8 lessons I’ve learned from running 4,421 Facebook ads in 1 year


Throughout all this time that I’ve been running Facebook ads, there are so many mistakes that I did and so many lessons to be learned from having run 4,421 Facebook ads last year for clients and my Shopify stores.

What I like to do is that every beginning of the year, I’d whip up a piece of paper and write down what I’ve done right and wrong and what I can learn from each mistake.

I constantly look for ways to improve my skills and it’s been such a great journey for me so far.

(terrible handwriting, I know LOL)

I think that it’d be really beneficial for people who are also running Facebook ads to read this post and learn from my mistakes as well – that’s what inspired me to write this in-depth article.

I have to tell you that I am in no way an expert and I don’t like to be called that anyway and I keep learning a ton of new things about the digital marketing world EVERY SINGLE DAY.

If you read this article intently and take it to heart to avoid the same mistakes I did, I am sure you’ll increase your chances of succeeding with Facebook ads, at least 30%.

Ready? Let’s jump right in!

Lesson learned #1: Using stock photos is a stupid idea

I’ve already mentioned that using a stock photo in an ad is a bad idea in this post, the reason is that stock photos especially the ones that are widely used suck big time when it comes to conversions.

I did a little experiment of my own after reading a few research studies online about the detrimental effects of using stock photos and see what happened. My conversions sucked and the ad cost soared like there was no tomorrow.

Have a look at this ad where I used stock photos as the featured image.

And then this is another ad where I utilized my grade 4 art level to design the original image for the ad. Guess what happened? Yep, my conversion was good again and the price of the ad dropped significantly.

After that, I said goodbye to ever using stock photos in my ads ever again and told all of my friends and clients the same thing and never look back.

If you don’t have a choice and you really need to choose a stock photo, fine… at least use the ones that haven’t been used a billion times already.

I recommend you using Tineye to do a reverse image search to see how many places online a certain stock photo is found online – it’s neat because it will give you an idea if the stock photo is “okay” for you to use in your ad.

I’ve run a quick Tineye reverse image search on a popular stock photo of a customer support woman smiling at a camera. Here’s what I found.

Wow, man. It’s used on 3,434 places online and this is just the places that Tineye could find – I am sure there are more than this because I swear I’ve seen this stock photo online for more than 500+ times for sure during my whole digital media buy journey.

Brace yourself guys, we’ll get a little scientific here.

© Dr Michel Royon / Wikimedia Commons

The reason that stock photos don’t work is because our brain receives approximately 34 GB of information every single day and our brain isn’t wired to take in and analyze every bit of that information.

What our brain does is to filter out the repetitive and whatever it finds “unnecessary” so “not important enough to pay attention to that’s why ad blindness happens.

Basically, it’s what your brain subconsciously thinks “ah fuck it, I’ve seen this so many times already, next!!”.

Same goes for ads that have been running for too long using the same creatives.

Lesson learned #2: Video ad rocks and it’s here to stay

To be honest, I’ve been running video ads since forever now and I’ve always loved it because I see that my target audience interacts with it better and I generally get better engagements on the ad.

And the ad cost can be super low. This is one of the video ad campaigns that I’ve been running for a few days now.

As you can see, the price is only $0.004 per three-second video view which is amazing because my client is in a very competitive niche that normally, it would cost at least 4x as much.

This is what I normally get with other types of ads even with post boosting ad, it cost $0.04, more than 10x the amount that the video ad cost me.

So you can see now why I like video ads so much and it’s my go-to ad type for almost all of the businesses that I’ve run ads for on Facebook.

If you want to use video ads, I’d recommend you to use the type of video that is made specifically for Facebook such as this;

The reason this works is because attention span of Facebook users are generally very low on the platform – I would say 4 seconds max. (totally pulled it out of my ass) and if you don’t have something that makes you stand out from the crowd, your ad will get buried.

Because you not only compete with other ads, but also their friends’ pictures, cute doggo videos like the example above and whatever content they’ve subscribed to.

It’s a battle of attention on Facebook.

Imagine people scrolling down their feed in boredom and not knowing what to look for, your job is to make them stop and look at your ad. If you can do that then your ad would be lots of engagements and that would make your ads cheaper. If not, the cost would skyrocket.

Why? Because Facebook is practically an ad network now rather than a social media network – whatever they do revolve around optimizing their platforms for advertisers.

If your ads suck and get low amount of engagements, it will drive people away from Facebook and Facebook would rather show ads that work than yours.

Lesson Learned #3: They like to be surprised (in a good way)

Like I said above that our human brain isn’t designed to register well with repetitive things that’s why surprising them with an ad image.

As you scroll down your Facebook feed, you keep seeing similar stuff especially recycled memes that many pages across the platform post. You’d be bored out of your mind, right?

Imagine this, you walk into a McDonald’s and instead of seeing a regular Joker’s mascot, you see a this new mascot instead.

What do you think? Of course, you’d pay attention to it and probably take a picture of it and share it with your friends on social media or Tweet about it.

Same thing happens with ads, the ones that can surprise the target audience will have a better chance at getting their attention. Take a quick look at this.

The picture is probably different than most of the ones you find on your feed and it could raise your curiosity to read the headline to find out what it is.

Our brains don’t like boring stuff so I’ve learned that if I want to get people attention, I have to pull weird ad images but not so much that it would offend them, of course.

Lesson learned #4: Use numbers more in ads

Numbers help our brain break down information to help us understand it more quickly and rouse our curiosity, creating what it’s called “curiosity gap”.

Curiosity gap is basically making your target audience wants to find out more about what’s in your ad and if they don’t do it, they’ll feel uncomfortable about themselves.

Websites that are notorious for using curiosity gap technique are Upworthy and Buzzfeed. Just look at Upworthy’s headlines;

Now have a look at what their traffic growth looks like, compared to other sites that are also popular on the web like Business Insider and Huffington Post.

As much as I loathe their clickbaity headlines and content – we can’t deny that they have been doing the right thing and their growth is phenomenal.

It goes to show how using curiosity gap technique can make so much difference in getting people to click on something, especially ads.

Another way that I like numbers in ads is to show it as a social proof. I don’t do it quite often but many companies are doing it and having a lot of success with it.

An example I often see people use numbers as a social proof goes something like this “55,645 people have tried our products and you should, too.”, what it does is to make target audience feel that they are not alone buying or trying this product, many people have done it already.

Here’s an example of a company that uses this technique:

No one wants to buy a product that nobody buys from, right? Showing how many people have used SumoMe is a way of telling them that people care about their product.

Not many of us are early adopters who are willing to jump into something completely new.

Lesson learned #4: Facebook users loooooove emojis!

Humans are visual creatures, according to an MIT research, they found that half of our brain is dedicated to processing visual information (source) and more than 65% of us are purely visual learners (source).

There are many companies that have grown from being visual. One of the examples I’d like to talk about is a Japanese chat app called “Line” – if you have ever been to countries in Southeast Asia, you would know how popular it is over here.

Why? Because they have cute stickers that people love to use.

I’ve seen couples who only send these stickers to communicate in AN HOUR LONG CONVERSATION. Yeah, it’s that fun.

Emoji is the best thing when it comes to making your product description more interesting to read and capture your target audience attention more.

Just by adding 1 emoji to the headline of an ad, Scoro found that the CTR increased over 241%.

I regularly use emojis in Facebook ads and I love it. It adds some visuals to otherwise boring ad headlines or descriptions.

Lesson learned #5: Solid guarantee is a way to go

When people buy stuff online, there’s always a bit of trust issue no matter and there are so many competitors that are willing to take food off your table.

Do you know what’s the fear that people have the most? Fear of losing money.

Because they have put in hours of their life to earn it and they wouldn’t want to spend on something that they aren’t sure will give them something good in return.

What I’ve learned to do is to give them a money back guarantee or have a good return policy.

A company that does this really well is Amazon. There are countless of stories where they return or exchange products and go extra miles just to make their customers happy.

 That’s why people aren’t afraid to buy from them because they know that Amazon has a phenomenal customer service.

Take Kerafiber as an example, they offer a 30-day-no-questions money back guarantee. As you can see from the engagements on their ad, they were doing really well.

Whenever I run a Facebook ad, I always try to A/B test ads with a guarantee and without, and the ones with guarantee win 8/10 times.

Lesson learned #6: They need a little push

When you do ads on Facebook, you would feel that people are more chilled out there because the content they expect to see on the platform is “entertaining stuff”. They don’t plan to buy something, their credit card is still somewhere else.

And the attention? They lose it soooo quickly! So if I get them interested enough to stop scrolling and read my ad, I’d make sure they know whatever I am selling to them is time sensitive and it won’t be there forever.

People like to browse around and procrastinate on making a buying decision and who knows? maybe, they’ll find your competitors and go with them instead of you.

Remember when your competitors used to be the next bloc over? Now they are here.

So when running ads, we need to push our would-be customers to a sale as fast as possible otherwise there’s a good chance we’d lose them forever.

Take a look at a Curlkit ad I saw browsing through Google image search 

If anyone is looking for beauty kit would seriously consider and take this ad seriously because time is running out.

Lesson learned #7: Always go with high contrast colors

As I mentioned that running Facebook ads is all about stopping the target audience to from scrolling past your ad and get them to have a quick look at what you have to offer.

Running ads is simply a battle of attention

That’s why I always go with high contrast colors with it comes to choosing ad images because the higher in contrast, the more it will catch their eyes.

Take a look at Nike’s ad on Facebook.

The contrast is good that it catches my eyes and I’d have to inevitably look at it for at least a few seconds to find out what the ad is all about.

Another ad that I like purely based on the colors they use is this G2 Crowd’s ad.

G2 Crowd has done a great job using orange background with white color text to attract their target audience’s attention so they can treat them a cup of coffee.

Lesson Learned #8: Use images that can elicit emotions

We are all emotional beings no matter how logical you think you are, and emotion is a big part of our survival instinct.

For example, when you walk past a thick bush at 1 AM. on an empty road, your first emotion is fear and danger, right? You didn’t even have the time to investigate what it actually is in the bush.

When it comes to advertising, it’s the same thing. When we use emotional images, we tend to stop and look at it because we are curious.

There’s a Thai commercial that I like and it has made grown-up people sob like babies.

Guess what? It’s one of the most memorable ads I’ve ever seen. And all of the memorable ads I’ve seen in my life are the ones that elicit some sort of emotions from me like laughter, sadness, rage (yep, looking at you PETA!), or whatever.

Take a look at this picture below (not an ad, though).

This is clearly an emotional photo because the man is crying and there seems to be a kid holding a piece of paper that says “dad”. Look at the engagements that this post has, it’s clearly doing something right which is using an emotional image.

Here’s another one.

This picture draws attention because you see 2 people hugging each other looking happy with a Snapwire watermark on it.

To be honest with you, I didn’t even know what the ad was about until I took a closer look at the headline and read its description. Pictures are powerful when it comes to drawing attention.

Where we go from here

It seems that all of my successful ads are the ones that draw attention the most because even if your ads are designed by world-class graphic designers but it can’t catch attention of the target audience – it means jack shit.

What I’ve done so far is to figure out what makes my target audience stop scrolling past my ad and actually give a quick glance at my ads and I recommend you that it’s where you should focus on as well.

The success of your ads will depend purely on whether or not your target audience gives a f*ck to your ads in the first 1 – 3 seconds.

It’s your turn now!

If you are running ads right now – I hope you’ve learned something from this post and utilize it in your ads because I know that 95% of the people who’ve read this blog post would never care enough to implement it.

I hope you are one of the people who do because learning happens only in taking actions.

If there’s something you’ve learned from your ads, feel free to share with us in the comment!

Good luck for now 🙂