When I was a kid, there was a sure-fire way of getting Super Mario Bros. to work on NES when the game wouldn’t load: take out the cartridge, blow into the end with all the electronic bits, and retry. Nine times out of ten you’d be back in business. Unfortunately, Facebook ads are often just as finicky. Except that blowing on your computer screen won’t get you very far. That’s why I wrote this guide: to give you a 14-step guide for when your Facebook ads are not working. Because nothing is more frustrating than seeing your Facebook ads not working.

Tip #1: Double Check Everything

The Apollo module might be slightly more complicated than Facebook campaigns.
So many buttons, so many things to go wrong.

Remember when you called your Internet provider because you couldn’t get House of Cards to play on Netflix? And they told you to first check if your cable modem was plugged in? This is that step. Except it’s more like piloting the Apollo space capsule: there are a thousand switches to check, and if you bump the wrong one, bad things happen.

If you’ve made any of the mistakes below, you won’t be the first person:

  • Used the wrong URL for your ad’s target destination
  • Forgot to add your Facebook tracking pixel to your landing pages
  • Didn’t set the right objective for Facebook to optimize on
  • Left a campaign, ad set, or ad set to “OFF
  • Sent traffic to a landing page you haven’t published
  • Used an expired credit card to pay for your ads
  • Hit a budget limit on our account or a campaign
  • Pre-pay for a full tank of gas at $5.63/gallon when renting your Kia Forte from Hertz

Check these first before diving into the more difficult fixes below.

Tip #2: Pick The Right Objective

Right now, Facebook offers fifteen campaign objectives to choose from. That makes things complicated. Heck, ordering from McDonalds feels like taking a multiple-choice test from a sadistic 3rd-grade teacher, and they only have nine Extra Value Meals to pick from.

Facebook offers no less than 15 ad objectives.
Facebook ad objectives : choose wisely.

If you’re unsure of what objective to pick, Clicks To Website is probably your safest best. When you’ve got the basics figured out, consider moving to Website Conversions. This will allow Facebook to send traffic to people it thinks are most likely to take a certain action on your site. Like downloading your latest ebook, The Beginner’s Guide To McDonald’s Extra Value Meals: What To Choose, How To Eat, And Best Places To Get Sick After Consumption.

One word of caution when using Website Conversions… 

If you aren’t getting at least five conversions a day, Facebook will consider your campaign unsuccessful. Facebook will then stop running your campaign “to keep you from wasting money.” You won’t find this listed anywhere in Facebook’s help articles, but I can confirm this both from personal experience and conversations with Facebook support.

Tip #3: Check Placement (Don’t Use Audience Network)

Facebook ad placement is one of the most important aspects of campaign performance.
Placement matters. A lot.

Facebook offers four ad placements: Desktop News Feed, Mobile News Feed, Desktop Right Hand, and Audience Network (aka the 5th Circle of Hell).

What is this Audience Network? It’s a smorgasbord of ad placements on external sites and within mobile apps. It also includes ads placed within Facebook’s Instant Articles.

The problem with Facebook Audience Network ads is they offer a very poor user experience since the ad layouts vary greatly. You also are subject to the “fat finger” problem, where users inadvertently click on an ad when navigating on their phone.

The problem with #Facebook Audience Network ads is they offer a very poor user experience. Click To Tweet

You’d think that Facebook would simply show your ads on the best-performing placements, but that isn’t always the case. In fact, when I wasn’t paying attention, I’ve seen Facebook spend nearly all of my budget on Audience Network.

So to be safe, turn off Audience Network placements. Completely.

Outside of Audience Network, your mileage may vary among the other placements. If you see one that’s underperforming, take a look at how your ads are presented. Maybe your creative doesn’t work well in small sizes. Maybe your headlines are too long for mobile. Whatever the case, either turn off an underperforming placement or revise your copy and creative to make sure it presents well in all formats.

Tip #4: Get The Right Audience

The best ad in the world won’t convert if it’s delivered to the wrong audience. And you’d be surprised at how very similar Facebook audiences can perform quite differently.

Try testing different versions of your target audience, to see which works best. Here’s an example of how to create three different audiences:

  • Build your first audience using Facebook Likes and Interests. Try to find things that only people in your audience would have an interest in.
  • Create a based on Facebook’s Behaviors options. Dig deep into the choices Facebook offers. You’ll be surprised at what you find.
  • Finally, try a “Lookalike” audience of your existing customers or leads.
Facebook's behaviors tool offers some interesting ways of targeting people.
There are 156 million people interested in computer servers?!

Next, take a look at the audience size relative to your budget. You may have created the “perfect” audience. But if it’s made up of only 35,000 people and your budget is $500/day, you’ll wear out that audience in just a few days.

Tip #5 Check Your Relevance Score

Creating a good user experience is a big focus for Facebook. That means they don’t want ads that are spammy, annoying, or well, irrelevant.

That’s why you need to pay close attention to Facebook’s Relevance Score. A high relevance score of say, and 8 or 9, means you’re doing it right. A low score means your audience and your message are never, ever getting past a first date. 5 or 6 is about middle ground.

Remember that Facebook Relevance Scores can change over time. If you’ve found a winner – great! Just keep an eye on it – if relevance declines, it may be time to shut things off and move on to a new ad.

Tip #6: Don’t Compete Against Yourself

Your Facebook ad campaigns can compete against each other when they target the same audience.
Fighting yourself is so awkward.

Seriously, this is a thing you can actually do with Facebook ads.

It happens when you have more than one campaign targeting the same audience. When that occurs, Facebook gets… well, confused. And when Facebook gets confused, it will either stop delivering your ads or it will charge you more than it should. Either scenario is bad.

Thankfully, Facebook has a Compare Audience Overlap feature. Just select two or more audiences and you can see how distinct they are. As a rule of thumb, anything with more than a 50% overlap is probably going to cause you problems. If the overlap is between 25-50%, you’re still probably OK, as long as the audience size is large enough.

Tip #7: Be Patient

Here’s the real challenge with Facebook ads: they don’t work right away. Here’s an example:

I recently set up a campaign for website conversions. I was willing to pay up to $20 per conversion, a number I’d consistently hit before.

But did my first conversion magically come through once I had spent $20? Nope. How about $50? $75? Keep going. The first conversion didn’t happen until I had spent nearly $100. But a short while later, I got my second, bringing the average cost per conversion down to about $80. A third brought the average down again, to about $60. And so on.

Once I gave Facebook some time to optimize, everything fell in order, and I got plenty conversions well under my target. #epicwin

The lesson: don’t make changes until you’ve given Facebook plenty of time to optimize.

Facebook ads not working? This is what an optimized campaign looks like.
Facebook can take a few days to optimize, but when it does, it works!

Tip #8: Evaluate Your Landing Pages

Sometimes your ads are just fine, but your landing pages are sucking you dry. How do you know? If you answer “No to any questions below, you still need to work on your ads. All “Yes” responses and you can safely move on to your landing pages:

  • Is your Cost Per Click (Link) healthy? Don’t get confused by regular ol’ Cost Per Click, as that includes any click on your ad, not just those that go to your landing page.
  • Is your Click-Through Rate (Link) above 0.5%? That’s just rough target, but if you’re seeing numbers below this, you probably need to make some changes to your ads or your audience.
  • Is Frequency below 5? Frequency is the number of times people have seen your ad. If your audience has seen your ad at least five times already and they still haven’t responded, they’re not about to start now.
  • Is your Relevance Score a 5 or above? Anything less and Facebook thinks that your ads are not very pertinent to your audience.
  • Do you have enough data? Don’t assume things aren’t working if you only have a few clicks or a few hundred impressions.

However, if you are getting clicks to your landing pages at a decent cost (aren’t you proud of yourself?), then check out Unbounce’s The Most Entertaining Guide To Landing Page OptimizationYou’re welcome.

Tip #9: Understand Who You’re Talking To

If you don’t know what’s important to your audience, good luck getting them to click anything. Here’s the good news: if you aren’t sure which of your product’s benefits will resonate, you can test. Heres how:

  1. Start by creating a persona of the person you’re trying to target (let’s call him Greg). Click here for a handy resource on creating personas.
  2. With this vivid picture of Greg in mind, identify 5-6 benefits your product can provide that will help him. Does he want to save money? Sleep better? Collect every Star Wars action figure ever produced?
  3. Create an ad for each benefit, using unique copy and creative.
  4. Test all of these ads together – the winner should tell you what benefit resonates best with Greg.
  5. To optimize further, continue making new variations centered around that winning benefit.

Tip #10: Say Exactly What You Want To Communicate

This Facebook ad from Nature box is exactly what copy should look like.
There is no confusion about what this Nature Box ad offers.

Copy is one of those things that everyone can write, but few can write well. Your word choice can make a tremendous difference in how people respond to your ad. Here are three questions to evaluate the quality of your copy:

  1. Is it clear? Choose clarity over cleverness, and being succinct over verbose.
  2. Are you triggering the right emotions? Whether you want the reader to feel curious, excited, anxious, or whatever else, pick words that match that emotion.
  3. Does the reader know what to expect next? Make sure your copy clearly states what the reader should do (click, download, etc). and what she can expect once she takes that action.

If you’re stuck, here’s are some great resources from Copyblogger on writing great copy and from Authority Hacker on writing copy for SEO.

Tip #11: Run The Right Number of Ads

Did you just stay up all night making 67 variations of your ads to test? Hold on there, hombre. Running all those ads at once won’t help you.

Like a nervous first-year high school basketball coach picking his starting lineup from players he knows nothing about, Facebook can’t optimize your ads until it knows which of them are the best performers. 

Facebook can't optimize your ads until it knows which of them are the best performers. Click To Tweet

And if you have too many ads, it will take Facebook a long time to figure that out. Or worse, Facebook will pick a “winner” before it’s given all your ads a fair shot, leaving a potentially great ad stuck in the dust bin.

You run into a different, but equally bad, problem with too few ads.

Let’s say that for every 100 ads you create, 30 are solid, and 70 are duds. Nothing wrong with that. But if you only test a few ads, you’re not giving yourself a good chance of finding a solid performer.

To avoid both problems, shoot for 5-6 ads within each ad set.

Tip #12: Get (The Right) Creative

If Bob Ross made Facebook ads, they'd be unstoppable.
If Bob Ross made Facebook ads, they’d be unstoppable.

Developing the right creative is often the scariest part for many marketers. It’s the part where we have to rely on an actual artist to develop art, something most of us can only pretend to know much about. That, or rely on some crummy stock photography. Not even your mom would be proud of you then.

Here’s the good news: developing creative isn’t that much different from developing copy. Identify who you’re targeting, the message you’re trying to convey, and any emotions you want to trigger. Share these with your designer. Ask him to copy up a few concepts to see if you’re both speaking the same language. If one of those looks good, create 3-5 final variations that you can test.

Don’t have a designer on hand or the budget for a freelancer? Try a free tool like Canva or use a service like Fiverr to hire one for a little as five dollars. Exchange rates are your friend when there are skilled Photoshop ninjas in Romania. Just make sure you specify exactly what you want to have designed.

Tip #13: Try Rebooting

Resetting your Facebook ad campaigns isn't fun but it's sometimes necessary.
More things in life could use a reset button.

Sometimes Facebook just needs a good kick in the pants. With a steel-toed boot. If you’ve made a bunch of changes to your campaign and nothing seems to be working, then clone your campaign, burn the old one to the ground, and start over.

If this sounds stupid, it’s because it is. Rebooting your campaigns should not be a viable solution to getting your ads to perform, but it is. It’s as though Facebook’s ad delivery algorithm sometimes turns into a bipolar robot who huffs glue when you’re not looking. Once brain damage sets in, there’s no turning back. The only way to fix things is to toss your campaign in the incinerator and begin anew.

Sometimes Facebook just needs a good kick in the pants. Click To Tweet

I hate trying this technique because it’s so blunt and unscientific, but sometimes it’s exactly what needs to be done.

Tip #14: Be Human

This is the least concrete but most important concept. Ads that are pushy, gimmicky, or disrespectful won’t get results. Even if they do, do you really want to be that type of marketer?

If you aren’t sure how your ads will be perceived, show them to a friend, your mom, your boyfriend… anyone who’s a reasonable human being. Ask them how the ads make them feel. For bonus points: tell your friend that the ads were created by someone else. You’ll get much more objective feedback.

If your ads consistently get negative feedback from others, keep working at it. No one got great overnight!

Facebook Ads Not Working? All You Really Need To Know Are These 5 Points

Hopefully, the points above give you some new ways of getting your Facebook ads working again. But if it all seems like too much, remember that there are only five things you need to be successful with Facebook ads:

  1. Understand the mechanics of the ad platform
  2. Offer something of value
  3. Respect the user
  4. Have the persistence to keep going until you get things right
  5. Oh, and read this article when you need a reminder.

Have other advice for getting your Facebook ads to perform? Share what you’ve learned in the comments!