“How do I get started with media buying?”
It’s a common question. But instead of giving you the simplified, partial answer so many other sources offer, here’s a deep dive into exactly what you need to know. This methodology works but understand that this process is always evolving. As Facebook changes, so does the method.
Step 1: The Audit.
Never just leap into an account and start making changes. Before you do anything, you need to know how the account has been performing to date, where it’s working and not working. To do this, always start with an audit of both creative and media buying.
A thorough audit includes:
The Creative Audit
- Identify your best and worst-performing creative.
Why do you think each standout piece of creative performed well or badly? The goal here is not to replicate ideas that have won or failed but to discover fresh new directions to explore new ways for your creative to evolve.
Also look for which demographic selections tend to perform best (like age, gender, geography, and device). Then check how the performance of static or video ads compares.
2. Do a robust review of your competitors’ ads.
Pablo Picasso said it best: “A good artist will borrow but a great artist will steal.” So go ahead — steal the best ideas of your competitors. Competitive analysis is one of the highest-value things user acquisition managers can do now.
Just know that your competitors are failing at the same rate as you are — between 85% to 95%. That means a vast majority of all their new concepts fail to outperform the best creative in a portfolio. And if your new creative can’t outperform your best ad, you lose money running it.
However, if you can incorporate your competitor’s best concepts and creative trends, it will give you an endless supply of concepts that they’ve tested.
3. Do a complete review of your assets to determine what’s required to take the pieces and recombine them to create new concepts.
4. If you have done a market segmentation analysis and produced player profiles, employ that information now to refine your calls to action to appeal to your best audiences.
The Media Buying Audit
Now that your creative is dialed in, it’s time to pivot to audiences, ad spend, and campaign goals. These aren’t as big a driver of performance as creative, but they still matter — a lot.
- Review KPIs (Key Performance Indicators) and Lifetime Data to verify your campaigns are achieving the KPIs they are expected to meet. If your campaigns aren’t meeting those KPIs, how far off are they from your goals?
- Do you have a MMP (Mobile Measurement Partner)? If you do, check to make sure your Facebook data aligns with your MMP’s first-party data. If the data doesn’t align, how much is it off by?
- Review your creative, campaign, and audience performance. See which components are achieving or near KPI.
- Review your top-performing campaigns, audiences, and creative and highlight the top performers. What has worked best? Why do you think it’s worked so well?
- Are you using CBO (Campaign Budget Optimization) and/or Non-CBO campaigns? Compare the performance of each type of campaign. Remember: CBO Campaigns allow Facebook’s algorithm to split out a set budget between the different ad sets instead of manually inputting these budgets at the ad set level.
- Are you running DLO (Dynamic Language Optimization) ads? If you are, check their performance. Specifically, check if any languages monetize better than others and if that maps to their geography targeting. DLO allows multiple languages in one ad unit which Facebook dynamically serves to users based on their indicated language. Sometimes it works well, sometimes not so much.
- Review your bid types to determine what is working (VO, MinROAS, AEO, MAI, etc.). Here are the key differences to each type:
- AEO (App Event Optimization): Instructs Facebook to optimize for users most likely to complete the indicated event. For example: level achieved, add to cart, registration completed, purchase.
- VO (Value Optimization): Tells Facebook to optimize towards users that are most likely to purchase at a great amount over a longer period of time. VO is typically used for highest LTV (Lifetime Value).
- MinROAS: This is a function of VO that instructs Facebook to optimize towards users who are likely to generate a specified Return on Ad Spend within a specified timeframe.
- MAI (Mobile App Install): Tells Facebook to optimize towards users that are most likely to install the app.
- Review your campaigns’ performance by media type and determine if videos or static images, carousels, DCO (Dynamic Creative Optimization) are performing on the account.
- Review your campaigns’ operating system performance (Android vs iOS).
Throughout your audits
- Look for new testing opportunities.
Here are some of our favorite things to test:
- Facebook best practices (Structure for Scale or Power 5).
- Ad copy. Headline and ad text.
- Ad set structure testing (one ad per ad set, multiple ads per ad set).
- Your entire creative testing process. “Test your testing”.
- Plan your strategy going forward.
Prepare to normalize your account structures with a balance between Facebook best practices of Structure for Scale (S4S) / Power 5 and our proven methodologies to achieve both scale and ROAS. Plan out what you’d want to do first, what it will take to implement it, and how you’ll use the resources you have to get it done.
Keep in mind that:
- Structure For Scale’s main strategy is to streamline and minimize the number of campaigns and ad sets targeting wider reach audiences. This allows the algorithm to more efficiently drive ROAS and other desired outcomes.
- Concentrating spend in fewer ad sets allows Facebook to quickly accumulate events and exit the learning phase. As you know, the longer your campaigns stay in the learning phase, the more revenue you lose.
- Maximize audience reach so the Facebook algorithm can find the most qualified users while it also minimizes audience overlap.
- Try to minimize changes to campaign/ad set settings so you can avoid a “significant edit” and have your campaigns forced into reverting back to the learning phase. To avoid this, we will often launch a new campaign with the desired changes to avoid affecting the original campaign.
- We tend to follow four out of the five “Power Five” best practices. Those five are:
- Auto Advanced Matching. Use this if you want to sync customer data.
- Account Simplification / Structure For Scale.
- Campaign Budget Optimization.
- Automatic Placements. This setting allows Facebook to choose where your ads will most efficiently be displayed across their ad networks.
- Dynamic Ads. We use these infrequently, but they can be effective for personalized product retargeting campaigns for e-commerce clients.
After all that is done and we’re clear about how to target audiences, which bidding strategies we’ll use to reach them, and which Structure for Scale / Power 5 best practices we’ll use to implement the strategy, then we’ll move over to media buying.
Step 2: Media Buying.
Establish performance benchmarks
Use your strongest elements (videos, images, ad copy, and audiences) to establish baseline performance while using our preferred campaign structure. While you’re doing that benchmarking, you can begin to develop new creative based on what you’ve learned from your audits. That way, there’s no delay waiting for new creative. It’s ready to go right about the same time as the benchmarks have accrued enough data to go forward.
Optimize audience structure
Audiences are a critical part of campaign performance, so test them rigorously. Try this approach to build an effective audience structure:
- Test available geographic setting. Use WW, T1, and US on Broad, Interest Groups, and Lookalike Audiences.
Lookalike audiences are especially critical for our process. We’ll initially test narrower (higher quality) 1%, 3%, 5% audiences, analyze performance and then expand to wider (less expensive) 10%, 15%, 20% audiences in an effort to balance cost versus Return on Ad Spend.
Lookalike audiences can range from 1-20%, though typically we use 1, 3, 5, 7, 10, 12, 15, and 20%. These can also be based on seed audiences of spend (value) or events committed that drive KPIs like monetization, retention, and LTV.
Here are some examples of seed audiences:
- Purchase greater than certain $ amount
- Top 1% Purchasers
- Top Active users
- Top 10% Users
- Top App Launch Users
- Users who have reached a particular milestone
- Create “MegaStacks.”
These are a group of lookalike audiences that consist of similar lookalike audiences in the same percentage range. This allows you to create an expanded audience that is similar in intent. This expanded audience can include:
- Similar audiences (purchases vs top purchasers vs purchases > 9.99)
- Different lookback windows (7D, 30D, 90D, etc.)
- Different Geos (if audience is worldwide)
- Develop an audience of “Early Whales.”
These use a revenue value that is relevant to the particular game. So instead of going after just any buyer, we’re targeting super-high value buyers.
To do this, first create lists of users that meet “early whale” criteria. The values shown below are placeholders, but the idea is that the highest amount (in this case $10) may not be achievable for 1 day or even 2-day users but only 7-day users. Once these audiences are built, they are uploaded to Facebook for lookalike audience creation.
- Day 1 all users with at least $2 of revenue
- Day 2 all users with at least $2 of revenue
- Day 7 all users with at least $2 of revenue
Budgets and Bidding
Once the lookalike audiences are established, increase the dollar amounts.
- Day 1 all users with at least $5 of revenue
- Day 2 all users with at least $5 of revenue
- Day 7 all users with at least $5 of revenue
- Day 1 all users with at least $10 of revenue
- Day 2 all users with at least $10 of revenue
- Day 7 all users with at least $10 of revenue
Some of our favorite tactics for optimizing bids and budgets
- Value-based manipulated audiences.
This is a sophisticated and powerful technique. First, generate a list of users sorted by revenue that is then manipulated to go much higher and much lower based on their place along the average. This creates a profile of users who are “high value” and “low value” for Facebook.
You can use any one of the attributes below in your profile:
- Interest Groups. Programmatically generated groupings of Facebook interest categories, games, products, pages, etc.
- Broad Targeting. Unrestricted targeting of all users in the geographic area. This allows Facebook the most reach in identifying quality users, but may be too wide to control costs.
- AEO and VO.
We’ll also test AEO and VO campaign optimization against the audiences described above to determine which bidding strategy produces the best results based on client KPIs.
These tests can include:
- VO+MinROAS. We follow this set of best practices:
- Start with 1% bids (unless you have a very high ROAS goal) or a range of bids
- Adjust the bid higher or lower depending on audience performance
- If we see that quality is too low, we increase the bid
- If we see that scale is too low, we decrease the bid
- If performance is very high, decrease the bid to increase scale
- Leverage campaign structure.
Our preferred audience/campaign structure allows us to quickly determine which geographies/audiences and bidding optimizations will achieve client goals from both a cost and scalability perspective.
This structure delivers more precise results with fewer variables within each campaign. Other agencies/media buyers may change bid strategy or audiences on the fly within campaigns as a quick fix, but we split out variables to identify true performance.
- We split audiences based on similar events (purchases, top purchases)
- We separate broad and interest campaigns
- We split out campaigns from VO/AEO/MinROAS/MAI
- We split out different country targeting
- We split out different conversion window targeting
We’ll try all those tests just so we can understand specifically what causes a campaign to perform well. This is critical for later testing: We need to know which creative elements and campaign settings make a difference and which don’t.
Does that seem like a lot? It is. But it’s a strategic, tested approach that’s driven millions of dollars in ROAS.
All that testing and strategy also makes clear why we aren’t worried about the automation advances Facebook has made in the last few years. After reading this plan through, we doubt you’re worried about having nothing to do! Facebook has automated much of campaign management, but there is still plenty of work for proactive UA managers to do.
Again, we do recommend you follow these best practices in order. Tweaking your audiences won’t help as much if you have no idea how your creative has been performing. And testing bid strategies, while helpful, won’t work anywhere near as well if you don’t have your top-performing audiences dialed in first.
About the Author: Brian Bowman is the Founder & CEO of ConsumerAcquisition. He has profitably managed over $1B in online advertising spend and product development for leading online brands including Disney, ABC, Match.com and Yahoo!.