Image of shopper on her phone during the holidays

How to Scale Facebook Ads for the Holidays

Published November 12, 2020
by Meg Gowell

If you are a small business owner trying to get the most out of your ad spend on Facebook this year, then this article is for you. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, even more holiday shopping than normal will be done online. As a result, companies are planning on spending even more on online ads that they have in previous years.

Holiday Ad Spending for 2020

Competition in 2020 will be more intense than ever before. In order to compete, you need to have some tricks up your sleeve. Especially if you are a small business with an even smaller ad budget.

The big guys like Amazon, Walmart or Home Depot can all just spend more to get the traffic they need. But you might not have that luxury.

I want to share a secret with you on how to maximize your holiday ad spend. Now this technique is specifically for ad campaigns that will be running only for the holidays or for campaigns that will have increased spend during the holidays. That said, if you are starting a new campaign at any time during the year and want to scale it more effectively, you can also use this technique to get the most out of your ad dollars.

The Facebook Learning Phase

When you start running a new campaign on Facebook, it starts out in the learning phase. This is the period when the Facebook system learns about your campaign and who is most interested in your ads. The length of the learning phase for any given ad campaign can vary greatly. It varies depending on your ad spend and your audience.

In general, the faster you can get your campaign out of the learning phase, the better. During the learning phase, you will likely see more fluctuations in performance and overall higher costs. This makes sense intuitively. Once the system has learned about your ads and the best ways to serve them to your audience, the more efficient it will be at spending your ad budget getting you the most results possible.

The challenge comes when your campaign spends too long in the learning phase or never exists it at all. This is what you really want to avoid at all costs. If the system is continually learning, then it will never be fully optimized. This means that you will spend more than you have to in order to get your desired result.

How Long Does the Learning Phase Take

You’ll know whether your campaign is in the learning phase by looking at the ad set level in the Delivery column. If it says “Learning” that means that your ad sets, and as a result your campaign, is still trying to learn about your audience. If you hover over the word “Learning”, you will likely see some information about where in the learning phase your ad set is.

Facebook recommends about 50 conversions in order for the system complete the learning phase. And those conversions need to happen in a fairly small window – ideally about a week. The faster you can get to those 50 conversions, the better.

That said sometimes depending on other campaigns you are running and overall account history, you may exit the learning phase before the 50-conversion mark. It is really just a guideline to help advertisers understand how much data the Facebook system needs on average to optimize a campaign.

Why You Should Avoid Editing Your Ad Campaigns

During the learning phase, you want to avoid making changes to your ad set or campaign. Any changes will reset the learning phase and start you back at the beginning. If you consistently do this, then you’ll be stuck in the learning phase for even longer.

Even after your ad set has completed learning about your new targeting or new campaign, any time you make a change it will reset. This is one of the biggest reasons that I recommend avoiding regular changes to your ad campaigns or targeting. Obviously, there will be times when you need or want to change things. However, the more you can just let your campaigns run, the better off you will be.

If you have campaigns that get fewer conversions or get them less frequently, then this is doubly true. An advertiser with a high budget that gets over 50 conversions per day can afford to make changes more often simply because they will be in and out of the learning phase extremely quickly.

On the other hand, if you can barely get 50 conversions in 30 days, making a change to your Facebook targeting or campaign will impact performance for an entire month. And that is something you want to avoid.

Tricks to Get Out of the Learning Phase

Now what happens if your ad set can’t get out of the learning phase? That’s when you will see a delivery status of “Learning Limited.” This means that your ad set did not get the required number of conversions in a short enough period and as a result the system has not been able to fully understand your audience and how to effectively serve ads to them.

The best ways to fix this problem are to increase the size of the audience you are targeting, to increase your budget or to make your designated conversion happen more often. The first two options are fairly straight forward and may or may not be possible depending on your business and ad campaign. The third is a little bit more complex.

Essentially, the idea is that if your designated conversion occurs more frequently, it is more likely that you will get to that 50-conversion target. There are a few different ways to do this.

Increase Your Conversion Volume

The first is to simply change your designated conversion to something that is likely to happen more often. One example of this is if you are optimizing a campaign for Purchases but don’t get enough of them. Try instead to optimize for “Initiate Checkout” or “Add to Cart”. Chances are that those two conversions occur a bit more often than actual purchases. And as a result, you will end up with more conversion data for your ad campaign to help get out of the learning phase.

The other option is to find ways to get your desired conversion to happen more often overall. One way to do this is to spend a bit of time optimizing your website or landing page. If you want more purchases, then work to make your shopping cart experience as seamless as possible. If you want folks to fill in a lead form, then consider shortening the form or making it more prominent on your landing page. Anything you can do on your end to improve conversion rates will help.

Additionally, you can find ways to generate conversions from other channels. If you start getting more conversions from organic traffic or from other ad platforms, that gives Facebook more data about the types of people who are likely to buy your product. And in turn will help the system better understand who to target your ads to on Facebook.

The Problem with Holiday Sale Campaigns

Now why does this matter when it comes to holiday spending?

To put it simply, you don’t want your campaign to be in the learning phase when you are trying to promote a limited time sale. If your campaign is learning at the beginning of your sale, you will lose out on potential purchases while the system works to optimize.

Let’s talk about how to avoid that. Unfortunately, it isn’t as easy as just starting your campaign the week before and getting through the learning phase using a low budget. The problem with this approach is that any increase in budget of more than 20% can reset the learning phase for your campaign even if you don’t make any other changes.

For example, let’s say you create a campaign and spend about $10 per day for a week before your sale to get through the learning phase. If you then ramp up to spending to $50 per day, you might find yourself right back in the learning phase again.

The Secret to Successful Holiday Ads

So what is the secret to running successful ads during the holidays without spending all your money while Facebook optimizes your campaigns?

Start scaling your ad spend about a week before you want to reach your maximum daily spend. Each day, increase your ad spend by about 15-20% until you reach your desired budget. This allows you to slowly build your budget over time without constantly resetting the learning phase for your campaigns.

If you are simply planning on increasing spend for an existing campaign without changing your ad copy or any other aspects of your campaign, then this is all you need to get started. Plan out how much you want to ultimately spend during your promo period and increase your budget day-by-day until you get there.

If you are planning on running a new campaign to promote a specific sale, then it gets a bit more complicated.

First, you need your campaign to start running before your sale starts. Create your campaign and ad set targeting exactly the way you want to promote your upcoming sale. Then come up with some evergreen ads to use when you first start running the campaign.

Writing Great Evergreen Ads

What is an evergreen ad? It just means an ad that is not time sensitive and can always run to promote your business or products. Generally, this kind of ad does not have specific prices in it or any kind of content that might change over time. Instead focus on your brand as a whole and the value of making a purchase with you.

Creating great evergreen ads that you can promote year-round is one of the best ways to be successful at Facebook advertising. Ads with a lot of history in terms of clicks, likes and conversions tend to perform better on the whole. So if you have an ad that runs for a long time, you are more likely to end up with better results.

Managing Your Holiday Facebook Ad Campaign

Once you setup your ad campaign and have your evergreen ads ready to go, it’s time to set your budget. Determine what your ultimate daily budget will be during your promotion and walk backwards each day to allow for daily 15-20% increases over about a week. This should help you determine what your starting budget is.

You can then publish your campaign and get the learning phase started. Once your campaign is up, you need to create additional ads in each ad set that are specifically for your promotion. Make sure to publish your promotion ads and have them paused a few days ahead of time so that they can be reviewed. This ensures that when you want to start running them at the beginning of your sale, they are already reviewed and ready to go.

Then all you need to do is to pause your evergreen ads when your sale starts and enable your promotion ads. Ideally your campaign will have already gotten through the learning phase by starting it a week before your sale begins. And since you increased budget slowly, the learning phase will not reset at the beginning of your sale.

At the end of your sale, you can turn your promotion ads back off and turn the evergreen ads back on. Start scaling your daily budget back down bit by bit so you don’t re-enter the learning phase again. Or if you are done running ads for a while, then just turn the campaign off!

Competing on Facebook

As a small business with a limited ad budget, you are often at a disadvantage when it comes to running online ads. However, by better understanding how the platform works, you can get the most out of your ad dollars. There are millions of businesses advertising on Facebook these days and a lot of them are not particularly good at it. Being smart about your ad choices and understanding how to avoid the learning phase can make a big difference when it comes to maximizing your return on investment.

Cheers to a profitable and busy holiday season! 





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