Editor’s Note: This post has been updated with new content and links to help you be a better
Original Publication Date: April 3, 2017
Facebook ads research can be highly time-consuming. Sometimes, it also seems tiresome and unnecessary.
But you know what?
While you’re missing out on the latest research tactics, your competition is on a mission, gathering intelligence on your ads and fishing for new ideas.
If this were a winner-takes-all battle, you’d be left high and dry.
So, instead of hoping for the best…
Why not lay the groundwork with ad research to become the best?
Unsure where to start? We got you covered.
Check out our favorite Facebook ads research and spy tools to discover all the latest PPC best practices before your competition.
Why Do You Need Facebook Ads Research?
Conducting thorough Facebook ads research takes at least a couple of hours. However, most of the time, you’ll get worthwhile rewards for your effort.
When it comes to Facebook advertising, market research has three main benefits:
- Identifying opportunities: Ad research is a great method for gathering new campaign ideas and expanding the existing ones.
- Idea validation: Once you’ve got a cool idea for your next Facebook ad campaign, you can look for proof whether similar tactics have worked for others.
- Lowered risk: You might be able to avoid mistakes made by other brands by evading your competitors’ blunders and focusing your effort on what works.
Moreover, research can help to overcome your cognitive biases — so that you won’t run with the first idea that’s looking brilliant at the moment, but later turns up to be your greatest flop to date.
There are several biases affecting our decision-making. Mental Floss has listed 20 serious ones that screw up our decisions.
And you don’t want these biases to be messing with you when there’s a big budget at stake.
In the process of Facebook ad research, you may notice that some ideas that seemed brilliant at first, actually need further refinement.
There’s a fine balance between being rational and dismissing great ideas. Looking at what’s working for other advertisers can be an efficient litmus test for your Facebook ad strategies.
Just like in CRO research, you can discover new ways to increase your click-through rates and, ultimately, sales. But not only — you’ll also discover new potential target audiences and see which ad types and other ad elements are used by your competitors.
What to Look For In The Facebook Ads Research Process
One of the keys to successful research is having a clear focus.
As Shanelle Mullin from ConversionXL put it:
“The single most important thing to remember about marketing goals is to stay focused. Choose 1-2 core goals that impact the bottom line and 3-5 supporting goals. Anything more than that will distract you from what’s most important (as will changing goals too often).”
Before you go Sherlock on your competitors’ Facebook ads, make a list of your spying goals.
Avoid piling up the competitive intelligence you won’t need.
This can mean not collecting information about your competitor’s exact marketing messages, counting how many likes their ads got or who shared the ads.
Instead, you should be looking for ideas that are applicable to your future Facebook ad campaigns.
Knowing your research goals also means that you’ll spend less time on documenting the ad research findings – there will be less irrelevant information to remember.
For example, asking whether your competitors are using “Learn More” or “Sign Up” calls-to-action is irrelevant when you’re interested in learning about your competition’s ad design hacks.
However, if your goal is to write better ad copy, understanding the tone and voice across all the competing ad campaigns can help you with your own message development.
8 Useful Questions To Ask During Facebook Ads Research
- Which ad types have the highest engagement? Newsfeed ads, Video ads, Lead ads, Page Like ads, Carousel ads, etc.
- Which ad placements are my competitors using? Desktop, Mobile, Right-hand column, etc.
- What types of ad images are working for my competitors? Are they using stock photos or custom designs? What are the most prominent colors used in competing ads?
- Are there any innovative ad design elements that I can apply to your future campaigns?
- What are my competitors’ strongest value propositions? How do their messages differ from mine?
- Which offers are my competitors promoting on Facebook? Direct sales, lead nurturing, remarketing, or other types of promotional messages?
- How many Facebook ad tests are my competitors running? What are they testing?
- What about landing pages? How well do the landing pages align with the ad offers? Are there any golden ideas to steal?
Tip: There’s no need to limit your Facebook ad research to competitors. You may find inspiring Facebook ad examples from other unrelated industries, especially if you’re just starting out.
Best Practices and Tools for Facebook Ads Research
There’s a tool for almost every marketing task, and Facebook ad spying is one of them.
While most PPC spy tools are focused on Google advertising networks, there are some hacks and tools to uncover your competitors and their best-performing Facebook ads.
Start by discovering your uppermost competition, and trail on their tracks to reveal all the hidden Facebook ad secrets.
There’s one more thing I’d like to remind you.
Facebook ad success has three parts:
- Landing pages
And it takes all three to make for a successful campaign.
It’s going to be no trouble to uncover the best-performing ad designs and secret landing pages during your Facebook ads research. Nevertheless, you should also consider the fact that this equation is missing the third element: the audience.
You can’t tell for sure which Facebook ad hacks will work unless you know the target audience.
So try not to cherry pick the information and look at the bigger picture — how each Facebook ad aligns with the landing page and potential target audiences.
Even if you can’t know 100% for sure whom your competition’s targeting, their offer’s threat level and messaging can give you valuable clues and insights.
1) Use Facebook as a Spy Tool
Every time you see a sponsored post on Facebook, you can click on the arrow icon in the top right corner and ask “Why am I seeing this?”
Facebook’s answer can be a golden gateway to uncovering an advertiser’s audience targeting methods and adding new ideas in your marketing stack.
Facebook will show you one or more reasons why the ad is displayed in your Newsfeed.
In this case, the ad was targeted at people interested in Google Analytics and aged between 22 and 45.
You can also use Facebook data from multiple sponsored posts to uncover your competitors’ ad targeting strategies.
But how do you get your competitor’s ads to show up in your Newsfeed?
You can start by visiting several competitors’ websites. Not only will you see their remarketing campaigns, but you’ll also notify Facebook that you’re interested in specific topics.
As you notice the first remarketing ad by the competitor in your Newsfeed, you can tell Facebook that this ad is useful to you and see even more similar ads in the future.
The next time your competitions targeting their potential buyers, you’ll be one of them, seeing more and more bottom-of funnel-ads by the brands you’re competing against.
Little do they know that there’s a spy hiding in their Facebook target audience.
2) Collect Ideas in AdEspresso Ads Gallery
Once you’ve got competing ads showing up in your Facebook Newsfeed, you can amplify your findings by inspecting past ad campaigns.
Let’s start by looking at AdEspresso’s Ads Gallery.
Their free Facebook Ads Gallery includes thousands of ad examples from brands across both B2B and B2C industries.
When searching for ad examples in AdEspresso’s Facebook Ads Gallery, you can filter results by:
Ad placement: Desktop Newsfeed, Mobile Newsfeed, Right-Hand Column
Industry: B2B, B2C, eCommerce, local businesses, food, finance, games, etc.
Campaign objective: Awareness, content promotion, events, lead generation, mobile app downloads, page likes, sales/conversions
Ad attributes: Carousel ads, videos, promos, split tests, AdEspresso’s favorites, etc.
Tip: It could be a good idea not to use the filters in the first place as you could miss out on some good examples.
As you click on the “Find Ads Now” button, you’ll see all the ads belonging to a particular advertiser or containing the word for which you searched.
Sometimes, when searching for well-known brands, the tool will display many ads by unrelated advertisers. For example, when searching for Nike, there will be plenty of results from other companies promoting Nike products.
If you’re interested in seeing only the ads by a specific brand, select the company’s name from the Advertisers menu.
3) Facebook’s “Info and Ads” Tool and Other Options
Facebook released a tool called Info and Ads in 2018 to provide more transparency for users who want to see the active ads that brands are running.
Marketers, however, can use this tool to their advantage, as you can locate and review competitors’ ads with a few simple clicks.
This is a fast and free way to see what is making their Facebook ads work, and you can even use location-based filters to see where your competitors’ ads are running too.
The downsides? First, you can’t see any performance metrics, so you can’t know definitively which ads generated the most engagement.
Second, competitors can also audit your ads, and if they’re feeling salty, they can even give your ads negative feedback for no reason.
The Spy Tool Shakeup
We should mention at this point that this Facebook tool appeared around the same time that other spy tools, like personal favorite Adicted.io (RIP), had to shut down. (Coincidence?)
The prevailing theory is that these spy tools were hit with cease-and-desist orders for charging clients to access Facebook data that they had “scraped” from websites and apps, which violates Facebook’s policies.
While the state of some of these spy tools is still in flux, you can still find free access (or paid memberships) to Facebook ad galleries with performance indicators such as likes, comments, and shares.
When flipping through your competitors’ Facebook ads, look for similar ads to uncover possible A/B tests and make notes of the best practices that can be put to good use.
Tip: Before you pay for membership to a Facebook ads gallery, you may want to check our own list of the top Facebook ad examples for an overview of the opportunities available.
4) Analyze Your Competitors’ Landing Pages
Spying on your competitors with Facebook ad spy tools isn’t limited to the ad types, copy, and design.
With both AdEspresso’s Ads Gallery and Adicted.io, you can click on the Facebook ad example to go to the ad’s landing page.
As we clicked on this ad by Sumo…
We were guided to a smart landing page instead of their home page:
What to look for when spying on landing pages:
- What is your competitor’s strongest value offer? The unique value offer (UVP) is your strongest selling point, the one you’d recite during a 30-second elevator pitch.
- What landing page best practices are they using? Is their landing page text-heavy or light in copy? What’s the average landing page length? Is your competition using specific call-to-actions?
- Can you detect any discount offers? It’s good to know if your competitor’s offering special discounts to their Facebook audience members as you might want to match their offer.
5) Reveal Your Competitors’ Website A/B Tests
Once you’ve detected competing Facebook ad landing pages and made a list of all the cool ideas they’ve implemented, how can you know whether these landing page elements really increase the conversions?
There’s no way to be 100% sure whether a smart hack from a competitor’s landing page will justify its application on your website.
However, if you can keep track of your competitors’ landing page changes and A/B tests, you could steal away their test insights by copying the winning variation.
And it keeps getting better. You don’t have to check all those landing pages manually… unless you really want to.
Instead, you can use the landing page spy tool Stillio, which captures screenshots of your chosen website and landing pages every hour, day, week or month.
Whenever your competitor’s testing a new value proposition, headline or new design elements, you’ll be the first to notice.
You can also keep track of all the changes to a particular Facebook Page, making it easier to see when a competitor shares a new post or whenever they decide to remove one.
6) Analyze Your Competitors’ Facebook Pages
Use a tool like Fanpage Karma to see information about your competitors’ Facebook Page performance and fans.
You can benchmark multiple Facebook Pages against each other to detect the high-performers among your competitors and see how you compare to them.
As you select a Facebook Page, you’ll be able to see the prime posts that have received the highest engagement and also the worse-performing shares.
Notice that each post also has a posting date. This means that you can uncover the best posting times by analyzing the ads with most likes and shares.
When looking at your competitors’ Facebook posts, examine the topics and tone of voice. Moreover, see how other brands communicate with their Facebook fans and engage people to participate in conversations.
If you notice a successful competitor talking about a specific subject over and over again, it may be a good idea to target this interest in your ad campaigns or add it to your content marketing strategy.
7) Take a Look at Facebook Audience Insights
When learning what works for your competition and other brands, try to look further than the ad copy and design. Finding a perfect target audience is just as important as nailing your Facebook ad bidding and ad visuals.
Facebook has a wide range of targeting options.
You can create a target audience based on people’s interests, location, demographics, behaviors, past website activity, and much more.
If you want to dig in deeper, read a massive guide on all Facebook targeting options by KlientBoost’s CEO Johnathan.
There are over 1.86 billion monthly active Facebook users. The more customer insights you have, the better chance you’ll have to target your ad campaigns on potential buyers.
Facebook Audience Insights is a tool by Facebook, designed to help advertisers learn more about their target audiences, including information about geography, demographics, purchase behavior, etc.
The Audience Insights tool allows you to learn new details about your audience during your Facebook ads research, including:
- Pages they like
- Age and gender
- Relationship status
- Education level
- Job title
- Pages they like
- Location and language
- Activity on Facebook
- Devices they use to access Facebook
- Household income
The list is even longer.
The Audience Insights tool is accessible from the Facebook Ads Manager. Simply select “Audience Insights” from the main menu.
You can select between three different audiences or just close the window to customize all the parameters later.
Up next, you can play around with the tool to analyze Facebook audiences based on your previously created Custom Audiences, interests, and your Facebook Page fans.
See Insights Based on Custom Audiences
A great place to start your Facebook audience research is analyzing your past purchasers or website visitors.
If you’re able to uncover the pattern of interests and demographics of your potential customers, you could be standing on the verge of a shining PCC goldmine.
Start by creating a Facebook Custom Audience of the people who have already converted (i.e. purchased from you).
The easiest way to set up a Custom Audience of converters is by using a thank you page. Go to the Facebook Audience Manager and add a new Custom Audience based on website traffic.
Tip: You’ll probably see the blurb “Audience too small” often, especially starting out. Wait for a couple of hours for Facebook to collect the data and check again.
You can see the audience insights for these audiences by selecting one or more Custom Audiences in the Facebook Audience Insights tool.
You can also create Custom Audiences of the people who have visited specific landing pages or your blog to discover even more related Facebook Pages and detailed audience demographics.
After you’ve selected the Custom Audiences, you’ll be able to browse all the data about this group’s demographics, Facebook Page likes, job titles — you name it!
See the Audience Insights for a Facebook Page
Advertisers can also collect new knowledge about the people connected to a Facebook Page or a Place.
(Naturally, you’ll have to be the page admin of the Facebook Page.)
To learn more about the people liking or engaging with your Facebook Page, select your Facebook Page from the menu.
As you select “Page Likes” from the top menu, you’ll be able to see the Facebook Pages that are likely to be relevant to your audience based on their Page likes.
This information comes in handy when creating new Facebook target audiences — you can target the people liking those Facebook Pages.
Don’t forget to look for device usage data to disclose the best Facebook ad placements for reaching your target audience. This way, you’ll know which ad placements to pick.
If you want to dig even deeper, you can use advanced research options in the left-hand menu.
8) Analyze Your Past Facebook Ad Campaigns
While it’s nice to know what your competition’s up to, it’s your own Facebook campaign history that shows which ads have been efficient in the past.
As you log in to your Facebook Ads Manager account, you’ll be able to analyze which images, copy and other ad elements resonate most with your Facebook audience.
If you’ve run tests during your Facebook ads research, make sure to double down on the winning variation.
Avoid tracking vanity metrics such as total impressions or CTR. Instead, focus on analyzing which ad campaign elements contribute to the lowest cost-per-conversion.
In case you need some inspiration, here’s what you can analyze:
- Do you have a winning ad copy? If you’ve tested multiple ad copies, analyze which one brought the most conversions at the lowest cost.
- What’s the best ad design? Test multiple background colours or stock images vs. custom designs to uncover what your audience really likes.
- Whom should you target? Not all ad audiences are created equal. Learn which interests and demographics helped to reach your potential customers — which targeting options contributed to successful campaigns?
- Where to show your ads? Break down your ad reports by placement to know which Facebook ad placements have the highest ROI.
You can expand your ad reports to show various data points by selecting among various options in the Breakdown menu.
Before You Go…
Being a top spy can be dangerous. You can never be 100% sure whether your new findings only seem too good to be true or really are too good to be true.
Remember that what works for your competitors may not always work for you. So, take all the new insights with a grain of salt and try to understand why your competitors are doing what they’re doing.
You can test new approaches with small budgets before turning the new Facebook campaigns to the full volume.
And now that you’re full of spy wisdom, go ahead and conduct a detailed Facebook ads research to uncover new hacks.
And let us know if there are any other awesome Facebook ad spy tools we should check out!