative headline?

The answers to these questions are not helpful, but I’ll give them to you anyway: 1) It depends and 2) It doesn’t matter right now.

If you’re struggling or feeling indecisive, I’ll give you advice along the same line as my weightlifting coach:

Spend no more than a few hours coming up with the 4 ad parts based on your landing page and then go for it, you’re not going to hurt yourself. 

Congratulations! You have your first ad ready to be published. You'll be able to see what it looks like before you publish later on in the process. So hold tight, before we get to publishing, let’s set up the behind the scenes stuff to give you the edge you need to be successful.

Get Your Tracking Ready Now So You’re Not Guessing Later

To track the performance of your ad you need to have the Facebook pixel installed across your entire website and the thank you page of your offer needs to be defined as a successful conversion.

This will allow you to gather all of the numbers you need to establish your baseline and find where you can improve.

Before you can get a pixel, you need:

  • A Facebook Page for your business (Don’t have one yet? Follow steps 1-6 of this guide).
  • A Business Manager account managing the Facebook Page with an active ad account. (If this isn’t set up yet, you can follow this guide).

Step 1) Acquire Facebook Pixel

To set up your pixel, go to your Pixels tab in Events Manager, click “Create a Pixel,” and follow the wizard.

What is the Facebook Pixel?


It’s a piece of code for tracking.

When a Facebook user visits your website, the pixel tracks what they did on your website so you can make better ads. Facebook offers a bit of reporting, but it’s not like Google Analytics, and the Pixel doesn’t allow you any access to the personal Facebook profile information of anyone.

Step 2) Install Pixel Across Your Entire Website

Copy your pixel code from step 1 and install it in the header of your website.

If you’re using a Thrive Themes’ Theme: Go to your WordPress admin dashboard and click on the Thrive Dashboard. Look for the Thrive theme (the name of the theme you have chosen) and click on the green “Theme Options” button.

Now, from the “General Settings” section, you will have to select “Analytics / Scripts” and paste the Facebook Pixel code into the “Header Script” field.

Where to paste your Facebook Pixel code if you're using a Thrive Themes' Theme.

Attention Thrive Architect Users


Our landing pages strip all code from your Theme.

So, if you’re using Thrive Architect for your landing pages, you need to follow this tutorial (in addition to the step above) to make sure your pixel gets installed on all of your current and future landing pages.

Step 3) Track Your Conversions

This is why you need a thank you page. You need to install a specific piece of Facebook code on this page to alert Facebook when your ad succeeds in converting someone who clicked your ad.

Standard Events Tracking Vs. Custom Events Tracking


There are two different ways to track conversions with the Facebook Pixel: event tracking—what I recommend you use—and custom conversions, which is what you might have used if you've attempted Facebook ads already.

The only advantage to custom conversions is they are slightly easier to set up.

The two major disadvantages to using them:

  • 1
    You can only create 100 custom conversions for your pixel (event tracking is unlimited). While this will be enough for most, if you get hardcore about Facebook ads and if your business grows, 100 will not be enough. Changing your tracking at this point will make you sad. 
  • 2
    Custom conversions can be less accurate than event tracking as there's more room for error. For example, you could build a custom conversion from a URL containing "thankyou", thinking this will only match mywebsite.com/order/thankyou. However, there could be a product page at mywebsite.com/products/thankyou-notes, meaning you'll get inaccurate numbers. By using event tracking, you'll avoid these types of errors.

Follow step three of this guide with the notes below to generate the code snippet you need.

Start here (after clicking the link above) to generate your code snippet.

Notes About Generating & Installing The Code Snippet


  • Because your offer is something free you want to use the ‘Lead’ event.
  • Since you’re using a thank you page to track conversions you want to choose 'Track Event on Page Load’ when given the option. 
  • Once you’ve generated the code, you need to place it just below the closing header section of your thank you page. For most websites, this will be immediately after the opening <body> tag. If you’re using Thrive Architect, follow this tutorial to add the code snippet to your thank you page.

Step 4) Testing Your Pixel Installation

To test to make sure it’s all set up correctly, install the Facebook Pixel Helper Chrome Extension and then visit a few random pages of your website and check to make sure your pixel is working (you should see the pixel is found without errors in the Facebook Pixel Helper extension).

Do this again on the landing page you’ll be sending ad traffic to.

Finally, load up your thank you page and check the Chrome Extension to make sure the ‘Lead’ event is being triggered.

If you’re encountering issues, you can troubleshoot using this documentation.

Beautiful! Now you’re all set up to gather data on your ad's performance so you know exactly how well it does and how you can improve the funnel going forward.

Now, let’s work on your ad targeting to make sure you’re showing your ad to the best possible people.

Don’t Waste Money, Target the Right People

Showing your ad to people who aren’t ever going to be interested in what you’re offering is a waste of money.

So let’s not do that. Here’s how...

There are the 3 scenarios you could find yourself in at this stage (in order of best to you’re-still-not-going-to-hurt-yourself):

Scenario 1) You Had the Pixel Installed Across Your Website Before Reading This Post

Your targeting will be easy to set up in this case, because all you need to do is create a ‘Lookalike’ audience.

Basically, you let Facebook’s algorithm do the heavy lifting. You say “Hey, Facebook algorithm, find people who are similar to X so I can show my ad to them!”

And Facebook’s algorithm says “Say no more, I got this.” and it spits out a Lookalike audience similar to X you can use to show your ads to.

The key for you, is what ‘X’ is and how many you can give the Facebook algorithm to build the Lookalike audience from.

You need at least 100 to create a lookalike audience, and you want to choose the X’s as close to your conversion goal as possible. For example, you could create a lookalike from 3 possible X’s:

  • 1
    People who have been to your website.
  • 2
    People who have seen the landing page for your offer.
  • 3
    People who have seen the thank you page for your offer (i.e. they reached the conversion goal).

Facebook calls these X’s “Custom Audiences.”

How to Create a Custom Audience

Before you can create the Lookalike Audience you need to create the Custom Audiences from website traffic. To create a Custom audience from website traffic:

How to create a Custom Audience from Website Traffic.

  • 1
    Go to your Audiences Page.
  • 2
    Select ‘Create Audience’ and then ‘Create a Custom Audience.'
  • 3
    Select ‘Website Traffic.’

Now you need to use your website URLs to create a ‘Custom Audience’ for each of the three audiences I listed above:

How to create a Custom Audience from Website Traffic.

  • 1
    Set to 180 (the maximum amount).
  • 2
    Set to ‘URL’ and ‘contains.’
  • 3
    Use your website URLs for each of the three audiences:
    - People who have been to your website: “www.[yourwebsite].com”
    - People who have seen the landing page for your offer: “/landing-page-for-your-offer/”
    - People who have seen the thank you page for your offer: “/landing-page-for-your-offer/thank-you/”
  • 4
    Name the audience.
  • 5
    Click ‘Create Audience.’

You should now have three custom audiences. These will take a few hours to populate.

How to Create a Lookalike Audience

Once they have populated, you can create 3 Lookalike audiences. 1 from each of them (as long as they are larger than 100).

  • 1
    Go to your Audiences Page.
  • 2
    Click ‘Create Audience’ and select ‘Lookalike Audience.'
  • 3
    Choose your source. This is where you select one of the custom audiences you created in the last step.
  • 4
    Select the country/countries where you’d like to find a similar set of people.
  • 5
    Choose your desired audience size with the slider. Choose 1% here.
  • 6
    Click 'Create Audience.'

Wait for them to populate and boom! You now have between 1 & 3 audiences to target for your ad!

How Accurate are Lookalike Audiences, Really?


Facebook collects a massive amount of data about its users. In 2015 Dr. Michal Kosinski released this study, which proved an algorithm could evaluate a person better than their colleagues based on 10 Facebook “likes.”

150 “likes” and the algorithm surpassed what the person’s parents knew. After 300 “likes” the algorithm understood the person better than their partner. And of course, the more likes (plus all the other data Facebook collects), the better it understands…

So to answer the question: lookalike audiences are creepily accurate.

Scenario 2) You Have an Email List Over 100 People

For this scenario you’ll create a Facebook custom audience from your email list and then create a lookalike audience from this custom audience.

Step 1 - Export your list to a .txt or .csv file from your email service provider (MailChimp, ActiveCampain, etc.). Each one is different so google “Export list + [your email service provider]” and a tutorial for how to do it will pop up for you to follow.  

Step 2 - Create a custom audience from the file. Follow the steps outlined above, but select ‘Customer File’ instead of ‘Website Traffic’ for the third step and then follow this guide to upload your list correctly.

Step 3 - Use the custom audience to create a Lookalike audience. Follow the steps outlined above, and choose your email list custom audience as the source.  

Scenario 3) None of the Above

Don’t worry, all is not lost if you find yourself here.

You will need to do some research and then use tools provided by Facebook to create your own audience to target.

You can follow the strategy outlined in our post: Steal Our Facebook Targeting Hack to Jumpstart Your Online Business.

Congrats! No matter what scenario you found yourself in, you should now have an audience ready. This is who will be seeing your ad once it’s published.  

Publishing Your Ad

And now the moment we’ve all been waiting for, publishing your ad!

We’ll be using the Facebook Ad Creation wizard. So click here if you’re ready to get started.

Because we’re only publishing one ad, this will be very straightforward. However, you can find a more in depth explanation on campaigns, ad sets and ads at the end of this section.

  • 1
    Select ‘Conversions’ as your marketing objective, give your campaign a name and hit continue. You don’t need to worry about any of the other options.
  • 2
    Now you’re at the ad set level. Give your ad set a name and proceed to the conversion section.
  • 3
    In the "Get Your Tracking Ready So You’re Not Guessing Later" section of this post you prepared a bit of code for your thank you page. This is why. Now you can optimize your ads for specific conversion events. Select your conversion event as ‘Lead’ from the drop down and Facebook will optimize who it shows your ad to based on this conversion goal. Remember, they are creepy good at this.
  • 4
    Now you select your audience.
    - If you’re using a lookalike audience (Scenario 1 & 2), click the ‘Custom Audiences’ box and select the Lookalike Audience you want to use from the drop-down.
    - If you’re using an audience you created with Facebook tools (Scenario 3), click ‘Use a Saved Audience’ and find the audience you saved from the list. 
  • 5
    Now to select your placement. Click ‘Edit Placement’ and make sure only ‘Desktop’ is selected for Device Types.
  • 6
    For platform selection make sure the only box checked is ‘Feeds’ under Facebook. Un-check everything else.
  • 7
    For Budget & Schedule set a Daily Budget of $10.00 and check ‘Run my ad set continuously starting today.’
  • 8
    There’s an advanced options section. Just double check that ‘Conversions’ is set for Optimization for Ad Delivery. Everything else can be left on the Facebook default settings. Now hit Continue to move to the Ad.
  • 9
    Give your ad a name and select your Facebook Page for the identity.
  • 10
    Select ‘Single Image’ for format.
  • 11
    Upload the ad image you created.
  • 12
    Make sure ‘Website’ is selected for link type.
  • 13
    Add your Ad Text in the ‘Text’ box. This is the text that will appear above the ad image.
  • 14
    Add the link to your landing page in the website URL box. You can use UTM parameters for your link if you use Google Analytics, otherwise the plain URL is fine.
  • 15
    Add the Headline you came up with.
  • 16
    Select a call to action button, if you’d like. I recommend ‘No Button.’
  • 17
    Click Advanced options and add your description (the text under the headline) in the ‘News Feed Link Description’ box.
  • 18
    Give everything a look over and if you’re happy with it. Hit Confirm. Your ad will then go into review, and once it’s accepted it will be shown to your audience!

If your ad is rejected, there could be many reasons. Facebook won’t tell you the exact reason, but this post outlines why it might have been rejected.

Campaigns, Ad Sets & Ads, Oh My!


This is the structure Facebook uses to help you organize, optimize and measure the performance of your ads.

Within a single campaign you can have multiple (or 1) ad sets and within an ad set you can have multiple (or 1) ads.

At the campaign level you determine your objective. For example: generating leads for your website vs. increasing engagement on your Facebook page. As we continue, let’s pick generating leads as our objective.

At the ad set level you determine targeting, budget, schedule, bidding and placement. For example, you could have two different ad sets, which are both trying to generate leads. One ad set could be targeting Women ages 18-25 and the other ad set could be targeting Men ages 55-65.

As your campaign is running, one ad set might perform better than the other, and now you can make adjustments to one ad set and not the other, like increasing the budget of the ad set doing well. As we continue, let’s pick the Women ages 18-25 ad set.

At the ad level you determine what’s being shown to the audience. For example, in our Women ad set we could have one ad with a picture of our opt-in offer and one ad with a picture of a family laughing.

As the campaign is running we see the picture with our opt-in offer results in more leads, so we pause the ad with the picture of the family laughing. 

How Much Your Baseline Will Cost

Let your ad run for a week. This will cost you $70.

After the week is done, press pause on your ad so you can start understanding the numbers and evaluating your funnel. The numbers you’re interested in are:

  • Impressions - How many people saw your ad.
  • CPM (Cost per 1,000 Impression) - How much it cost you (on average) for 1,000 people to see your ad.
  • Relevance Score - 1 (bad) to 10 (good) score Facebook gives your ads. It’s calculated based on the positive and negative feedback Facebook expects an ad to receive from its target audience.
  • Landing Page Views - The amount of people who saw your ad and found it interesting enough to click to go to your landing page and find out more.
  • Cost per Landing Page View - How much it cost you (on average) for someone to see your landing page.
  • Outbound CTR (Click Through Rate) - The percentage of times people saw your ad and performed an outbound click. 'Outbound' is important as it's an ad click sending the person off Facebook i.e. to your landing page. This is different than regular CTR as this will include every click on your ad ('liking,' clicking to comment, sharing, etc.).
  • Website Leads - The amount of people who saw your ad, found it interesting enough to click and found your offer interesting enough to give you what you asked for.
  • Cost per Website Lead - How much it cost you (on average) for someone to say ‘yes’ to what you were offering.
  • Website Conversion Rate - The percentage of times people saw your landing page and said ‘yes’ to what you were offering. 

You can find all of these numbers in your ads manager except the website conversion rate. You can calculate it with this formula: (Landing Page Views/Website Leads) x 100.

The easiest way to find them in the ads manager is to create a customized set of columns. You can read this documentation on how to do it.

Here’s what it will look like before you save it:

Customizing your reporting columns to get the numbers you need.

Now you have a rough* baseline of your numbers and you can use them to improve. In your next attempt you’ll be looking to increase your Outbound CTR and Website Conversion Rate and/or decrease your cost per landing page view and Cost per Website Lead.

*I say ‘rough’ because some of these numbers might not be statistically significant yet, especially your website conversion rate. For a more in depth explanation on this, including how to find out if a result is significant, check out this post on A/B testing with low traffic.

Next Steps for Improvement

Now, let’s figure out the best place for you to improve your funnel with this quick check. Look at the ratio of Impressions to Landing Page Views and then the ratio of Landing Page Views to Leads.

These should be about 3:1*. Meaning for every 9 people who see your ad, 3 should click and check out your landing page, and 1 person of those 3 should convert.

Generally speaking, the best place to do better is on your landing page as it’s the closest point to your conversion goal.

Start with the basics:

Then make your landing page even better with these 5 Ways to Take Your Conversion Rates to the Next Level.

Once you’ve done these you can start A/B testing your landing page using Thrive Optimize and you can use our A/B Testing Quickstart Toolkit to learn everything you need to know.

Now you can start trying to improve your ad. The best skill to learn for this is copywriting. This post discusses 6 brain hacks you can use in your ad and you can take our course on copywriting (this course is only available for active Thrive Suite customers) to take your skills even further!

*3:1 is a good place to start, but it's just a rough baseline as these numbers will vary across what you’re offering, across websites offering the same thing and across different industries. This is why it’s so important for you to establish your baseline in the first place. They are YOUR numbers and your goal then becomes to understand them and then improve.

Go For it! You’re Not Going to Hurt Yourself

All it takes is $70 and you’ll be able to establish your baseline when it comes to Facebook ads.

If you’ve followed this post, you’ll not only have the foundation in place for you to take your ads further, but you’ll know where to focus your energy. So awesome job making it to the end!

Thoughts, questions, celebration of understanding? I will respond to anything you leave in the comments below!

About the Author Dave D


When Dave isn't enjoying experimenting with the chemistry of copywriting and exploring the different powers of the unlimited combinations, you can find him traveling the world out of carry-on luggage—he has been living this way since the end of 2012. You can read his travel hacks, gear lists and ridiculous stories at The Quest For Awesome.

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