Tim Hill
Tim Hill,
Cofounder and CEO of Social Status

How to run effective Facebook ads

11 tips for cut-through Facebook advertising in 2019 from the eCommerce startup masters at Koala Mattress. Ad creative, create audiences, work the mid-funnel and more.


When I launched Zambesi, I’d never run Facebook ads before. I was a solopreneur working from home. At Hey You, we had teams of people to run marketing and sales. Now I’d have to learn Facebook advertising and digital marketing from scratch.

I built the first Wordpress site myself and created my capital raising workshop as a test. Other business education companies advertised on my Facebook feed. But how did they get there? I signed up to an online course to learn Facebook basics but couldn’t keep up. When I found the Facebook Ads Manager page, my face contorted and froze like The Scream painting. WHHHHAAATTT ISS TTHHHISS???? Where do I start?

’18 months ago, everyone was doing interest-based targeting. This doesn’t work so well anymore.’ – Tim Doyle, Former Head of Marketing, Koala Mattress

A friend was kind enough to let me screen share to help get my first campaign up and running. It helped to have someone who could see what I was seeing and point out which buttons to press.

For the first nine months I ran amateur campaigns. Simple image and text ads for each workshop that pointed to the appropriate course page on Zambesi.com. I found a freelancer to put the Facebook pixel on my website. I measured the number of clicks from my ad to the course page. Our sales happen on Eventbrite and I didn’t know how or if I could track all the way through.

I’d notice the occasional happy Eventbrite order notification in my email and assume the Facebook ads were working; which they probably were but it was a guess. I’d keep track of what I spent on each course and usually stayed under budget.

I know what you’re thinking. ‘She is an experienced entrepreneur. Why is her knowledge of social media advertising so primitive?’ It’s a fair point. The truth is that it’s quite difficult to use Facebook effectively. Other founders might be brilliant at it. But I still find it challenging!

Up until August 2018 my workshops sold nicely. I used the ‘Interest targeting’ in Ads Manager (in the Ad Set step) to find the right audience. For example I’d target people interested in ‘fashion design’ or ‘jewellery design’ to promote ‘How to manufacture products in China’, I promoted ‘Mahesh from Airtasker’s ‘People and Culture Masterclass’ to people who worked in ‘Human Resource Management’ and I’d target people living within 10km of the Sydney CBD with incomes above $100K to advertise Stephen Scheeler’s ‘Digital Disruptive Leadership’. Yes, it was unsophisticated, but all the workshops sold out. I had a good business.

But not for long. In the fourth quarter of last year either Facebook changed something, and my ads stopped working OR my ads had never worked in the first place and there was a shift in the market that made it more difficult to sell tickets. I worked out how to put my Facebook pixel onto the order confirmation page of Eventbrite to track ad performance through to purchase. This confirmed that the ads weren’t generating sales.

‘That is the most ineffective Facebook ad you could possibly make. Static image and short text is the worst performing ad format.’ - Tim Doyle (about our Zambesi ads)

I decided it was time to figure out Facebook advertising properly and turned to Tim Doyle from Koala and Tim Hill from Social Status for advice. Tim Doyle runs the ‘Ruthless performance marketing’ workshop on Zambesi and Tim Hill runs ‘Social Media Bootcamp’. I attended both of the workshops and I’m thrilled to share that our Facebook and Instagram ads are now firing!

In this article, I’ve outlined what I was doing wrong and how I’ve adjusted our creative, the way we build audiences, how our funnel works and how we measure the effectiveness of every campaign. I recommend attending Tim Hill’s ‘Social Media Bootcamp’ for face-to-face support to set up and optimise your Ad Manager account and Tim Doyle’s ‘Ruthless Performance Marketing’ to learn to create effective ads on mass and turn social media advertising into a revenue machine. Mark Baartse, CMO at Showpo also runs an excellent tactical workshop ‘Brilliant Digital Marketing’ which covers a broader spectrum of digital marketing channels including SEO, SEM and LinkedIn.

‘Every start-up should use customer reviews as ad creative for the first 12 months.  Social proof is the best way to build trust in your product.' - Tim Doyle, Koala

If you’re struggling with this now and can’t wait till the next workshop, or if you can’t make it to Sydney or Melbourne, then contact us and one of our consultants can support you to set up and optimise your Facebook and Instagram campaigns via screen share.

What’s in this article:

  1. Setting up your account: Ads manager, Campaigns, Ad Sets, Ads and the Facebook Pixel.
  2. Finding your audience: who should move away from ‘interest’ targeting and better way to target and find your audience on Facebook.
  3. How to build a funnel all the way though to sale. Why the ‘mid-funnel’ is the most important part of Facebook advertising yet most marketers put the least time into it. Note I didn’t even know what mid-funnel was before the workshops!
  4. What creative to use at different points in the funnel. There’s one Facebook ad creative that every start-up should use in the first 12 months.
  5. Tactics to optimise your ad budget.

In this article I’ve referred to Tim Hill as TH and Tim Doyle as TD so we don’t mix up Tim’s.


1. The basics
Note that if you’re experienced in Facebook advertising then feel free to skip this part of the article. Start with ''2. Finding the right audience' for lots of tips from TD & TH about how to adjust Facebook campaigns and ad creative get the most out of your advertising in 2019 (see below).

Ads Manager page. The place to manage your ad account is: https://business.facebook.com/adsmanager You can add people to your ad account by going to ‘Settings’ from this page. If you want to let someone else on your team place ads for you then you’ll need to add their personal Facebook account to your Ads Manager account.


Campaigns: A campaign should be used for a single objective. For example, ‘Website traffic’, ‘Leads’ or ‘Conversions’. You can’t have multiple objectives in the same campaign. For Zambesi I might run one campaign to generate traffic to my ‘Pitching Masterclass’ page. The objective here is traffic to the page. Then a second campaign for ‘Conversion’ which is to get sales. More about retargeting later.

Ad sets: This is where you define what audience to show the ad to, where to place your ads inside Facebook / Instagram and set your budget. It’s common to have multiple Ad Sets running in one campaign to test and optimise the conversion rates of different audiences.

Ads: You can run multiple ads in each ad set including video, static image and carrousel creative.

Facebook pixel: Go to Settings to create a pixel for your website. This is a few lines of code that sits on your website and will tell Facebook when and who is visiting. At first, I thought I needed a different pixel for every page but discovered I only needed one pixel and then I can track who reaches different URLs. For example, you can see how many people get to a checkout page but don’t complete and then retarget these people to get them back.

It’s essential to install the pixel before you start Facebook advertising. Some sites like Shopify make this really easy and there’s a spot in your Spotify settings to add the pixel. I needed to get a developer to do it for me. TH sets up everyone’s Facebook pixel in the first hour of his Zambesi Bootcamp. We have consultants who can help if you’re stuck.


2. Finding the right audience

As I mentioned earlier, for the first 9 months of Zambesi, I used interest-based targeting. It’s well known that Facebook has changed the parameters of interest targeting and it’s no longer very effective.

In his ‘Performance Marketing’ workshop, Tim Doyle (TD) recommends that a much better way to target is to build an audience and then create lookalike audiences through Facebook. ’18 months ago, everyone was doing interest-based targeting. This doesn’t work so well anymore. Lookalike audiences are much more effective.’ At Zambesi, we used two ways to build lookalike audiences.

Email list: Build an email list of a minimum of 1000 email addresses and upload the list into your Facebook Ads Manager account. Facebook can analyse the email addresses and will target your ads to people with similar profiles to those on your list.

• Tip: The Zambesi email list now has more than 10,000 subscribers. But not all of them open every email. Rather than load the full 10,000 email addresses, I only added in the 5-star contacts – the people who are most engaged with our content. I then let Facebook build a target audience that looks most like this group.

Run a ‘Reach’ campaign on Facebook: We ran a video promo for our top 2018 programs to drive traffic to our site. The only audience restrictions I set were location (Sydney or Melbourne where we run courses) and age (over 21). This gave Facebook a much bigger potential audience to show my ads to. As soon as people start clicking though, Facebook adjusts who it targets. Facebook’s algorithm was much better at knowing who to target than me trying to guess through interest targeting. I was able to drive much more traffic to the site at a lower cost.

Tip: When I built a lookalike audience based on website visitors, it didn’t work very well. TD suspects that when you run a campaign to drive traffic, that Facebook will target people they know are likely to click on links. These people aren’t necessarily your target audience. Perhaps they are just bored at home with lots of time to spend clicking on things. Instead, I tried building a lookalike audience based on people who visited a course page. To get to a course page they’d had to engage with our site and are much more likely to be target customers than visitors who just hit the homepage. It’s a smaller group of people but targeting people who looked like them proved much more effective.

TH adds that lookalike audiences don’t work for every business. ‘If you’re a B2B business and your customers don’t have much in common with each other, then a lookalike won’t work.’ He also suggests that it sometimes makes sense to create a lookalike audience and then narrow it down by interest targeting. ‘For example if you’re a pet service company, you might create a target audience of 500,000 people that look like your existing customers and then narrow this audience by also specifying that they be ‘pet owners’ which might only be 70,000. But 70,000 pet owners who look like your existing customers is a great group to advertise to.’

The big learning for me here is that Facebook is better at finding my customers than I am at guessing what they might be interested in. The more info I can give Facebook about who our most engaged customers are, the better it’ll get at finding people who look like them.

Bonus tip from Tim Doyle: 'Don't ever set ‘Engagement (likes / comments) as a Campaign objective as Facebook knows which users ‘Like’ or ‘Comment’ everything and will show your ad to them. This might help you look good but won’t drive business.'

Bonus tip from Tim Hill: 'Don't edit where your ad is placed.  Let Facebook choose where it’s likely to get the best engagement. Again, the Facebook algorithm is going to be better than you at knowing how best to reach your audience.'


3. Maximising the mid-funnel

‘People don’t pay nearly enough attention to their mid-funnel’, says TD. ‘This is when people are thinking about buying your product and it’s one of your best opportunities to convert.’

My ‘amateur’ attempt to run Facebook ads for Zambesi last year didn’t include any mid funnel activity. My basic ad would tell you the workshop was on. I’d get excited by the number of people checking out the courses on our website each day and I’d cross my fingers and hope they remembered to come back and purchase.

Mid-funnel is retargeting people who have expressed an interest in your product but haven’t purchased. According to TD: ‘Most eCommerce businesses will have Facebook retargeting funnels for people who’ve looked at a product and another funnel for people who’ve abandoned checkout. If someone made it all the way through to checkout then you’d be willing to pay more to get them back as they’re much more likely to convert.’ TD suggests running different Ad Sets for people who last visited your site in different time periods: for example, the last 3 days, 4 days – 10 days, 10 days to 30 days etc. Put more money into reaching people who just visited as they’ll be more likely to convert.

For Zambesi, I’ve now built mid-funnel campaigns for people who visit a course page. So if you check out my ‘Capital Raising Workshop’ then you should see creative ads popping up in your Facebook and Instagram feed to remind you that it’s on!

TH adds that engaging with your content on Facebook or Instagram is another way people express interest in a product. ‘If you run a video on Facebook then remember you can retarget people who’ve watched up to a set time in the video.’ For Zambesi, I retarget people who watch up to the 25 second point in our promo video. If you’ve stayed on the video for 25 seconds, then I think that’s a good indication that you’re interested in our product.


4. What creative to use at different points in the funnel

When I first showed our Facebook ad creative to TD his response was: ‘That is the most ineffective Facebook ad you could possibly make’. I’ve included examples of our early Facebook ads below. Our ads were all the same: a simple photo of a workshop leader, an overlay of an insightful quote and a short text description. ‘Static image and short text is usually the worst performing ad format,’ he said.

His advice is that it’s always best to include movement in an ad creative if you can. There are lots of websites and services that exist to help you make cheap, attractive ads with movement. TH’s advice is that ‘Facebook will reward video ads because it makes Facebook more engaging. Your ad will be seen by more people and it ‘ll stand out in the feed.‘

If you can’t make a video ad, then long text is better than short text. When I created the first ads for Zambesi, I assumed I should only write text that could been seen without clicking to ‘See more’. I tried to cram my top sales messages into a few words.

But I discovered that the opposite is true. Again, Facebook rewards content that people indicate is engaging. The more often people click, ‘See more’, the more Facebook will assume your ad is good content and bump it up in the newsfeed. It also helps to warm up customers before they land on your page. If they’ve already read all about a workshop and then choose to click for purchase details, there’s a greater chance that they’ll convert than if they’d just read a couple of lines of text.

Tip from Tim Hill: Once you’ve found a piece of creative that’s working then make sure you’re selecting to ‘Use an existing post’ when you’re creating ads, rather than creating a new one each time. This means any comments or likes on the ad will be carried into the next campaign and posts with lots of engagement are more likely to get noticed.

Combining graphics and text
Facebook rejected my early ad designs because they broke the 20% rule. No more than 20% of your static ad can be text. A big quote over the top of a photo doesn’t work. I now use clean photos and include the quote in the top couple of lines of the asociated text. Facebook offers a filter check to see if your ad design meets the 20% rule but it’s hard to have any meaningful text over the image at less than 20% because once the ad is shrunk to fit on mobile, it’ll be too hard to read.

The ad creative every start-up should use
According to TD: ‘Every start-up should use customer reviews as ad creative for the first 12 months.’ He says that social proof is the best way to build trust in your product. If you look up the Koala ads, you’ll find lots of customer reviews on Facebook and on YouTube. At Zambesi, we have loads of excellent customer reviews of our workshops but we’ve only ever used them on the website. I recently hired an Upworker to turn these reviews into hundreds of Facebook at Instagram ads.

What ad creative to use at different parts of the funnel
Top of the funnel: TH recommends testing lots of different creative at the top of the funnel. The objective of a top of the funnel campaign is to drive people to your website who are likely to be interested in your product. We’re currently using a combination of a general promotional video ad Zambesi and specific workshop ads. These use photos and customer reviews but have been made (by our awesome Upworker) so the photo jolts creating movement in the feed.

Mid-funnel: TD recommends building your mid funnel creative much like your welcome email funnel. Potential customers should see a stream of creative to build a story about your company and lead them to purchase. ‘You might start by highlighting the features of your product, the next ads might include social proof (customer reviews) and after a few days you could introduce a time limited discount offer.’ He emphasised that every business is different, and you should take time to design the right Facebook advertising funnel for your customer journey.


5. Tactics to optimise your ad spend
As I mentioned earlier, I’ve worked out how to get our Facebook pixel onto the Eventbrite product page and the post-purchase order confirmation page so I can track sales all the way through to purchase. Each Campaign has a single objective (traffic or conversions) for each course. Instead of setting budget at an Ad Set level, I’ve found it more economical to use the new Campaign Budget Optimization feature. So rather than budgeting $100 on five different Ad Sets, I’ll put $500 to the Campaign and let Facebook work out how to optimise to achieve my objective. This doesn’t work when I have to sell different workshops in the same campaign as it’ll always skew the advertising to whichever workshop is easiest to sell. But if you have a single product, or don’t care how much you sell of each thing, then this is a good feature.



Use the code 'Lookalike' for $200 every growth and marketing workshop on Zambesi.  Exclusive opportunity to spend a day in a small workshop format with leaders from Koala, Canva, Airtasker, Showpo, Vinomofo and more.  Many of these programs are on-off events limited to 12 people.  Get access to the tactics of some of the world's best marketing minds, ask questions and get feedback on your individual business or marketing / growth objectives.

SOCIAL MEDIA BOOTCAMP (for entrepreneurs looking to start or optimise their social media marketing) with Tim Hill, Social Status.  SYDNEY ONLY

RUTHLESS PERFORMANCE MARKETING (for everyone interesting in world's best marketing tactics) with Tim Doyle, Koala Mattress / Eucalyptus VC. MELBOURNE & SYDNEY

BRILLIANT DIGITAL MARKETING (for entrepreneurs and for marketers.  A comprehensive digital marketing tactics workshop) with Mark Baartse, CMO Showpo. SYDNEY ONLY

HOW TO GROW LIKE CANVA (for entrepreneurs and marketers working in either SaaS or Marketplace businesses only - advanced) with Andrianes Pinantoan, VP Growth Airtasker, Former Head of Growth Canva)

BRAND LIKE A MOFO (for entrepreneurs and marketers) with Andre Eikmeier, Cofounder Vinomofo. MELBOURNE & SYDNEY

GROWTH HACKING (for entrepreneurs looking for tactics to scale rapidly at low / no cost) with Jared Codling, Slingshop (SYDNEY ONLY)

MARKETING LEADERSHIP MASTERY (for professionals working in marketing who want to reach the top) with Andy Lark, Former CMO Xero, Former CMO Commonwealth Bank. SYDNEY ONLY


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