If you want to succeed at paid social media advertising, you can’t just run randomly selected ad creative. You’ll need to conduct thorough testing to find what resonates with your audience.
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But for some marketers and eCommerce businesses, testing social ad creative can be a hard sell. Lack of budget and creative assets are often the excuse given – but we’re here to tell you that they’re imagined constraints. Today, it’s easier than ever to test social ad creative on a limited budget, as long as your imagination is limitless.
Experimenting with your ad creative is invaluable for your social media strategy, whether you’re a well-established online business or still building your brand. Not sure how to get started? We’re sharing our agency’s proven process with you, including the steps we took to help our client generate $1 million in Facebook ads revenue in just one month.
How to conduct social media testing for ad creative
Like any good experiment, running tests on your social ad creative should involve some upfront planning. Otherwise, you could end up running too many ads or introduce too many variables to gather any sort of statistically significant data.
Before you hit the “publish” button, use this step-by-step outline to plan out your next test:
Step 1: Brainstorming Test Ideas
Lots of marketers struggle to think outside of the box with their paid social media posts. Often, they face pressure from stakeholders about brand standards and are afraid to deviate from typical content.
But, to generate test results that really make a difference for your bottom line, you need to throw that mindset out the window.
In our experience, the best ad creative comes from a willingness to test the new and exciting. It may not initially mesh with your brand’s history, but social ads that push boundaries often resonate best with an increasingly younger social media audience.
If you’re struggling to come up with a creative A/B test, ask yourself a few questions:
- What has worked in the past? No need to reinvent the wheel here. See what themes or approaches have performed well in previous social media campaigns, and find ways to take it to the next level.
- What creative makes sense for your audience? Think about where your target audience lives on social. Taking into account their age, interests, and more, you can decide whether you should run Facebook or Instagram ads, as well as which ad format will reach them best.
- Do you have existing creative assets? One of the hurdles for testing ad creative is a lack of videos, photos, and other media to use. But you may have existing assets you’ve never thought of using on social media. Collaborate with your content marketing team, take an inventory of what you have, and get creative about using it in your campaigns.
- What are your competitors doing? Find out what kind of creative (user-generated, professional, video, etc.) your competing brands are using, and consider integrating those into your tests.
Still struggling for ideas? Below, we give you seven to get started with.
Step 2: Setting Up Your Ad Creative Tests
Now that you’ve got your test ideas, it’s time to set them running.
Choosing Which Ads to Test
To reduce the number of variables impacting your results, we recommend testing no more than 2–3 ads at a time. Those ads should also be drastically different from each other for the most accurate results. Unlike with email A/B testing, you’ll need to change more than just a few words to understand what resonates with different audiences; often, you’ll need to switch up the copy and creative completely.
Here’s an example from the client (Vitrazza) mentioned above: We tested high-production-value and low-production-value video ads for their luxury home office product. Both included similar value propositions and user reviews, but the methods through which they were presented couldn’t have been more unique.
Because the creative was so distinct between these ads, we were more likely to conclude a difference in performance that could inform our strategy moving forward.
Choosing Your Ad Run Timeline
In addition to juxtaposing your testable ad creative, you need to decide how long your ads will run. We can’t give an exact answer on how long to run your tests to see substantial results, but we can tell you that timeline will often depend on two things:
- Customer buying cycle
It’s simple math: The less money you spend on your ad tests, the longer it will take to get statistically significant data. With a larger budget, your ads will be shown to more customers, which will more quickly generate the social media test results you’re looking for.
Your customers’ buying cycle will also play a role. Think about how long shoppers take before completing a purchase on your site. Because test results are tracked in conversions, the length of your tests will likely reflect how long it takes your customers to make that final purchase.
For this reason, eCommerce companies with a shorter customer buying cycle can run more tests and get more data on a quicker timeline.
Step 3: Evaluating Test Results
If you’re an eCommerce company running social media ads, there’s one metric to rule them all: conversions. For this reason, most test winners will be determined by how many sales each ad set generates.
For a fuller picture of results, we also encourage you to compare:
- Cost per acquisition (CPA)
- Return on ad spend (ROAS)
- Cost-per-click (CPC)
- Click-through-rate (CTR)
- Be aware of what the CTR is measuring. Link CTR (how many people visit your site) is a better indicator of reaching the right audience than post CTR.
- On-site behavior (ex: time spend on page), gathered through UTM parameters and Google Analytics
Sometimes, there will be a clear winner in your tests. In the example above, our low-production-value video beat out the other in both volumes of sales and ROAs.
Other times, tests will produce conflicting data. For example, one ad may generate lower CPA, while another may generate a higher conversion rate. The answer lies in one question: Which metric is more easily scalable?
In this case, we’d recommend moving forward with the higher conversion rate ad. Even though it may cost more upfront, it has a higher probability of generating sales and proving the investment’s worth.
Step 4: Continue to Test… Again and Again
When you have a test winner, you’ll obviously want to continue running that ad, as well as build out similar ads to take advantage of those results.
But just because something performs well now doesn’t mean it will in the future. Customer behavior and buying cycles are continually changing; your social ad creative strategy should do the same to stay relevant with your target audience. Continue to test your winning ad against different images, copy, and social media platforms to stay on top of trends and ensure you’re maximizing performance.
You should also be switching out your ad creative frequently to avoid viewer fatigue. Odds are, your ads will be served several times to your target audience during its campaign lifetime. Fresh ad creative has a better chance of engaging your customers and converting to purchase than the same old tired social media content they’ve seen before.
7 Social media experiment ideas to test
If you’re struggling to brainstorm new ideas for your paid social ads, we have a few recommendations for your next tests.
1. User-Generated Content
User-generated content offers boundless opportunities for paid social advertising. It’s easy to source (not to mention free for your business), and it resonates with customers, regardless of your vertical or niche.
If you aren’t using UGC in your paid social ads yet, make this your first test idea. Run customer reviews and photos against your in-house creative to discover just how big of a goldmine you’re sitting on.
2. Industry Spokespeople
Certain brands and products can benefit from the endorsement of a credible spokesperson. Incorporating that person into your social ad creative can boost customer trust and pique their interest when they see your ads on their social feeds.
Spokesperson and founder feature work especially well for health and wellness products. We saw the proof when we tested ad creative with Atrantil’s founder Dr. Kenneth Brown against images of supplements and bottles.
Similarly, influencers can be a boon to your brand, if you do it right.
There are some considerations here, including budget and brand alignment. If you do hire an influencer to create content for your brand, make sure their content is organic and goes with their niche. For example, if you hire a mommy blogger to promote your brand, your product should fit seamlessly into a family-friendly, kid-focused lifestyle.
4. Seasonal Products and Themes
Seasonal features can be a great way to test your evergreen content against time-sensitive creativity. This is a popular strategy for social media marketers; it’s why you see so many gym advertisements at the start of the year.
But your ad creative doesn’t have to be overtly seasonal. We run ads featuring seasonal dishes for our client Atrantil, both as a way to test creative performance and to provide a “refresh” to prevent ad fatigue.
If you’re not using videos in your paid social media marketing strategy, now’s the time to implement them. Remember that video content doesn’t have to be high-production value to succeed; even the most basic videos shot on an iPhone can generate growth and sales (and give you a great base for killer gifs, too).
Consider testing popular static images against a video that portrays the same idea or theme. You could start by simply adding text overlays on a photo slideshow of your most successful social ads.
Video isn’t rocket science, but there are plenty of professionals who can help if you don’t have the time or manpower to create your own content.
6. Ad Copy
Photos and videos are common test ideas for social media ads – but, if you have a killer video or image that performs well, you can test its potential by experimenting with its accompanying ad copy.
If you’re stuck on what copy to use, we recommend looking at customer conversations about your brand and product. Check out Amazon reviews and Twitter feeds to see what customers are saying and borrow tones or phrases from customers for authentic, compelling copy. You might also incorporate a variety of emojis, hashtags, and CTAs.
As mentioned above, make sure any changes in copy are substantial enough that a clear winner (and future strategy) can be gleaned from the tests.
7. Ad placement
Instead of testing the ad content itself, you can test its performance based on where it’s displayed.
There are a plethora of options for social ad placement today, from Facebook News Feed ads, to Instagram feed carousel ads, to IG story ads. If you have an ad that excels in one placement, you might test its performance on other social media networks or platforms to see if the success can be replicated — or even expanded upon!
You can also experiment with where your ad is placed within long-form ad content, like Instagram Reels.
Start testing your paid social ads now
Whatever your brand and product, don’t sleep on paid social media testing. It’s a proven way to generate sales and scale your business growth on your budget.
If you follow our steps above, you’ll be in a great position to discover what creative does (and doesn’t) work for your audience. But, if you struggle to see results – or just want experienced hands running your account – we recommend reaching out to a professional.
An eCommerce digital marketing agency that knows what they’re doing can more efficiently set up and execute your paid social media tests, as well as brainstorm experiments that might work for your brand.
Guest author: Andrew Halfman is a Senior Paid Strategist at Inflow, where he specializes in driving business results through the power of paid social media. He has more than six years of experience in digital strategy, spanning paid search, paid social, email marketing, and programmatic media.