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How to Test Facebook Ads Without Busting Your Budget

Jon Bennion

Jon Bennion | May 24, 2021 |

30 min read

Pay-per-click (PPC) provides a huge ROI for marketers, and Facebook Advertising is one of the top features for hitting those goals. The huge reach potential and insanely precise audience targeting tools can pay dividends for advertisers. 

But how do you know if you’re maximizing the potential of Facebook ads for your brand? 

Split tests.

Facebook offers a multitude of ways to test the performance of your ads before they go live. One of the most popular tools to test Facebook ads is the split test. 

Split testing lets advertisers uncover what works best for your ads so you can generate more business and increase your leads - without upping your spend. In other words, you get more return for less money.

In this article, you’ll learn the proven Facebook split test method designed to help you test your Facebook ads to reveal the best audience, images and copy. Find out how to maximize the potential of your marketing ads on Facebook, without busting your budget. 

What is a split test in Facebook ads?

Split testing, aka A/B testing, is where you run experiments to see which version of a marketing asset gets better results based on your goals. Usually, two versions (A and B) are tested simultaneously, so you can directly compare results. You can use a split test to compare Facebook ads, as well as PPC ads, landing pages and headlines. 

Split testing is a very popular process for Facebook advertisers because it gives an idea of what types of ads earn the highest conversion rates. You can start to understand the types of headlines, content and images that resonate with your audience, which helps you refine future campaigns. 

Why testing Facebook ads is important

Testing is an important weapon in any advertiser’s arsenal if they want to win new customers. A split test helps advertisers uncover what works best for their ads so they can make improvements and ultimately generate more business or boost leads, without spending more money. 

Often marketers say that Facebook ads don’t work for their brand, or that Facebook ads don’t appeal to their target market. But they simply haven’t used split testing in the right way to see which variables work. Without testing, everything you do with Facebook ads is guesswork. You’re throwing money at ad creatives that you think will resonate with your audience, but there’s no evidence to prove it. 

The reality is Facebook ads are powerful assets, and when you get the right combination of elements, the ROI can be transformative. In order to achieve this, you need to use a strategic and systematic Facebook split testing method.

There are other benefits to split testing too. A/B testing gives you a better understanding of audience behavior. You’ll see what generates clicks, and what flops. It also makes you more comfortable with the Facebook ad system so you can use the different tools to streamline your campaigns. 

How to set your starting Facebook Ad budget

You don’t need a big-brand budget to test Facebook ads. A budget of $250-$500 will help you identify the right combination of ad components, including ad copy, creative and headlines, to create your winning ad. While there are other elements you can test, this will give you the best bang for your buck.

Then, simply scale your ad to reach new audiences or retarget to those who have already engaged with your brand. 

But for the best results, allocate about 10-20% of your advertising budget to testing. 

Sounds like a lot?

Think of it as an investment. Testing will help you define what’s working for your brand so you can improve the ROI on the rest of your ad budget. 

The bottom line is a meaningful split test requires data. So how do you know when you’ve gathered enough data? 

Let’s say you’re testing 8 different headlines. 

For you to choose a winner, each ad needs to generate around 10-20 conversions. 

If your average cost per conversion is $1, you’ll require a budget of at least $80 ($1 x 8 headlines x 10 conversions) to pick the winner. 

You also need to consider that if the differences in performance are only small, you won’t be able to make a conclusive decision and will need to increase the budget. 

Also, consider the metric you’re measuring. Clicks tend to be less expensive, but other conversions will need a higher budget. 

How to get started with Facebook ad split testing

Ready to start split testing? The first step is to work out what ads you’re going to test. 

In Facebook Ads Manager, Toolbar lets you quickly perform a test on an existing campaign. This is what you’ll see:

Ads manager A/B test in Toolbar

But we recommend you use a completely new ad set rather than editing an existing ad set. Why? Because if you make changes to an existing ad set, it will be difficult to track the impact of changes to the performance data. 

You can also use creative that’s already published on your page – an existing post. 

Select “Use Existing Post” in Facebook Ads Manager. Then build a new test around the variables you decide to test. 

Step 1: Choose one variable to test 

What are you going to test? The golden rule of split testing is this:

Only choose one variable to test.

There’s a multitude of variables and audiences you can experiment with, but your test results will be more conclusive if you only choose only one variable. 

Facebook Ads Manager gives you a number of variable to choose from for your ad testing. These can be grouped into three types tests:

A. Test your Ad Creative

These A/B tests focus on the visual assets of your ad, including:

  • Image

  • Ad copy

  • Headlines

  • Landing page copy and design

B. Test your ads targeting

These variables look at the effectiveness of your ads based on which audiences you want to reach:

  • Country

  • Gender

  • Interests

  • Education level

  • Age

  • Custom audiences

  • Relationship status

  • Purchase behaviors

C. Test other variables

  • Ad type

  • Placement

  • Bidding (lowest cost with or without cap)

  • Delivery optimization (clicks, conversions, engagement)

Which should you focus on first? 

There’s no golden rule here, but when you think about what has the potential for the most impact, visuals are the one thing that will stop users from scrolling through the news feed. So, it makes sense to focus our first tests on visuals, and then move onto headlines and copy.

Remember to make sure all of these tests have the same audience, budget, start time, and so on. The only thing that changes is the one element you are testing e.g. headline. 

Step 2. Set Up Your Facebook Ad Tests

Now you’ve chosen your variable, you’re ready to set up the test. 

A. Choose a responsive audience for your test. 

Start by creating your potential audiences based on different interests, keywords and targeting criteria.

The narrower your audience, the more accurate your test results will be. But at the same time, your test audience should be large enough to provide results you can use to make an informed decision.

Create an A/B test to test an ad that you think will perform well across multiple audiences, then use the data to see which audience responds best.

B. Pick the metrics that will define success or failure

How will you define the success and failure of your ads? Before creating your first split test, you need to decide on the metrics.

The challenge is that Facebook offers a huge number of ad performance metrics and all of them can be used to measure the success of your ad campaigns:

  • Cost per result (CPR)

  • Number of impressions

  • Ad frequency

  • Clicks

  • Click-through rates

  • Cost per click (CPC)

  • Cost per impression (CPM)

  • Cost per conversion (also known as cost per action, CPA)

Unless you’re working with a social media agency or ad manager who knows how to measure and report on different metrics, it’s a good idea to keep things simple and start with a single metric for your ads.

Pick the metric that means the most to your business. In other words, the campaign objective that will have the most impact on your business growth. For most businesses testing on Facebook, that will be cost per conversion

A conversion could be a lead that’s coming to your website, someone downloading your ebook, signing up for a free trial/sample, or making a purchase. 

C. Test your Facebook Ad Creative variations

You have already determined which audiences provide the best results, the next step is to use those audiences to refine your campaign creative, such as text, image, and video.

Testing the text elements of your ad campaigns requires you to come up with variations on the headlines, ad copy, and call to action (CTA) you want to test.

The headline is a key element to test on Facebook. Headlines can really move the needle for your ads when you get them right. Start by testing three to five headlines on one ad creative.

Another key element is ad copy - not the actual messaging but the length of the copy. Create a test for three lengths of ad copy: 

  • Short copy of one to two sentences

  • Medium length of three to four sentences

  • Long copy of a couple of paragraphs or more

Testing your visuals includes variations on images, video, or dynamic elements like carousels, depending on your ad type. Create a test with three to five single images, video or GIFs on Facebook ads. 

D. Test placements for your ads

Ads Manager also lets you test different placements for your ads. For example, you might place video ads only on Instagram, only in Stories, or only in the right column of Facebook on desktop. Each different ad placement will deliver different results, so it's a variable you want to test.

Step 3. Scale a winning Facebook Ad

So, you’ve completed your Facebook split testing, what now?

After setting up your first round of testing, the next step is to analyze the numbers from the ad sets and use the information to refine your ads and launch a second round of testing with the improved ads.

To analyse the test results, go to Facebook Ads Manager. 

Look at clicks measured on the “Performance Chart”. You can also customize the Facebook ad metrics you want to see by adding standard events or custom conversions. We recommend you also add a column to track return on ad spend (ROAS). 

The next stage is about getting your ad in front of new audiences - your potential customers. There are two different way to scale your ad:

A. Vertical ad scaling: Broaden your audiences

Vertical ad scaling on Facebook is when you put smaller budgets across a lot of audiences. This means your results are less dependent on one audience, and it matters less if that audience stops performing because chances are you have others that are still performing well.

You need to put some time into creating your Facebook audiences and may need to rotate those audiences for different campaigns.

B. Horizontal ad scaling: Increase your budget

Horizontal ad scaling on Facebook is where you work with fewer different audiences and a bigger budget.

This doesn't work for every advertiser, so you’ll need to run some experiments to gather data and see if it gets you a higher return on your ad spend. One approach for scaling horizontally is to open up your target audience. The temptation is to hone in on an audience with a few different interests, but going broad means the Facebook algorithm takes charge to get you the best results.

How long should you test Facebook ads? 

You can choose to run your split test on Facebook for up to 30 days, but our experience shows that you don’t need that long. Seven days should be enough time to get meaningful results. 

Consider testing Facebook ads on mobile versus desktop too. There can be a dramatic difference between these two placements depending on your audience.

Over to you

Testing Facebook ads doesn't have to be expensive or complicated. With split testing, you can choose what you want to test, set a budget for your ad sets and measure the metrics that matter to drive a better ROI. Getting the most from a small budget comes down to focusing on one single thing before you move onto the next. Want to improve your Facebook ad campaigns but not sure where to start? Claim your free Digital Marketing Audit and 6 Month Game Plan.

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