How do top eCommerce companies use Facebook ads?

Can you find patterns when analyzing their Facebook ads? And what can you find out from their eCommerce Facebook ads that you could use to improve your business?

Facebook recently added a feature where you can go to any page and see what Facebook ads it currently has running:

eCommerce Facebook Ads: You may now see what ads Facebook is running in the "Info and Ads" section for any business page.

eCommerce Facebook Ads: Our Research Methodology

Let us be clear that the data set we used is a representative sample of Facebook ads being run by top eCommerce companies.

We spoke directly with representatives at Facebook about what we were seeing in our research. They confirmed to us that they don’t show all ads that a page might be running.

For sites with a large number of ads (like Amazon, for example), there can be far more ads running than shown by Facebook in its listing. This is partly because there can be many variations of each individual ad that change based on dynamic targeting, retargeting, and many other factors.

As a result, Facebook often shows a useful representation of the ads being run by a page, especially for pages with lots of ads.

Since a complete collection of ads was impractical, we used Facebook’s representative data set of ads being run by the pages in our research, which still yielded a number of interesting results as you’ll see below.

To do this, we used a list of the top 50 eCommerce companies by annual revenue compiled by eMarketer and collected ads from their Facebook pages. The complete report is behind a paywall, but you can see a list of the companies and their revenue here:

eCommerce Facebook Ads: Top 50 U.S. eCommerce Companies by Revenue

We made sure to look at all the Facebook pages a site runs. We also excluded a few companies that are conglomerates of smaller eCommerce sites, such as Ascena Group and L Brands.

Before we begin, we want to define some basic terms:

eCommerce Facebook Ads: How we define "ad text", "headline" and "link description"

  • Ad text: the body of the ad
  • Headline: the main call-to-action
  • Link description: the text below the headline

Here are the highlights of what we found in the research:

  • Very few ads had longer than a one or two sentence ad text
  • Most headlines were short—usually under five words
  • Most ads contained no link description
  • Most images did not have text on them
  • Carousels were the most common ad type

Note: Running an eCommerce store? Talk to one of our ad experts about how we can help you setup and optimize your paid social campaigns. Contact us here.

eCommerce Facebook Ads: Purpose of Facebook Ads Run by the Top 50 eCommerce Companies

Top eCommerce Companies Mostly Ran Revenue-Focused Ads

We manually analyzed the purpose of each of the ads and found that 336 of 350 ads (96%!) were designed to encourage someone to make an immediate purchase.

The most common ad was simply one displaying a specific product:

Some eCommerce Facebook Ads are targeting a specific advertisement like this Amazon ad for a best selling book titled "God Bless You & Good Night"

We also found many ads that mentioned a category or theme of products—rather than an individual item.

Many eCommerce Facebook Ads are focused on a certain category or theme of products such as this JCPenney ad for Polos

Also common were ads promoting sitewide discounts:

Some eCommerce Facebook Ads target sitewide discounts!

One of the few companies that created a Facebook ad solely to promote their brand was Walgreens. One of their ads was a video of how a store helped the community after a natural disaster:

Walgreens created an eCommerce Facebook Ad to promote how they helped a community after Hurricane Irma

That was the exception, not the rule. The top eCommerce brands seem to be using Facebook ads almost exclusively as a way to convince people to buy something now. Most are not using ads as a way of building their brand presence.

Things to note:

  • We barely saw any ads focusing on building engagement.
  • There weren’t any ads that were attempting to introduce the brand to new audiences. While these companies are all big, not all are household names.
  • We saw only one company that used Facebook ads to drive traffic to a lead magnet to get customers’ email addresses. Costco offered an ebook on healthy shopping:

Costco was the only company we saw with an eCommerce Facebook Ad with a free eBook to generate leads and gather more emails.

After Facebook decreased the organic reach of Facebook pages, there was speculation that brands would be forced to pay to get decent traction on their Facebook pages.

Many of these companies have active Facebook pages with brand-building content and solid engagement, but they’re not creating brand-building ads. For now, these companies seem to feel they don’t need Facebook ads to increase awareness.

The Ad Texts Usually Had No More Than 2 Sentences

Average sentence length of ad text in Facebook Ads run by the Top 50 eCommerce Companies, excluding conglomerates, was typically less than 2 sentences.

While a lot of the advice online will tell you to keep your ad text short, eCommerce ads tend to be much shorter than ads in other industries.

AdEspresso analyzed Facebook ads across many industries. Here’s how the eCommerce Ads compared:

Average Number of Words in Ad Text of Facebook Ads, excluding eCommerce conglomerates.

When making eCommerce ads, brevity seems to be even more of a focus than for regular ads. We consistently noticed that the ad text was usually one distinct call-to-action:

Number of Words in Ad Text of Facebook Ads run by the Top 50 eCommerce Companies: The most common was 11-20 words.

That resulted in ads that were mostly brief, to-the-point product mentions with a simple call-to-action.

Most eCommerce Facebook Ads were brief and to-the-point product mentions, with a simple call-to-action headline.

Most Headlines Were Under 5 Words

Number of Words in Headlines of Facebook Ads run by the Top 50 eCommerce Companies

When we looked at the number of words in headlines, we again saw how important brevity is. These companies were sure to make every word count.

One of the reasons for the high amount of ads with no headline is because many video ads did not contain a title:

Brevity is extremely important and one of the reasons some companies don't use any headlines - most importantly when sharing a video, so that a potential customer will watch it.

The sole purpose of this ad is to get the audience to play the video. Anything that would distract from that purpose has been removed.

While short headlines seem to be important in all industries, it seems especially important in eCommerce. When we compare the average word-length of eCommerce headlines to the average word-length of headlines overall, we see that eCommerce headlines are shorter:

Average Number of Words in eCommerce Facebook Ads, excluding eCommerce conglomerates, was about 4-5.

Keep in mind that Facebook automatically cuts off headlines that are too long. Some of the ads we saw didn’t respect Facebook headline limits, resulting in ads that may not be clear to consumers.

Some companies don't follow the rules of having a headline that is too long, and then the text gets cut off, as seen in this Amazon ad for a Pest Repeller.

In general, however, when we looked at the character length of the headlines, we saw that they were mostly under 30 characters. They also tended to use short, simple words.

Number of Characters in Headlines of Facebook Ads run by the Top 50 eCommerce Companies, excluding conglomerates, was about 21-30.

Most Ads Contained No Link Description

Number of Words in Link Description Texts of Facebook Ads run by the Top 50 eCommerce Companies was typically 0.

Most of the ads we saw didn’t use the link description field. The ad text, headline, and image were the only fields they used.

This was not universal, however. There were a number of brands who leveraged the link description field, especially to mention shopping benefits such as free shipping and returns.

While a majority of eCommerce Facebook Ads contain no text in the description, this isn't always the case as shown here in the Nordstrom Ad. Some companies see this as a benefit to describe sales, no-shipping fees, etc.

What Are the Most Common Call-to-Action Words?

Frequency of Terms in Facebook Ads run by the Top 50 eCommerce Companies, excluding conglomerates, varied depending on the company and their goals as a business, but a majority included something along the lines of “up to X% off”, “flash sale”, and “no-cost shipping”.

We looked at the most common words in headlines to see what tips you can use for your Facebook ads. We excluded standard words like “and”, “a”, and “the”.

As expected, most of the common words were about deals or cost. Marketers frequently used phrases like “up to X% off”, “flash sale”, and “no-cost shipping”.

There were a few exceptions. The reason “air” and “vapormax” occurred nine times is because Nike ran nine ads promoting the Nike Air VaporMax 2 shoe:

An eCommerce Facebook ad for Nike's Air VaporMax 2

The words “engagement” and “ring” appear eight and seven times respectively because Blue Nile’s ads are centered around engagement rings:

A sample of Blue Nile's eCommerce Facebook Ad for engagement rings.

Almost none of the companies we studied were running different ads for the same product. They also seem to be careful to differentiate their headlines. This is important to prevent Facebook ad fatigue—the phenomenon of Facebook ads doing worse over time as an audience gets continually exposed to the same ad.

Most Ad Images Had No Text

The majority of eCommerce Facebook Ad images had no text.

When we looked at the photos of ads with one image, we saw very few that put text on the photo, and top eCommerce companies seem to prefer to use untouched, professional images.

Consider two discount ads. This one contains 11 words of text on the image:

A sample of an eCommerce Facebook Ad with some text.

And this one contains no text on the image:

A sample of an eCommerce Facebook Ad with no text.

Most of these eCommerce companies ads used the second approach: having a clean image and putting the call-to-action in the surrounding text.

Carousels Were the Most Common Ad Type

Carousels were the Most Common Ad Type.

Carousel ads were the most common type of ad run by these companies, followed by image ads and then video ads. This makes sense for an eCommerce company as a carousel allows you to display the images of several products in one ad:

Carousal ads are a popular option on Facebook because they allow you to display multiple items in one advertisement, as shown in Under Armours advertisement.

Also you can make your last slide a general call-to-action to your site. A pattern we saw in nearly every carousel:

You can easily make the last slide in your call-to-action to your site!

While a video may be more engaging than a static image, the major problem with video is that videos are much more expensive to create. Carousels seem to occupy a middle ground in that they have more content and may be more engaging than a video but are less expensive to produce.

Most Carousels Had More Than Five Images

When we measured how many images were put in carousels, we saw that most carousels contained more than five images:

Number of Images in Facebook Ad Carousels run by the Top 50 e-Commerce Companies, excluding conglomerates, typically contain more than 5 images.

Also notable is the fact that Facebook doesn’t currently allow for more than 10 slides in a carousel. We saw ads with more than 10 slides because the limit used to be higher than 10, and Facebook allows existing carousels to keep running unchanged.

Takeaways

Here are our biggest takeaways:

  • Top eCommerce companies do not appear to follow a lot of the standard advice regarding Facebook ads. Strategies like running ads to collect email addresses, for example, seem non-existent in this space and may not make sense for an eCommerce business.
  • Top companies aren’t trying to hide the fact that they’re running an ad. They make their offers noticeable.
  • Most ads had limited text and full-size images that focused on products or product categories.
  • For image ads, most companies ran images without text.
  • Carousels are the most popular type of ad and usually contained more than five slides.

If you want to use Facebook ads successfully for your eCommerce company, you may be tempted to use Facebook ads to increase brand awareness or to get more Facebook fans, but that might not deliver the best ROI.

While all of this data is interesting, it’s also true that we can’t say from this research whether the ads these companies are running are successful at driving sales.

Our experience working with a wide variety of eCommerce sites has taught us that any PPC strategy should be highly customized to match the market you’re trying to reach with your efforts.

For example, it’s tempting to copy what Adidas is doing, but selling shoes and apparel requires different strategies than you might use to sell trail cameras to hunters and outdoor enthusiasts.

Even so, the fact that almost all of the biggest eCommerce companies are investing in Facebook ads is a strong hint that—for at least some of these companies—the ROI is there to justify the investment.

Note: Need a better eCommerce paid advertising strategy? We’ve worked with dozens of top eCommerce companies and can help you create campaigns that make sense for your business. Contact us here.