Facebook Ads Strategy: Understanding Ad Frequency
Published March 3, 2017, updated February 15, 2022
Summary - You think you’ve done everything right, yet your Facebook Ad campaign is heading towards disaster. Your cost-per-action metric is soaring with no end in sight. What’s galling is that almost all your other Facebook metrics are looking good: landing page conversion rates are steady, reach and impressions haven’t changed, and your campaigns are still spending budget.
You think you’ve done everything right, yet your Facebook Ad campaign is heading towards disaster. Your cost-per-action metric is soaring with no end in sight. What’s galling is that almost all your other Facebook metrics are looking good: landing page conversion rates are steady, reach and impressions haven’t changed, and your campaigns are still spending budget.
Sound familiar? I bet you’re a victim of high Ad Frequency.
What is Ad Frequency? It is the average number of times someone has seen your ad. The calculation is simple: Impressions / Reach = Ad Frequency
AdEspresso calls Ad Frequency the silent but deadly metric. I agree.
It can sneak up on you with the stealth and finality of a secret agent. One minute, everything is fine; the next, your campaign is dead and you’re scrambling to figure out what went wrong.
I’ve seen Ad Frequency double and triple CPAs overnight. It’s hard to believe, particularly if you come from the world of search advertising, but it’s true.
That doesn’t mean you’re powerless against Ad Frequency. Like any other marketing metric, it can be carefully measured and managed. I even believe you can make Ad Frequency your ally. In this post, I’m going to provide an in-depth overview of this metric.
Misconceptions about the Ad Frequency metric
I’ve long maintained that the top marketers are those that combine creativity and analytics. Unfortunately, I think too often digital marketers focus on metrics and data to the detriment of the human element. Put 10 marketers into a room, and the measuring competition is sure to get underway. “How big is your lead database?” Oh brother.
The problem is that we equate volume and size with productivity. We’re coached to be growth hackers and to idealize the exponential, hockey-stick growth curve. Marketing, like life, isn’t so cut and dry.
At first glance, you may mistakenly believe that Ad Frequency follows this trajectory. If your ad is being shown frequently—more frequently than your competitors—then you’re more likely to get happy customers, right?
If you come from the world of AdWords, then this is true. Frequency is an ally of search advertisers because it means you’re showing up in search results whenever someone queries an ad-triggering term. If someone searches “buy Nike shoes,” and you sell Nike shoes, then you want to show up in as many results as possible.
This rule doesn’t translate into Facebook, but you’re not alone in thinking it would. I am guilty of this. One of my first lessons about Facebook advertising is that Facebook advertisements are an interruptive experience for your audience. I learned this lesson when my cost-per-action metric spiked. Hopefully I can spare you that pain.
On Facebook, Ad Frequency means you’ve shown your advertisement to your audience multiple times. You know when you’re watching television and see the same commercial twice in the same commercial block? It’s exactly like that.
Ad Frequency as your empathy metric
Facebook is a content platform that provides users with customized news feeds that mix personal updates with political and cultural news events. You’re vying for attention on the world’s most distracting platform.
No one signs into Facebook and is like, “Yay, an ad!” It just doesn’t happen.
Unlike on AdWords, we’re not really the good guys. At best, we’re neutral and non-invasive. At worst, we’re irritating as all get-up, and that doesn’t bode well for our advertising campaigns.
Ad Frequency is your empathy metric. As it climbs, your audience’s ability to tolerate your advertisements rapidly diminishes. If someone has seen your ad multiple times and hasn’t taken any action, that’s your signal to move on.
This creates an impasse that I suspect blocks many companies from tapping into the potential of Facebook Ads. You can have initial success on Facebook, only to see that evaporate instantly as Ad Frequency rises.
Does that mean that every ad is susceptible to Ad Frequency? Absolutely.
That said, every ad has its own shelf life. Some ads may last several months, while others last only a week or two. The spectre of Ad Frequency looms over every advertiser’s shoulder.
Managing Ad Frequency
While no advertiser is immune to the effects of Ad Frequency, it doesn’t mean we’re helpless. The answer to this challenge is to roll up your sleeves, dedicate resources, and commit to a process. I believe that by adopting a process of creative refreshes we can stop the Ad Frequency metric from rising.
The Ad Frequency metric comes with 2 early warning indicators you’d be wise to monitor:
- Ad Feedback
- Ad comments
Let’s detach ourselves from the hard numbers part of Ad Frequency. Yes, we know it’s a certain number of ad views over time. But, what we’re really trying to combat is saturating our audience and depleting their goodwill. Here’s how I see these two metrics assisting in this process:
Monitoring Ad Feedback metrics
Facebook provides a positive and negative feedback metric for every ad you publish. I watch these like a hawk, because they map directly to how people interact with your ads. When someone reports your ad or selects the option to hide it, your negative feedback score rises.
Negative feedback is like unsubscribes, except that you don’t get a chance to manage your list before your audience complains directly to the platform itself. It only takes a few pieces of negative feedback to give you a high score. When that happens, it means your ad’s time is up.
A tip that I’ve picked up from other advertisers is to duplicate the ad and give it another shot in the market. Facebook sees duplicated ads as new assets, so all the previous metrics are disassociated from it—including, especially, feedback scores. This may be the most valuable, tactical tip I can give any advertiser. Let’s keep that one between friends.
A high positive score is awesome to see. However, it doesn’t serve as a counterweight to your negative score. Instead, see it as an indicator that your advertising is resonating with your audience. You’re doing something right. It’s up to you to figure out what it is.
Monitoring Ad comments
Facebook allows users to comment, react, and share advertisements like any other post. This is a fantastic feature. If I’m doing something silly with my ads, I need to know. No need to delay the pain of realization to when a customer tells you just how annoying your ads were months down the road.
Ad comments are the best way to gauge how well your ads are being received. People will let you know. Facebook users aren’t shy when it comes to advertisers. Prepare thyself—unfiltered comments are coming.
As digital marketers, we get to operate in a world that can be meticulously measured. Those clicks, actions, impressions, and reactions, however, aren’t the result of inanimate objects or bots; those are real people.
We read every comment, and take them seriously. If we see common themes, we act accordingly. Likewise, we often see folks starting conversations about our product in the thread itself.
Yes, advertisers have the ability to hide and delete comments from a post. But while it’s tempting to over-moderate, we think that you need to keep your ads as authentic as possible. Foster conversation and dialogue as opposed to policing your value proposition and you’ll be pleased by the results.
Solution: A process of creative refreshes
I remember one day walking into the office, signing into our marketing dashboard, and seeing our cost-per-action metric spiking. I was alarmed, as I think anyone is when they see a metric do this:
We dug into it and immediately saw that it was tied to Ad Frequency. Check this out:
Time and again, I’ve seen that the lifespan for ad creative is limited. At best, I’ve seen ads live for 2-3 months before needing to be retired. The general rule that we follow, however, is 4-6 weeks. Unlike fine wine, ads don’t age well.
We’ve developed a process of pushing new creative into market every four weeks. It’s an ambitious timeline, particularly for a small, in-house team. But that’s what it takes to be a successful Facebook advertiser.
Here’s our process:
Week 1: Designing and launching new ad creative
Week 2: Set up tests and push creative to all ad sets
Week 3: Start picking winning variations
Week 4: Analysis and deconstruction
Week 1: Designing and launching new ad creative
We kickstart this process by tabling hypotheses on what we think will work on Facebook ads. Sometimes, it’s an idea we’ve seen from another advertiser; other times it’s gut instinct.
For example, we’ve seen some beautiful carousel ads and thought they’d be a perfect fit for us. I think carousels do well at telling a story and showcasing multiple products. While Klipfolio is a single product company, we do offer many different types of pre-built dashboards which can serve as unique product offerings (check out the Gallery, if you’re interested).
Here’s what we came up with.
Happy with the initial design, we launched the new creative in a few select ad sets. When testing new ad creative, I like to test a group that historically performs well and that has good volume. Our objective is to get a strong first impression.
Week 2: Set up tests and push creative to all ad sets
In week 2 we take a closer look at the new ad creative, and start picking different elements to test within the ad. I’ve developed a process for weighting the conversion influence of each part of the ad. For example, I think that the main image for the ad accounts for 60% of the conversion probability.
We’ll set up small and big tests based on experience and current research. Some of the things we may test include:
- Image used in the ad
- Button colour in ad
- Ad colour
- Headline message copy
- Description message copy
- Facebook’s embedded call to action
Once we’re comfortable with our tests, we’ll push the new ads into all of our ad sets. We will wait a few hours to a day before turning off old ad creative to make sure the new ads are delivering.
A common issue we face at this point is that Facebook will stop delivering our ads because they have too much text in them. The issue is that we dashboard ‘glamour’ shots that often display quite a few numbers. Hey, a dashboard ought to have lots of data and numbers! But we often find ourselves finessing the image to remove extraneous text.
It’s important to be confident in your ad delivery before switching off your old ad creative.
Week 3. Start picking winning variations
Week 3 is a bit of a break for our design team, but our Facebook Ads team is going full throttle. There is a lot of management within Facebook’s Power Editor.
We’re continuously ensuring that all variations are seeing ad delivery and given a fair shot in market. And we’re paying close attention to click-through rates and CPAs for each ad.
Facebook will programmatically serve up an ad to garner a certain number of impressions and then make a decision on the effectiveness of your ad based on that impression. Basically, you get one shot to make a good impression with your ad creative before Facebook will assume it has a winner.
We counter this by frequently duplicating ad creative, even if it seems to be underperforming. This gives it a fair shot of generating impressions, clicks, and conversions.
At some point during this process, winning variations will start to emerge. As your confidence in the winning variations grows, shut off the losing variations.
Week 4: Analysis and deconstruction
It takes a lot of work to get to this point, but if all goes well, you’ve got a winning variation that is generating action at an affordable rate. More importantly, it’s fresh creative that is raising awareness for your brand without annoying the heck out of your audience.
Week 4 is a bit of a breather for the team and gives them a chance to sit down, analyze what worked and what didn’t, and deconstruct the creatives. At this point you should have some comments and reactions to the ads, so make sure to include that in your analysis.
I also highly recommend having the team go look at creative from other advertisers. Pay particular attention to what’s appearing in your Facebook stream, since it’s indicative of what others are seeing too.
A process that creates discipline and a library
This process has produced some great results for us. We’ve been able to keep Ad Frequency within acceptable levels and, more importantly, keep our customers happy by not spamming them with tired, old creative.
This process has two side benefits which I didn’t anticipate right away.
First, is developing discipline.
As a small team with big ambitions, our plates are always full. It’s too easy to look at our Facebook Ads, say at week 6, and feel safe and secure when performance is good. Yet, if we grow complacent and neglect ad creative, history will repeat itself. Ad Frequency will always catch up to you.
By trusting in the process, we’ve adopted a proactive approach that has allowed us to continuously hit our CPA targets month-over-month.
Second, is developing a library of creative assets.
When your ad frequency and CPAs rise, you can easily call old creative out of retirement. It likely hasn’t been seen by your audience in a long time, long enough they’ve forgotten about it and won’t be irritated by its reappearance in their Facebook feed.
This process will have you creating dozens of ads, which effectively gives you an ad library of (hopefully) high-performing ad creative.
Ad frequency and the compassionate advertiser
In understanding the Ad Frequency metric, we ought to seek to be more compassionate advertisers. We’ve got ambitious targets and can measure our way to victory; sometimes, though, those types of metrics lead us to forget the customer.
I also see ad frequency as a barrier to entry for Facebook Ads. I’m often asked by other teams if they should start using Facebook Ads. My answer is that it is a potentially lucrative platform for sustained growth. But if you can’t commit time and resources to this channel, you will be disappointed by the results. Learn more about how Klipfolio can help you with our Facebook Analytics reporting tool.
Everyone on your team wants to track your Facebook Ads performance, but not everyone knows how to use Ads Manager. We’ve got a solution. Check out the Facebook Ads Dashboard It’s pre-built, and only takes a few minutes to configure.