What the End of Facebook’s 20% Ad Text Rule Means for Marketers
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What the End of Facebook’s 20% Ad Text Rule Means for Marketers

Last updated on November 11, 2016 by Ted Vrountas in Facebook Advertising
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A few months ago, whispers about a test that would change the way brands advertise on Facebook started circulating industry blogs.

Rumor had it the social network was considering doing away with the “20% rule” regarding the amount of text allowed on ad images. It’s a guideline that’s caused advertisers on the platform much frustration, and many times a lot of additional work (so much so, that people have devised ways to beat the system).

In a blog post, Facebook marketer Mike Gingerich had this to say about the rule:

“I’m not able to print 20% of the bad words I’ve said while trying to create Facebook Ads without using Facebook image representations, using the word ‘Facebook,’ and making sure the text stays under that percentage.”

Industry insider Jon Loomer isn’t a big fan of the 20% text guideline either:

“First of all, Facebook’s 20% rule that applies to the amount of text that can appear within images of News Feed ads is stupid. It’s poorly enforced. It’s inconsistent. It’s ridiculous that it applies to link thumbnail images. Did I mention that I hate it?”

If you’re like Mike and Jon, you’ll be happy to know the rumors are true — Facebook did officially get rid of the rule for good.

Time to rejoice, right?

This picture shows marketers how relieved people feel after Facebook removed the 20% text rule on images.

Not quite.

The old Facebook 20% text rule

Until recently, Facebook advertisers were allowed to cover their ad images with no more than 20% text. To adhere to guidelines, those who paid for reach on the platform were forced to use a tool developed by Facebook that divided ad images with a 25-rectangle grid (it’s since been replaced with a different tool, but more on that later). If your text took up more than 20% of the rectangles, the ad wouldn’t be allowed to run.

The tool was largely ineffective and depended on the position of the text more than it did the amount of text.

This picture shows advertisers how Facebook used to apply its 20 percent text rule on images.

If you’ve never advertised on the platform, you’re probably wondering what the big deal is.

What it comes down to is noisiness — news feed saturation. When any of Facebook’s 1.65 billion users log into the platform, their networks share an average of 1,500 stories per day. That’s 1,500 posts the social network’s algorithm has to prioritize in your news feed.

Do you want to see the sonogram of your coworker’s baby or the video of your cousin surfing the waves of San Diego? Would your rather read your mom’s politically charged status update, or marvel at the watercolor self-portrait your friend just finished?

You don’t get to decide, Facebook’s algorithm does. And somewhere in there it needs to make room for advertisers. That’s when text overlay on ad images comes into play.

The importance of text on Facebook ad images

If you want people to interact with your ad, you first have to get them to notice it. As we scroll through our Facebook feeds, quickly scanning for posts we want to consume, it’s the ones containing bright, colorful imagery that stop our index finger in its tracks.

This should come as no surprise, considering research conducted almost 40 years ago indicates that we tend to notice images and headlines on a page first, then read bolded words after that, and consume block text last.

To take advantage of our natural attraction to images, many Facebook advertisers add CTAs to their ad photos, and compelling words like “free,” “you,” and “limited-time offer,” knowing they’ll be read more often than the actual post text.

Here’s an example from WordStream:

This picture shows marketers how to use compelling CTA text on Facebook ads to increase clickthroughs and conversions.

The ability of posts like these to grab user's’ attention is more important now than ever following Facebook’s announcement that its news feed algorithm will be changed yet again to favor friends’ content over advertisers.’

While many industry authorities cite using text overlay as a great way to draw social media users to a Facebook ad (including ourselves), some people, like the team over at SketchDeck, say that more text on an ad image actually plummets CTR.

After testing 48 Facebook ads to bust 6 marketing myths, here’s what they found:

This picture shows marketers how Facebook's 20 percent text rule myth was busted by SketchDeck.

These results go against everything we’ve been told by industry insiders. Why would an ad that didn’t clearly display its value proposition using text overlay perform better than one that did? Why would big, flashy text that reads “Free” or “Limited-time offer” turn us off?

The SketchDeck team has a guess:

“We think the ads with text overlaid looked, well, like ads. Users saw the text or call to action, registered it as an ad and then moved on. One of Facebook's tips is that an ad image should not look out of place in the news feed. And not many users are plastering text across the images that they posts.”

Maybe that’s the reason. But it’s also worth noting that this test was conducted with a small sample size at an 80% level of significance, far below the widely accepted standard of 95%. So, these results are hardly proof of anything.

But, that doesn’t mean they’re altogether worthless. In fact, a recent update from a Facebook representative suggests the complete opposite.

The new Facebook text overlay rule

Not long ago, Facebook Product Marketing Manager, Afsheen Ali, reached out to Jon Loomer to officially address the rumors regarding the 20% text rule:

“Our research has shown that people demonstrate a preference for ads with less text. Previously, if 20% of an ad image’s area was text, it was not approved to run on Facebook, Instagram or the Audience Network. We’ve heard from some advertisers that this can be confusing, as it’s not always clear that an ad does not meet the policy requirements until after creative has been submitted. We are shifting to a new solution to improve this experience which allows advertisers more flexibility while still allowing us to maintain an enjoyable experience for people.”

More flexibility for advertisers and an enjoyable user experience? It looks like a win-win at first glance. But, in reality, the 20% rule hasn’t changed that much at all.

Under Facebook’s new guidelines, an ad won’t be outright rejected if it contains more than 20% text, but it will have its reach limited — in some cases significantly. Instead of using a “run or reject” system, Facebook will now categorize your ad according to the following ratings:

This picture shows marketers how Facebook rates ads and their amount of text used: OK, low, medium, and high.

With Facebook’s new text overlay tool, you can upload an image to see what the chances are it will have its reach restricted. We put a couple of our own images to the test...

This picture shows marketers 3 examples how Facebook rates text overlay on images and the frequency it will allow them to show.

They passed with flying colors.

So, we wondered, what would it take to get our ads’ reach restricted? Determined to find out, we took a screenshot of one of our landing pages for our new and improved landing page optimization resource and uploaded it. It’s almost entirely text.

This picture shows marketers how to test an image using Facebook's updated 20 percent text rule.

Still, we only managed to reach Facebook’s “Low” text rating:

This picture shows marketers how a text heavy image can have lower audience reach using Facebook advertising.

Here are some more examples of what will, and will not be limited on the network under the new rule:

Image text: OK

This picture shows marketers what an "OK" rating looks like using Facebook's updated 20 percent text rule.

Image Text: Low

This picture shows marketers what a "Low" rating looks like using Facebook's updated 20 percent text rule.

Image Text: Medium

This picture shows marketers what a "Medium" rating looks like using Facebook's updated 20 percent text rule.

Image Text: High

This picture shows marketers what a "High" rating looks like using Facebook's updated 20 percent text rule.

As you can see, to get your ad’s reach restricted, you really have to cram it full of text — especially since not all text counts toward the rule.

The following are exceptions, and DO NOT count as text on your ad image:

  • Infographics
  • Book/Album covers
  • Product images in which the entire product can be seen
  • Posters for movies, festivals, sporting events, and shows
  • Legal text
  • App screenshots
  • Cartoon and comic strips
  • Text-based business calligraphy

These, on the other hand, DO count as text on your image:

  • Numbers
  • Text-based logos
  • Watermarks, regardless of whether or not their usage is mandatory

Should you still limit your image ad text?

Facebook says their users prefer ads with little to no text. Since Facebook controls ad reach and campaign cost on its platform, it’s wise to follow the new rule — which doesn’t offer as much flexibility as they’d have you believe.

Regardless, you’d have to try pretty hard to get your ad labeled as “Image Text: High.” If you want your ads to get maximum reach, put your text in the actual post as opposed to on the image. Save a few choice compelling words to overlay, but don’t go overboard.

Think about your unique selling proposition. What’s going to draw your users in? Overlaying text like “free,” “you,” “new,” and “instantly” will help your ad compete in users’ news feeds with their friends’ posts. Use it wisely and sparingly, and your ads will continue to run with maximum reach and at minimum CPC.

What’s been your experience with the new rule? Have you followed it? Have you seen reach decrease with more text overlay?

Let us know in the comments, then begin building a targeted landing page for your Facebook campaign with Instapage’s designer-friendly software.

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